Bust your Stress with Creativity

You’re under stress and your creativity has hit the dumper. You tell yourself you must sacrifice your creativity and focus on the stress. Real-world worries haunt you. Maybe it’s the pandemic that’s your stressor. Perhaps it’s a loved one who is ill. Or it’s not knowing where you’ll get the money to pay the bills. And when the news shows you the world is on fire, stress consumes you. It is unbelievable stress for those who are trying to survive. Naturally, it stresses those in neighboring communities and countries. And it stresses many of us who live on the other side of the world. Who is so cold-hearted to turn their back on the flames that are consuming innocents? Stress is real. Stress steals creativity. So creatives, like you, feel the stress acutely. Sometimes you feel as if you can’t or won’t create again. Yet, even in the smallest corner of the world, the world needs your creativity. Always remember, you can bust your stress with creativity. 

image of a person holding their head but their face and the area surrounding them is gray and the word stress in various sizes because no matter the size of your stress you can bust your stress with creativity

Yes, your creativity may not cure illness, stop cruelty, or quench the fires of destruction, but it can restore yourself. And if you share it, your creativity will help someone else. Maybe someone else takes aid to those in need or leads a neighborhood, a country, the world to peace.

How Stress Steals Creativity

Do you know how many decisions you make in your everyday life?

It’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day.”


Shocking, isn’t it? You make some decisions on auto pilot. Others take more deliberation. Some you second guess over and over. All of those decisions take energy and, as the day progresses, cause decision fatigue. According to the American Medical Association decision, fatigue is a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions.

image of a pile of triangles outlined in red with the word yes or no on them representing decisions but

Add on the pandemic and all the problems accompanying that. Forest fires, floods, and wars level up your stress to paralyzing. 

Stress builds up cortisone, the primary stress hormone, in your system. It triggers the fight and flight response, and dampens or turns off any function that would interfere with all out fight or flight. Creative thought is one of the first to go. After all, there’s no time for creativity when you need to decide to fight or run. 

Neutralize Your Stress

Never fear. Stress steals creativity, but you can fight back with—creativity. Creativity boosts serotonin, which reduces stress.

A study, published in 2016, showed that creativity reduces cortisol levels forty-five minutes before and after art making, no matter what kind of art the participant expressed. Seems like a paradox, but it’s not. It’s the yin and yang of our bodies. There are ways you can use that to reduce your stress, even when stress has blocked your ability to practice your preferred art.

10 Ways to Bust Your Stress with Creativity

1. Get creative in a different way. 

Use a side hobby or second passion. Knit, crochet, garden, woodwork, play a musical instrument, paint or color by numbers. No matter which art you use, you will reduce your stress.

2. Do something that makes you happy. 

You can dance, play, dress up, get your hair done, or watch baby animal or stupid pranks videos, or make art. Choose something that makes you smile or laugh.

3. Get physical. 

A mere ten to fifteen minutes will do it. It doesn’t have to be a workout. Get creative. Take a walk around the house, around the block, or make art with your vacuum. Get your blood circulating.

4. Pay attention to your nutrition. 

Occasional junk food is all right, but don’t neglect proper nutrition. Your brain needs protein. Choose a high protein breakfast to boost your creativity. Get high protein snacks like nuts, Greek yogurt, or hard-boiled eggs. Get more healthy protein snack ideas. Avoid those high-protein breakfast bars that are full of sugar and carbs.

5. Practice self-soothing activities.

Photo is a silhouette of a woman on a bench with a bag beside her and a bicycle parked at the end of the bench. The woman looks toward the rose colored sunset in the background.

Increase your serotonin levels with meditation, or reading, or listening to calming music, or take a hot shower. Choose something that fills you with as much calm and contentedness as possible. Avoid using junk food or even caffeine to soothe yourself. They will only make you feel worse. 

6. Reframe it. 

You are creative. You can reframe awful situations into opportunities for expression. That doesn’t mean rub your hands in glee or do a Nero at the suffering of others. It means use the situation to express your emotions, your support for victims, or your rejection of the situation. Need inspiration? The internet is full of knitting patterns, short stories, drawings, photographs, and songs offering solidarity and support for the Ukrainian people. Hackers have even gotten in on the act hacking Russia’s satellites. 

