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Blog // Thoughts
2 months ago

Creative Health Summary

In 30 articles over the last 20 months we’ve looked at the relationship between creativity and mental health. Here’s a summary of the whole creative heath series.

The creative health series began in response to my own struggles with anxiety. I wanted to go deeper into the connections between creativity and mental health, to read current research into the biological and physical processes that shape our creativity – something more profound than the overly familiar ‘morning routine’ type of advice.

Creativity Happens In Our Bodies

It’s tempting to think of creativity as a kind of mystical, quasi-religious thing that floats through the universe. But a lot of what it takes to be creative comes down to biology and regulating our bodies. Increasingly, digital culture treats us like brains in jars. The creative world is overrun by the cult of the hustle – sleep less, work more, drink lots of coffee, and have an infinite number of side projects – which harms our body and our state of mind.

I wanted to challenge some of the assumptions about being creative – to put our bodies back into the conversation and put the issue of our health at the centre.

Starting With The Body

The first three posts in the series were about the body’s role in our mental health. ‘Taking Care of Your Animal’, ‘Your Mind and Your Path’ and ‘Going Slow in a High-Performance Machine’ were intended as a short standalone series.

It became clear they were more like the opening chapter to a deeper exploration.

So I started to look deeper into the contemporary science around creativity. There were questions to be explored, like the connections between creativity and sleep, exercise, or even daydreaming. The science around creativity ran counter to a lot of cultural assumptions about how creative people live.

Challenging Assumptions

Creatives love their coffee (and other caffeinated drinks). Whether it’s a Starbucks cup or a single-estate roast carefully made, pour over style. The ritual of coffee is glorified as the true religious commitment of many creatives. But coffee doesn’t really make us more creative. Too much can make us less creative.

Relentless hustling and networking at night-time meet-ups, excessive and distracting use of the internet, the idea you should never apologise or never show anger in your work… these were all examples of a culture in need of critical examination.

Mindfulness meditation also called for some investigation. I shared a meditation I use to cope with anxiety. But mindfulness is only one form of meditation and it doesn’t do a lot to fuel creativity.

The popular trend of getting up at or near 5am every day needed to be questioned. What many motivational blogposts and videos fail to allow for is that people are wired differently. While getting up very early can work wonderfully for some, it will never work and could be harmful in the long run for others.

Core Creative Habits

Are there habits we could build into a daily routine – something we could track as a way to be more creative? Improving your sleep, spending more time outdoors, possibly cutting down your coffee intake, walking more, journaling, daydreaming and being idle sometimes, being thankful, listening to music, and enjoying solitude can all help you be more creative.

More challenging is the deep emotional work of being authentic and vulnerable. Learning to deal with anger, learning to apologise well, and dealing with anxiety are hard journeys into authenticity that can have big creative payoffs.

It’s all important to remember the role simply making something plays in fostering creativity. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to feel creative to be creative. But creating makes us creative.

Playfulness also gets overlooked, so it felt right to end with a reminder to stay loose and let some fun into everything you do, especially since play is not only enjoyable, but also an important indicator of mental and physical health.

Creativity Matters

These articles were written with creative professionals in mind, but they can benefit almost anyone, because we all rely on some level of creativity to make the most of our lives. Creativity can make you healthier and happier. Investing in your well-being is a great way to become more creative.

I’ll continue to write about creativity. I’m fascinated by the intersection of creativity, wellness, and technology. But I’m ending this series (and also the ‘This Week I Quit’ series) to make room for new explorations in the coming months.

Over the summer I’ll be thinking about mindset, starting with whether we can find a better word for the set of our attitudes and beliefs. Then, in the autumn, I’ll be on sabbatical. I’ll write more about that later.

Creativity Begins in the Body

This series on creative health began nearly two years ago and I’d like to end it by going back to an idea in that first post, about taking care of our own inner animal. Often we treat ourselves more poorly than we would treat our pets . We would never deny a beloved pet the chance to sleep well, eat regularly, and be comfortable, yet we put ourselves through that, glorify it, and expect to perform at our best. Why?

The way we take care of our physical body has profound effects on how creative we can be. Our activity in the world shapes our brain. At our best, we bring the whole of ourselves to the things we do.

“If we fail to take care of our physical and material being, we limit our ability to explore the non-material realm of thoughts, ideas and imagination.”

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