Whenever the Olympics come around I find myself transformed from someone who barely pays attention to the majority of sports into someone who analyzes the ins and outs of a diving position and becomes an expert at all things balance beam.
And while it’s fun to transform into an armchair athlete and judge, these Tokyo 2020 Olympics are also inspiring somewhat deeper thoughts. For many elite athletes, the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of competitive sport, something they work their entire careers to achieve a chance at. Yet in the midst of the celebration of what the games can represent, there are so many other stressors at play. Protests at even having the Olympics, constant uncertainty and plans changing, health concerns and of course, staying on top of your mental and physical health so you can peak at the right time.
So much goes into preparing for competitions and a huge key is staying out of your head and not letting the stress get to you. Because once it does, you’re at its mercy. You become distracted, inconsistent, and risk losing your confidence, not to mention your nerve.
How to Overcome Stress and Find Creativity
It’s a common assumption that we rise to the challenge when the pressure is at its highest. We hear athletes mention how they leaned into their training, dug in deep and gave it all they had when it mattered most. But is this really true? Is that our tendency? Or is it more likely we fold under the emotional stress the pressure creates, preventing us from being our best selves?
I tend to think it’s the latter, at least for the most part. I know in my own life I am resistant to pressure initially but over time I wear down and eventually crumple. And yet, in life, we endure constant stress and we still need to show up in our lives. How is this done?
For me, creativity is the answer. Whenever I’m under a lot of stress I find myself withdrawing and going through the motions but as soon as I can find my creative footing, I’m able to move forward again.
Stressful work environments (be it competitive athletics or your 9 to 5 office job) can decrease creative thinking and when you’re under pressure or deadline, it can make things feel even worse, robbing you of joy and putting you in a negative cycle.
Here are three ways to help overcome stress and find creativity.
Manage Distractions, Not Time
When we have to get something done in a certain amount of time it creates this incredible pressure to perform. And in my experience, this is when I get my best procrastinating in. I stare at the clock and watch the minutes pass and accomplish very little.
A solution I’ve discovered is when I’m in a time crunch things go much better when I manage distractions rather than fixate on the time lapsing. What this looks like is less bouncing ideas off people and more quiet brainstorming time with my door shut and phone in the drawer. If there are noise distractions I can’t change I put on noise-cancelling headphones and play calming music to get myself on track. I find this approach allows me to cut through the stress and get into deep work faster and with less emotional turmoil.
Find a Way to Make Your Work Meaningful
Sometimes we lack creativity because we don’t think a particular task is worth anything. A way around this? Find ways to make the work mean something.
Every chore, task or project has a redeeming quality. You just have to find it. Sure, you may be entering data in what you see as a soulless, bureaucratic system but is that all it is? Or does the system create an opportunity for you to create something special within a small space? No matter how tiny the glimmer of hope, as soon as you find it, hold on tight.
But sometimes the job really does just have to get done. And no amount of searching for the silver lining is going to spark joy. In those situations, I recommend looking at the bigger picture. Can you turn this into a personal challenge in some way? Or how about taking a look at the people who will benefit from you doing this job well? Find ways to make your work meaningful and you’ll find creativity just around the corner.
Shake it Off
In my day-to-day stressors, I’ve found it a lot easier to break the stress cycle if I actively do something to change my mindset, rather than pushing through and trying to force it. This could look like taking a screen break and doing something physical like going for a brisk walk or watering plants. It could present as changing your location, such as moving from your desk to a local cafe to mix things up. The idea is when you hit a rut or the pressure is getting to you, recognize this and find a way to divert the spiral pattern so you stop spinning.
In my writing life, I’ve found when I’m really stuck for ideas I will leave my brainstorming to the early morning hours, when I’m still groggy and not quite awake. In this headspace my unconventional and silly ideas have space to slip through before my alert and serious mind can put a stop to the creativity.
Even though I’m not an elite athlete, I still battle crushing pressure and stress every day just living regular life, and I know I’m not alone. We have so many hopes and dreams and there are so many things to do, consider and worry about.
Stress triggers thought spirals and threatens to derail progress by inspiring imposter syndrome and procrastination. It distracts us from being creative and grateful. When we allow it to get to us, stress can even hold us back from being who God made us to be. The next time you’re feeling stressed, look for ways to bring creativity into the picture and see if you can’t break the cycle and find your way back to peace and joy.