Be vulnerable. Do your art your way. 

7. Use your fatigue.

According to research by Mareike Wieth, we are more creative when we are tired. Try brainstorming session when right before bed. Spend ten to fifteen minutes brainstorming.

8. Take a mental vacation. 

Review pictures of a favorite vacation or use Pinterest or travel sites on the web to “build” a dream vacation.  

9. Limit your exposure to stressful situations or news. 

You have a time of day when you are most creative. Protect that time. Save watching the news or other stressful activities and situations for your least creative time of day. If life or stress prevents that, it’s okay. Deal with the issues, but get back to your creative schedule as soon as possible.

10. Get a good night’s sleep.

It’s not always possible, but do your best to sleep six to eight hours each day. Follow a sleep hygiene routine. Invest in a white noise generator or ultra comfy pjs. Stop using electronics thirty to ninety minutes before bedtime. Decrease your caffeine intake. Apply your creative mind to the problem and get a better night’s sleep.

Reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a day. Follow a routine. Schedule at least two or three stress reducers into your day. Five minutes is better than none. Ten to fifteen minutes is better than that, but you can build up to fifteen minutes (or more). Play a mind game if you need. Tell yourself, ”I only have to do five minutes, then I can choose to do something else or I can do ten minutes.” 


Photo of a pug with a red velvet blanket over its head. One way to bust your stress with creativity is to give yourself permission to smile.

You are a human. You are a creative. Some level of stress will exist every day of your life. Don’t be a Nero. But use your creative gift. Bust your stress with creativity and your art will probably bust someone else’s stress. Maybe it will inspire someone to use their creativity to bust stress in a community, a state, and the world. Now go out there and create.

Which of these stress busting tips will you use this week?

Image Credits

FIrst image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Second image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay 

Third image by Melk Hagelslag from Pixabay

Final image by Stacey Kennedy from Pixabay 

How to Reduce Your Stress with a Sniff

When you are doing too much, your stress can cause your body to change in harmful ways. My post Recognize Your Stress Levels lists several ways your body changes. But did you know that stress affects your sense of smell? And did you know that certain scents can allow you to reduce your stress with a sniff?

Your Sense of Smell

In evolutionary terms, your sense of smell is the oldest of your senses. How does it work?

Air comes through your nose and passes over a patch of specialized sensory cells found high inside the nose. These cells send messages to the brain when they detect molecules of a scent. Your brain identifies the odor. But your nose is only part of your sense of smell.

There is a tiny channel that connects the roof of your mouth to your nose. Chewing food releases scents that travel through this channel. If congestion blocks this channel (like when you have a cold) food doesn’t taste the same.

image of a red onion and onion slices

Another aid to your sense of smell is something called the common chemical sense. It’s made of thousands of nerve endings in the moist areas of your nose, mouth, and eyes. They detect irritating substances such as an onion’s tear-producing odor.

What Can We Smell

Your sense of smell is important. It can alert you when there is a danger (smoke from a fire, food that’s gone bad, or potentially toxic chemicals). Certain aromas bring us joy—the scent of a new baby, your spouse’s scent, freshly made bread, or a delicious meal. 

Until 2014, we thought humans could only detect about 10,000 different scents. But a study quoted in Discovery Magazine determined that we can distinguish at least one trillion different odors. Unfortunately, no human language has a trillion words describing unique scents. But even without words, the scents have meaning.

What Affects Your Sense of Smell

Congestion can block the passageways that scents must travel, however stress changes your sense of smell as well.

In 2013, a report in the Journal of Neuroscience detailed this discovery. Using brain imaging technology, they studied how the brain reacts to anxiety-inducing pictures (car crashes and images from wars). They discovered that viewing those images scrambled their subjects’ sense of smell. Normally neutral odors became distasteful ones. (Read the full story on Science Daily. )

That sets up a feedback loop that can (theoretically) increase your stress, anxiety, and depression.

