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6 creative ways to handle workplace stress

We can all agree that work is stressful. Even if you have the best position in the world, you’re still susceptible to organizational stress. There are multiple ways to handle stress while you’re at work, but like football, the best defense is a good offense. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to stress, creativity is the best offense.

Since creativity is one of those umbrella terms that can cover a variety of different activities, I asked a few of my co-workers what creative endeavors help them relieve the stress of the daily grind. Here are their responses:

Gardening   

In the past few weeks, a number of delicious garden-fresh vegetables have been showing up in the office break room. My hunch is that they’re courtesy of Jacob McEwen, a co-worker who’s well known for his gardening prowess. I asked him about his garden and how it relates to stress in his life, and his response blew me out of the water.

“When I get stressed, I like to retreat to my garden. Watching plants grow from seed, harvesting their fruits and seeing them wither–only to grow back again next year–reminds me that I, that all of us, only play a very small part in a much greater expression of life. That life never ends, but is preserved in those who inherit the legacy of their forebears through this cycle of death and rebirth. That my problems, however large they may appear, ultimately mean nothing, and just being here to bear witness is blessing.”

Jacob’s not alone in finding relief among the foliage of his garden plot. A 2011 study from the Netherlands showed that gardening significantly lowers cortisol, the stress hormone. Thevitamin D rich sunshine, exercise, and fresh veggies are just an added bonus.

Writing

I love to read — it’s always been one of my favorite ways to escape. However, some people, namely Troy Lambert, use writing in the same manner.

“Although I am normally a long form fiction writer, I write poetry to relieve stress. For me poetry is not only a unique way to express and vent emotion, but it also requires me to shift focus from the emotion itself to how to concisely convey it to a reader in a brief but powerful way. Since I have to consider each word carefully, soon the poem becomes more important than the issue, and I can let it go.”

Dr. James W. Pennebaker found that the process of writing can help people organize their thoughts and give meaning to a traumatic experience. Furthermore, when they open up privately about said event, they are more likely to talk with others about it, gaining beneficial social support that can aid healing.

Doodling

Scientists will tell you that indulging in the visual arts can have a marked impact on stress. For those of us less than handy with oil paints, it may come as a surprise that something as simple as doodling can have the same effect.

“From emerging studies we are learning that art expression may actually help individuals reconnect thinking and feeling, thus bridging explicit (narrative) and implicit (sensory) memory. The wonderful thing about doodling is that it is a whole brain activity—spontaneous, at times unconscious, self-soothing, satisfying, exploratory, memory-enhancing, and mindful. In essence, doodling (and drawing and painting and making things in general) can be a self-regulating experience as well as a pleasurable road map of thoughts and ideas.” — Cathy Malchiodi, in an article from Psychology Today.

Born of the doodles on the back of a manuscript, Zentangle has taken doodling to a whole new level. This system for drawing mindful, intricate patterns is a creative way to train your focus on artwork, rather than whatever stressor is troubling you at the time. No doubt you’ve seen some of the instructional books on the shelves of your local book store. In fact, more than 60 are set to be published in 2015.

Crafting & DIY Projects

Have you ever been so lost in a project that that nothing else seems to matter? This is called flow, and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says it’s the secret to happiness. When crafting, the brain releases dopamine—a chemical responsible for both motivation and pleasure. When lost in the dopamine induced flow, we forget to worry about work—our focus is entirely on our craft.

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Danica Barnack is a DIY master, spending much of free time engaged in upcycling and refinishing projects.

“DIY projects are a great way to alleviate stress because they take your mind off of things and really give you something to focus on. Knowing that I have something in front of me that I can make renew, improve, and customize really helps my spirits,” Barnack says.

But Danica isn’t the only crafting aficionado who shares office space with me.

“I like to flex my creative muscles by making jewelry. I enjoy the simple act of combining colors and materials to suit my personal taste. For me, it’s soothing and therapeutic.” says Celeste Newberry.

The soothing, repetitive motions involved in crafting might have a lot to do with flow. Jackie Hernandez of Teal & Lime explains, “Painting is relaxing. Stenciling is relaxing. Sewing is relaxing. There is a rhythm to DIY projects that makes them relaxing.”

Video Game Creation

The Millennials are a computer savvy generation, so it was no surprise at all when I found some of my co-workers relieved stress by delving into the world of technology. Kcody Dansereau ofOutside the Cube Gaming had this to say on creating video games:

“When I’m making a video game or a board game, I would say that it helps me release a lot of my everyday stress, while at the same time adding more stress on top of it. But in this case it’s a good thing, because it’s stress that I have 100% control of. Doing it gets me away from the crap that just happens to and around me, and allows me to focus on something constructive; something new and fun that I can share with others, which can be stressful in itself, but I like it.”

As Kcody noted, certain types of stress don’t seem to feel draining. While too much stress can have a negative impact on our health, measured doses can boost brainpower and motivate us to succeed.

Coloring Books for Adults

After a stressful day at the office, I often find myself sitting at the kitchen table with markers and a coloring book. While this may sound inherently juvenile, I’ve found the act of coloring to be unbelievably calming. In an article from the Huffington Post, psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala extolled the virtues of coloring.

“The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.”

For me, there’s no greater stress reliever than the combination of a box of markers, a mandala coloring book, and a historical documentary on Netflix.

However, before you break out your colored pencils or knitting needles, you need to take care of what is arguably the most important tactic for defending against job-related stress; the work life balance. It’s imperative to draw a clear line between work and home.

According to an article in Paralegaledu.org, on handling the stress of working in a law office, “If you work at work, and work at home, you may find yourself feeling like you have no personal time, which will increase your stress load and decrease your job satisfaction.”

If you’re trying to unleash your creative juices in the same space you work, you’re unlikely to truly lose yourself in your project and get into the zen-like state of flow. Now get out there and create—the muses are calling.

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