Five Steps to Engage Creatively with Stress


There is no question that life is stressful. The world events of 2016 escalated stress levels across the great divide of personal opinion and viewpoint. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the big picture. How do we confront conflicting ideas and problematic personalities? How can we manage stress levels hitting new highs on your internal stress-o-meter?

Consider the strategies of creative strength training. The stamina built by implementing five simple principles soothes stress levels, encourages you to have fun, and leads to a happier state of mind.

1. Play with paint or bright-colored markers. Even people who reject the idea of being artistic have an inherent ability to create. If your mind resists – “Who me? No way!” – Trick it. Grant yourself permission to play, but only for an hour. (You’ll want to keep going!)

Still hitting resistance? Close your eyes. Imagine the happiest times of childhood. Most often it’s a memory of playing – in the dirt, on a bike, with coloring books, or games. Need further convincing? Suspend judgment. Just try it. And BTW, adult coloring books are all the rage for a reason. Coloring is meditative. Flash alert! No books are needed. Just start slapping paint on paper. See what happens. If that’s too scary, try finger-painting. It’s a blast. Buy a set any place that sells toys.

2. Cross Train. You know what it means at the gym. Apply it to trying something new. If you started with painting, switch to writing a poem. Look up Haiku online. It’s easy and there are thousands of examples! Main thing? Reject self-consciousness! For once it IS all about you.

3. Engage the Inner Rebel. Everyone has one. It’s the hard-wired part of human beings that takes charge, given permission. Rebelliousness is usually a teenage attribute. As adults, we sublimate the Rebel, to be perceived as agreeable adults. But Rebel energy enthusiastically tries on new things for size. It also helps keep us from being guilted into doing things we don’t want to do. You have preferences. Perhaps if you were honoring them, you wouldn’t feel so stressed. Think about it.

4. Dismantle Your Committee. Do you see faces or hear voices when you’re stressed or criticized? Those are the people who keep you from succeeding, or block your enjoyment of success. Psychologists call the Committee “The Critic.” But it’s bigger than that. You might be your own worst critic, but you didn’t arrive on the planet with that mindset. A few people around you – past or present – helped. Sometimes someone WAS mean. But just as often, someone’s on your Committee because you want to impress them. Face it. Dismantling the Committee is freeing. So who’s on your committee? Figure it out and dump them.

5. Write Your History. I teach a class called “Everyone is Fascinating.” Not a new idea, just a reminder. Your life is a timeline of stories. Write a few down. Lists are ok. Or short paragraphs, or even a timeline. We’re not going for the Pulitzer here. Can’t think of anything to write? Make a list of the crazy, sweet, odd parts of yourself. Writing reminds you who you are. You can feel good about it and maybe even accept yourself. There’s an old saying: “Know Thyself.” When you know yourself you feel centered. When you’re centered, you can deal better with stress. It can’t knock you off without a fight.

Bottom line? You can’t change the world around you, but you can change how you react to it.  And in order to do that, you’ve got to be present. Make time to play, be centered in who you are, and enlist your inner Rebel. Dismantle the Committee. All small changes that can make a big difference.

Jane Dunnewold is an artist who writes. Although her popular book, Creative Strength Training: Prompts, Exercises and Stories to inspire Artistic Genius was written to help artists find deeper joy in creating, her strategies apply to anyone seeking a more creative and boldly authentic life. Jane lectures and leads workshops that honor and encourage our human desire to create. See artwork, read more, or contact her at