The Speed of Smell

Unlike our other senses, the olfactory nerves do not proceed directly to the brain’s thalamus, the gateway to consciousness.

Marta Zaraska, Discover Magazine

Scent information travels directly to the brain. This information can instantly trigger emotions, the fight-or-flight response, or memories. So even though stress alters your sense of smell, aromatherapy can reduce your stress.

Reduce Your Stress with a Sniff

Image of a sprig of lavender and a bottle of essential oil, one way you can reduce your stress with a sniff

Aromatherapy is the use of aroma to enhance a feeling of wellbeing.


There is over 6000 years of historical evidence that civilizations used scents from natural plants as therapy. 

According to Psychology Today,  six scents are helpful in treating stress. 


One of the most studied essential oils, Lavender can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature and change your brain waves to a more relaxed state.

Lemon or Yuzu

Yuzu is a citrus fruit in East Asia that is similar to lemon. Japanese researchers have found that yuzu citrus scent can soothe stress and anxiety and lower your heart rate in just 10 minutes. The results of studies on the effects of lemon scents are mixed.


Citrus bergamot is a hybrid fruit grown for its essential oil. Clinical studies conducted between 2009 to 2013 found that Bergamot essential oil aromatherapy reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and stress.

Ylang Ylang

  This is a sweet floral scent extracted from the flower of a tropical tree in Southeast Asia. Not well studied, the Ylang Ylang essential oil may have calming effects, such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate.

Clary sage

A close relative of the common garden sage, this aroma has calming and antidepressant effects.


The sweet smell of Jasmine is another essential oil that needs more research. One study suggested that even the aroma of jasmine tea is calming.

Treat Your Stress

You’ve always been told that stress is bad for you. Perhaps, after reading this series of posts, you understand better why it’s bad. Hopefully, you’ve learned how your body reacts to stress and how to treat your stress with sleep, a better diet, exercise, music, and even reduce your stress with a sniff. Has this series of posts helped your understanding of stress? What’s your favorite stress-reducing strategy?

Ways Music is Good For You and Your Stress

If you follow my Facebook page or profile, you know I love to listen to and share music in almost all its forms. Turns out that music is good for you. In my continuing examination of stress, I share some science behind the ways it is good for you. And I share links to stress-relief acoustics both musical and natural sounds.

Scientific studies of stress and cortisol show that relaxing tunes may reduce stress and reduce the time you need to recover from stress. Some studies show that natural sounds (rippling water) may be even more effective than relaxing songs.

Image of a wave of musical notes and the quote, “Where words fail, music speaks.” by Hans Christian Andersen--We've always known music is good for you

Historically, musical theorists concerned themselves with the grammar and syntax of music. We simply knew a relationship between melodies and mood and well-being existed. Ways to measure and study this effect are now available to researchers. And we are only just beginning to understand that music affects every system of our body. 

In my brief review of the studies I found there is no one study that has found the answer. However, the studies show that there are many ways music is good for you.


Studies suggest that music around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat causing alpha brainwaves. Alpha brainwaves are present when you are relaxed and conscious.

Rhythmic songs may change brain function and treat a range of neurological conditions, including attention deficit disorder and depression, according to Researchers at Stanford University.


Medical News Today reported on a study that demonstrated the effects of music in combination with blood pressure medications. 

“The heart rates of the music-listening participants dropped significantly 60 minutes after taking blood pressure medication, whereas when they did not listen to music, the heart rates did not slow down at all.

Immune System

One study showed that listening to a relaxing melody before surgery causes an increase in the body’s immunity and reduces cortisol levels. (Read about the McGill University Study here).

In 2013, a study of premature infants reported that live tunes played in the neonatal intensive care was extremely effective. “Infants experienced lower heart rates, better oxygen saturation, higher caloric intake, and increased sucking behavior.”

Psychology & Behavior

A study published in Nursing Times that music therapy reduced agitation in dementia patients. Later studies indicated that this effect increased when the patients listened to songs from their youth.

Other studies have concluded that for disabled children, music’s form and structure “encourages coordination and communication.”

