Words: Abigail Ani
Stress kills creativity. Research shows that when our stress feels uncontrollable, it negatively affects how we perform creatively. According to Mind UK, while stress isn’t normally considered to be a mental health problem, it can be both a cause and a product of poor mental health. So, given that PoCs are “at higher risk of developing a mental health problem in adulthood but are less likely to receive support for their mental health”, stress management needs to be a priority for PoCs navigating the creative industries. For Mental Health Awareness Week, Pocc is highlighting how we can identify and manage three major sources of stress as creators in 2022.
A 2020 study suggests that our brains process more than 6,000 thoughts per day. So, with ever increasing demands for us to consume digital information, it’s no wonder that our minds often feel a bit cluttered by the constant influx of news, work emails, social media posts, Whatsapp messages and so on.
Information overload occurs when we’re trying to process more information than the brain is built to handle, causing us to feel stressed. It inhibits creativity because it doesn’t allow the mind to have the free moments that are necessary for creative thinking. But since information overload has been so normalised in our society, it can be difficult to recognise it as the cause of symptoms such as delayed decision-making, confusion and anxiety. So,it’s important for us to actively protect ourselves and our creativity from information overload.
Regularly clearing our minds can help us tackle information overload. Writing down our thoughts not only contributes to relieving tension, it also makes it easier to reflect and focus our mental energy on what’s most important to us. Preventing information overload also involves setting healthy boundaries once we’ve become aware of how different types of information can affect us. For example, we could limit checking emails to a few (designated) times a day, since research has found that this reduces overall day-to-day stress.
A creative block can sometimes be a sign of burnout-induced stress. While we shouldn’t expect constant productivity from ourselves, the pressure of toxic hustle culture from spaces like ‘rise and grind’ Twitter can make us feel like we have to work harder. This can lead to mental and physical fatigue that leaves us stressed out, which negatively impacts our ability to think creatively.
To prevent burnout and create from a healthy place, we must prioritise self-care. Getting enough sleep, checking in with ourselves regularly, taking breaks from projects, scheduling enjoyment and even taking time to just do nothing by ourselves are all key to preventing burnout.
Comparing ourselves to other creators is a natural human behaviour. But even though it can be a source of inspiration, research also suggests that “social media exacerbates social comparison in all the worst ways”. It is therefore important for us to review and improve our relationships with social media, given its significance in the creative industries.
Reframing how we see other creators can help us manage the stress comparison can trigger. We may not be so hard on ourselves if we remember that people on social media tend to spotlight achievements, not struggles. Additionally, figuring out how we could learn from fellow creators on social media can positively influence our own creativity. There’s also nothing wrong with digital-detoxing or muting/unfollowing a few people for peace of mind. As long as we’re intentional with our social media usage, we can reduce the stress it causes.
Let’s be realistic: stress isn’t completely avoidable, but taking a proactive approach to our mental wellbeing can minimise its impact on us as creators. Although it may seem like an individual activity, it is important to understand that we don’t have to manage our stress alone. Research indicates that we shouldn’t underestimate the stress-relieving potential of talking to a trusted person when we feel overwhelmed, whether it be a family member, a friend, a fellow PoC creator or a therapist. The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network (BAATN) connects PoCs with PoC therapists and Black Minds Matter UK (BMM UK) connects Black individuals and families with free mental health services.