It’s taken me a long time to figure out that nothing kills creativity quite like stress. I touched upon this very briefly in my post on writer’s block, but I think it bears further examination. It’s very difficult to do any kind of creative work, including writing, when bad stress is a factor.
I say bad stress specifically, because there are good kinds of stress, and they don’t tend to interfere. Excitement about an upcoming event, the breathless exultation of a word sprint during NaNoWriMo, and other, similar things are all good sources of stress. They keep you going, keep you focused, keep your brain alive and firing on all cylinders.
It’s the bad stress, the kind that comes from not knowing whether you’ll hold on to your job, or not knowing if you’ll be able to hold on to your sanity, or desperate, fundamental questioning of whether you should even be writing or not—that’s the stuff that kills you.
I can’t say as I have much advice to keep it at bay, but I can share the things that work for me. Could be they’ll help you, could be they won’t.
In all honesty, one of the things that works for me, consistently, is stories of one sort or another. The medium changes, but the fact that there’s a story remains the same. 99% of the time, if I’m diving into a video game, it’s because I’m there for the story. Mass Effect, The Last Story, Tomb Raider (the new one)? It’s the story that ropes me in. I get invested in the characters, and I want to see what happens to them, or romance them, or be big damn heroes with them.
Books are a no-brainer, especially good ones that I’m well familiar with. Bizarrely, John Dies at the End is one of my favorite relaxation books. Same goes for Hogfather. Sometimes, if I want to really shut my brain down, I crack open the fucking magnum opus of a fanfic that is Shinji and Warhammer40k, pick a part, and start reading. The guy who wrote that beast is currently in the unenviable process of editing it, to which I say God speed you, sir.
Movies and TV, naturally, are another way for me to wick the stress away. The trick for me is always to find something fun and familiar. I can’t watch, for instance, Puella Magi Madoka Magica to destress, because its familiarity doesn’t trump the fact that it gets real goddamn dark. But Pacific Rim is a good destress movie, and it leaves me charged and wanting to create afterward, like I feel any really good work of art should.
Tabletop gaming, like my weekly D&D game or the games I play with my circle of incredibly entertaining friends and post here for the world’s amusement, they take some creative work on the front-end, but there’s nothing inherently stressful about running or playing a tabletop game. Not for me, anyway. And it’s a good chance to hang out with people I like to be around, which is another excellent cure for stress.
I mentioned above that 99% of the time when I play a video game, I’m after a story. Well, the other 1% of the time I’m looking for something more… Zen. Something beautiful and contemplative, or something that engages the left brain and leaves the right to roam wild. These are the simulation-type games for farming and world-building (hello, Minecraft) or simple card games.
The zen aspect also rears its head when I’m practicing guitar (badly) or when I’m paging through my slowly growing collection of Force of Will cards, reading the flavor text and seeing what stories they tell. Similarly, when I’m combing through my deck of tarot cards, I like to let my eyes linger on the images, seeing what they unpack, discovering the connections they make. Certain kinds of arts and crafts things, like painting miniatures or sewing, also let me zone out.
In all honesty, I would not be able to tell you what guitar, trading cards, painting, sewing, and tarot have in common that allows me to just kind of let go, but there’s a common thread there of some sort to be certain.
So, those are the ways I work my way past stress. With stories, time with friends, and a little zen. What methods do you have (he asks the glittering void of the Internet) for working past stress? If there’s something that relaxes you, post it in the comments. Maybe it’ll help somebody else relax, too.