Listening to relaxing melodies may relieve depression and increase self-esteem in elderly people. 

Another study shows it can reduce burnout and improve mood among nursing students.


Experiments carried out by scientists at the University of California at Irvine found that students’ test scores improved after listening to a recording of Mozart, compared with either a relaxation tape or silence. They refer to this as “The Mozart Effect.”

Stress Response & Recovery

Some studies have found that listening to relaxing music before surgery reduces the patient’s stress. 

One particular melody listed below reduced study participants’ stress by 65%.

Songs That Works Best

Music enjoyment is subjective. You may have to try several styles before you find the one that works the best for you. Here is a list to get you started:

Many thanks to Melanie Curtin at Inc.com and the Counseling Services branch of the University of Nevada (Reno) for their music selections)

The Ways Music Is Good For You

You probably didn’t need to read this to know that music is good for you. But how music affects us when we are stressed is amazing. We’ll learn more about the ways music is good for you as more researchers complete more studies.

For more information about what stress does to our bodies see my earlier blog posts, 10 Warning Signs You’re Doing Too Much and Recognize Your Stress Levels.

Do you listen to music when you’re stressed? Please share a link to one of your favorites (only one link per comment so your comment isn’t marked as spam.)

Does Stress Make You Reach For Chocolate?

Does stress make you reach for Chocolate? It does me. Oops. That’s bad. Or is it? There is no question but stress is hard on your body. The inflammation caused by stress challenges your heart, your metabolic, your emotional health, and much more. One way to counteract the effects of stress is to make a plan for healthy foods and exercise when you’re under stress. 

Image of foil wrapped chocolate--Does stress make you reach for chocolate like it does me?

Riiight. When I’m stressed out, I’m reaching out for what’s quick or easy or available. Most often I reach for comfort foods high in fat and sugar and starch. And exercise? Fuagetaboutit. I don’t have the time. I’m too stressed. You, too? 

This is the third in my series of posts on stress and what we can do about it. (see Recognize Your Stress Levels and To Stress or To Sleep.) In this post, I won’t tell you all the foods and exercise you should be doing. You probably already know. But I will tell you WHY you might want to make better choices.

What Stress Produces

Dopamine, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and cortisol are the most common stress hormones. These hormones stimulate the body for the “fight or flight” response. They affect basic body functions like blood flow, heart rate, and breathing. 

“Even minute changes in levels of these substances can significantly affect health.” For an in-depth discussion of these stress hormones read Stress: It’s Worse Than You Think.

The Calming Hormones

Our bodies produce several hormones that play a part in “calming” us. Various studies and reports say that DHEA, oxytocin, endorphins, and serotonin reduce stress hormones. So-called “health” sites promote supplements or certain dietary changes to saying that their hormone-containing product will help you overcome the bad effects of stress. In reality, studies of these hormones and the supplements have had mixed results. We need more research to know how these hormones work and if supplements can help.

If you take supplements, please use caution. These supplements can and will interact with other medications. They can cause side effects and other health problems. Always consult your physician or your pharmacist before adding a supplement to your regime. Always tell your health care professional which supplements you take. 

It’s Complex

The study of hormones is complex. Genetics, psychology, physiology, and chemistry all play a role in the processes and the effects of hormones. Interdisciplinary studies take time. But what’s a person to do until we know more?

Create a plan. A stress plan. You are in charge, create your personal stress plan.

Diet and Stress

Do you reach for chocolate when you’re stressed? I do. Chocolate is one of my “reward“ foods. It makes me feel good. 

Small amounts of dark chocolate can be good for you. But too much can cause health problems you want to avoid. 

There are studies that suggest that under stress, your reward signaling and reward sensitivity are significantly lower.  This leads to food choices that are higher in fat and sugar. Studies suggest that the more high-fat and high-sugar foods you eat, the more you need to eat to feel the same reward signal. 

Stress is the psychological equivalent of ragweed. Once the body becomes sensitized to pollen or ragweed, it takes only the slightest bloom in spring or fall to set off the biochemical alarm that results in runny noses, watery eyes, and the general misery of hay fever. But while only some of us are genetically programed to be plagued with hay fever, all of us have the capacity to become sensitized to stress.

