Why Stress Dampens Your Creativity

…and how to write again

It has happened to all of us at some point. Your life just blew up and you’re lucky if you can fit in three square meals and other life-sustaining essentials. You’re exhausted, and yet you can’t sleep. Your new normal is now an adrenaline-filled fight or flight fiesta.
Suddenly, your inner critic wants to go on a 24/7 discourse about why you are a lazy, slacker of an imposter because you haven’t been writing. Guilt-ridden, you sit down to the blank page from a pure sense of obligation and NO WORDS COME.

Most of us can find some self-compassion for situations such as when my mom passed away this summer. I didn’t write, and I didn’t beat myself up too much about it. But when it was time to get back in the grove, how did I find the momentum and have the creativity flourish again?

Stress and overwhelm also rob us of creativity in other less dramatic situations. Different times of the year can be especially stressful to different people. A business owner can get overwhelmed at tax season trying to figure out their pile of receipts. Moms get particularly spread thin during the back-to-school frenzy when there are so many demands on our time. The holidays make millions of us crazy thanks to commercialism, tempting indulgences, and those special family members who don’t know when to keep their opinions to themselves.

Why do we stop writing?

Neuroscience holds the answer. In a situation of stress and overwhelm the part of our brain that becomes most active is the amygdala—our reptilian brain in charge of keeping us alive. Stress increases the size, activity level and the number of neural connections in this part of your brain. This makes you more fearful, causing a vicious cycle of even more fear and stress.

Creativity, on the other hand, doesn’t live in any one area of the brain. But studies show that positive emotion seems to be related to a deeper state of creative flow.  Which explains why the negative emotions of overwhelm are not the fertile ground from which our ideas flow.

How to start again?

Attend to your needs. There are other priorities more important than writing, even for someone like me who eats, sleeps and breathes for the written word. Attend to your sick child, get your taxes done, grieve the loss of a loved one. However, at some point, you need to sit your butt in your chair and write again. To quote the great Chuck Close “Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Remember why

I find that the fastest way for me to get excited about my writing again is to remember why I am working on this particular project. What is its purpose? To Inspire, educate, entertain, make the world a better place? Who will be changed by it? What will my life be like when the project is done?


The research is abundantly clear. The antithesis of stress and overwhelm is mindfulness and meditation. It does a body and mind good. There are some life situations that are not going to go away as quickly as filling your taxes. Cope with chronic stress by adopting a meditation practice that will free your mind for more creative pursuits.

Escape to write

Sometimes you just need to run away. I know, it doesn’t solve the problems that are waiting for you when you get back, but the respite and reprieve are therapeutic. If you can’t attend a writing retreat in the mountains, then block off a few hours, grab your laptop or notebook, sit among the bookshelves of your favorite bookstore and write. After all, isn’t that why we all read? To escape to a new reality? Allow yourself to do that as you write too.

I’m off to work on my own book during the downtime of the holidays. Let me know if this helped and if you got any writing done.