Executive Coaching

How Stress Kills Creativity

Woman Stressed

I’ve heard many people say they do their best work when under stress – what a horrible way to live!  What they’re saying is they are useless at their jobs unless their biological reflexes tells them there is imminent danger.  Putting aside the health consequences of stress, stress kills your creativity.

If you know exactly what needs to be done then under some kind of time pressure then stress might be able to help you focus.  But if you need to be creative then stress is your enemy for very good reasons!

Have you ever been in the situation where you’re stressed and you miss something blindingly obvious?  Perhaps it was a solution to problem; perhaps it was where you last left your house keys; or, the name of that guy you met only a few days ago.  I know this has happened to me!  So why?

All your senses first go to the amygdala in your brain.  One of its jobs is to work out if something is a threat or not to your survival.  If there is a threat several changes start happening to your body and your way of thinking, this is completely normal!

You become extremely focused on the present task of your survival.  Let’s go extreme imagine you are being hunted by a tiger, you will be totally focused on your survival!  You’ll notice every twitch of that tiger, every escape route, your reactions will be super fast and your will be preparing to run like you’ve never run before!  A lovely creative thought about how you would love to paint this beautiful savannah with watercolours on will not help you survive.  Creativity is not important in life and death situations in your brain is now dedicated to keeping you alive.  All thanks to the amygdala detecting the threat.

The problem is the amygdala does not understand that your boss walking down the corridor towards you, to check on the work you have not completed, is not a life-and-death situation.  You will have the same reaction as if being hunted.  Your heart rate will quicken, your blood will thicken and your creativity or shutdown.

In this modern world companies ask us for more creativity yet at the same time put impossible deadlines and workload some people.  People are working longer and longer hours that doesn’t give them the rest they need which only goes to increased stress levels.

It’s simple, if you want to be creative you have do that in a non-stressful state of mind.  If you want your team to be more creative, you need to ask them about what is stressing them and remove it.