Psychology Today

What does all this mean? It means that stress does make you reach for chocolate. Or for your favorite high-fat, high-sugar foods and drinks. And once you’re stressed, it’s difficult to not devolve into a poor diet that will only lead to more stress and more cravings.

So while we don’t understand why some foods make us feel better. It is important to be proactive and create healthy choices to combat stress BEFORE we are stressed. 

Healthy Choices

You’ve probably seen the USDA’s my plate campaign. 

chooseMyPlate.gov image of the recommended portions of the five food groups.

Explore your favorite foods that fall into healthy choices and plan which ones will help you deal with stress. 

Some foods are rich in nutrients that can help with high blood pressure (potassium), or headaches (magnesium). Which foods are best for stress? It depends upon your body, your health, and your food preferences. One thought is that if you make healthier choices a routine, you’ll choose the less healthy options less often. Even under stress.

An occasional slip into the high-fat, high-sugar foods when stressed won’t cause harm. But if you don’t have a plan for healthier eating, you’ll end up making food choices that won’t help you feel better. 

Stressed? Reach for… Exercise

If stress makes you reach for chocolate-exercise. Image of man walking up stairs in forest

According to WebMD, “Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever.” The news and advertisements have long advised us that exercise releases endorphins. The runners’ high is real. But the endorphins don’t work alone. Serotonin and norphenylephrine are also released during exercise. 

Until recently, studies suggested that you needed at least thirty minutes of intense exercise to get an endorphin release. New evidence suggests that you can get a slower, less intense release of endorphins by exercising for fifteen minutes several times a week. And it still contributes to your well-being.

So don’t sweat it. Or—do. It’s your choice. 

In times of high stress, it is difficult to find the time or the energy to exercise. But again, try to make a plan for it. Look at your environment and situation. Can you take a five- or ten-minute fast walk around the hallways of the hospital every hour or two? That will help. 

According to  J. Kip Matthews, PhD, a sports psychologist, “The more sedentary we become—not getting regular exercise—the less efficient the body is at dealing with stressors that are being placed on it.”

Maybe you don’t want to or can’t step away from your situation. But you could do some simple stretches or march in place or dance for fifteen minutes. Get your body moving. 

What Do You Reach For?

Does stress make you reach for chocolate? If it does, don’t beat yourself up for it (and cause more stress). But do make a plan for how you want to react to stress. Choose the best foods and exercises for you. Do you have a certain food or exercise you use for stress reduction? Your comment below may help someone else reach for healthier foods and for exercise. 

To Stress or To Sleep?

The demands on your time and abilities mount. Your stress levels build. You develop physical or emotional or behavioral symptoms (see my previous post Recognize Your Stress Levels). The stress and its symptoms can cause serious physical, emotional, and behavioral issues. You know you shouldn’t ignore your symptoms. But you’re stressed? How do you manage? Especially when every night you’re in a loop to stress or to sleep.

A woman sitting on the floor, hands over her face thinking to Stress or to sleep

The Basics

Our body has some basic needs. Food. Water. Exercise. And sleep. Today we’ll talk about sleep. Why do we need sleep? How much sleep do we need? And how can we attempt to get enough sleep when stressed?


We tend to think of sleep as a time when we “shut off” our brain and body. As a result, we treat sleep as the thing we do after we’ve done everything else. (Or is that just me?) But getting enough sleep every should be a priority. And it should be a higher priority when we’re stressed. 

The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.

Sydney J. Harris

Why We Need Sleep

Sleep allows our bodies to perform many important functions. The first is that sleep restores “brain plasticity.” You know that “foggy” feeling the morning after an all-nighter? Without enough sleep, our brain cannot adapt well. 

Our bodies take in information all day long. Those sights, sounds, touches, smells, and emotions and new information and events need processed and stored. During sleep, we solidify and consolidate our memories. If you are short on sleep, you will be short on memory.

During sleep our bodies repair tissues, grow muscles, synthesize hormones. A chronic lack of sleep can cause a worsening of depression, high blood pressure, migraines, and even seizures. And lack of sleep compromises our immune system. Our chances of illness and infection increase.  

“Sleep also plays a role in metabolism: Even one night of missed sleep can create a prediabetic state in an otherwise healthy person.”


In other words, to be healthy we need adequate sleep.

Our Bodies Crave Sleep

Do you ignore times when your body is telling you you’re hungry? I know I do. I’ll skip a meal. Our bodies cannot force us to eat. It can make us feel sick or weak and we eat to make that feeling go away. But it doesn’t force us to eat. 

I can skip on my sleep, too. But there comes a point when I can no longer keep my eyes open. I’ll fall asleep no matter what I’m trying to do. I’m sure it works that way for you, too. That’s because our bodies need sleep. Our bodies crave sleep. Our bodies will force us to sleep if it must.

How Much Is Enough Sleep?

The National Sleep Foundations conducted a two-year study and made these recommendations by age. 

Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day 

Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours 

Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours 

Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours 

School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours 

Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours 

Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours

Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours

Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours 

National Sleep Foundation

How to Get Enough Sleep When Stressed

Getting to sleep when you’re stressed isn’t easy. Set yourself up for success. Good sleep habits (also known as sleep hygiene) before stressful events will help you get the sleep you need. Don’t have good sleep habits? Then practice good sleep hygiene now. 

1. Make your bedroom a restful place. 

  • Quiet (you may need a white noise generator or ear plugs)
  • Dark (blackout curtains or a sleep mask)
  • Cool room temperature 
  • Fresh air, free of allergens (an open window or a fan)
  • Clean bedroom (at least without clutter and distractions)
  • Comfortable mattress and pillow

2. Develop a sleep routine.

Consistency of your bedtime routine helps signal your brain and body to prepare for sleep. 

  • Go to bed at the same time every night. 
  • Make certain your bedtime allows for enough hours of sleep before you must get up. 
  • Do the same thing(s) before bedtime every night. (A sleep routine)

3. Put away the electronic devices one or more hours prior

You may not be able to turn off your phone, but stop looking at the screen–any screen. There’s plenty of research that says screen time will decrease sleep and quality of sleep.

4. Practice relaxation for thirty minutes before bedtime.

  • Read or listen to relaxing music 
  • Take a hot bath or shower.
  • Relax your muscles. Focus on each part of your body. Clench and release your muscles. Breath out the tension and consciously think about relaxing. Start with your face. Once you feel your face relax, focus on your neck, and down your body– upper back, arms, hands, lower back, buttocks, upper legs, lower legs, and feet. You may fall asleep before you get all the way to your feet. 

5. Visualization

Imagine yourself going through your sleep routine, getting into bed, falling asleep, having a restful night. Research shows that your brain responds to visualization as if it actually happens. Repeated visualizations of good sleep practices will help you get a good night’s sleep.

6. Count Sheep.

Or count backwards. Or count by threes. What and how you count isn’t important. What’s important is your focus. Keep your focus on the numbers. That will keep your worries at bay and help you relax.

7. Be mindful.

Deep breathing, meditation, or yoga may boost your sleep time and quality.

8. Journal

Write about what you’d like to dream about, or count your blessings, or list things you for which you are grateful.

9. Schedule worrying time.

  • If worries keep you awake, schedule time for your worries. Set aside fifteen to thirty minutes in every morning or afternoon. Use a timer to keep to your time limit. 
  • Journal or just think about your worries. 
  • List your worries and what you might do to resolve them 
  • List the things you want to accomplish for the next day. 

You schedule a time and a time limit to help your brain understand that you take your worries seriously and can let go of those worries until your next appointment with worry.

Managing Stress Not One-and-Done

Unfortunately, managing stress is not a one-and-done process. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. What works for you this day may not work the next. Try a little of everything until you find what works. Don’t get caught between to stress or to sleep. Give yourself every opportunity to get enough sleep. And stay tuned for next week’s discussion of how diet and exercise affect stress management.