If you’ve been feeling like you’re in a creative slump during this time of coronavirus quarantine, you are not alone. It’s an issue coming up for a lot of people right now, and it’s so normal.
Let’s talk about why this is happening at this time.
The First Need is Survival
The number one need of all beings on this planet, from plants to insects to dogs to humans, is survival.
This need is primal, and the nervous system does what it needs to do to keep us safe regardless of whether we direct it or desire it to do so.
This often gets overlooked, so it bears repeating:
You, as a human being, are living in a body that is designed — wired — to put your safety and survival above all else.
If you’re about to be attacked by a bear in the woods or an oncoming car, you spring into motion before you fully think about the situation. Your mind doesn’t get involved here, and for good reason: you don’t want to be caught in decision about “which way to run.”
You can see how this would be necessary if you were being attacked.
Sympathetic Nervous System: Fight-or-Flight Mode
When you’re in a state of attack, your body kicks into gear by virtue of the sympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the “fight or flight” response. The sympathetic nervous system is like the gas pedal in a car: it’s what mobilizes your system to move. This is the primal functionality that keeps you safe.
The thing about our human bodies is that they are highly adaptable and complex; so much so that scientists are still figuring out how everything works, and humans have been around for a long time. But as adaptable and advanced as they are, they operate on a primal level.
This is to say that the body has the same reaction to modern day stressors as it does to the bear in the woods attack. For all the adaptability of our systems, the nervous system hasn’t yet figured out that an overflowing inbox or a looming work deadline are not the same as being attacked by a bear in the woods or having a car heading toward you.
Your Nervous System Is Primal
The nervous system doesn’t differentiate between a physical attack and an verbal attack. That old saying about “sticks and stones may break your bones but names can never hurt you” is simply a lie. Your nervous system views them the same way.
Nor does it differentiate between an external attack and an internal attack. It doesn’t matter if the name-calling is coming from the bully down the block or your inner critic. Both trigger a response.
The fight-or-flight response kicks in whether you’re under physical attack or you’re simply angry about something.
Understanding this hopefully provides you with some insight into why so many of us live with chronic stress, also known as “sympathetic overload.” The demands of our modern lives, and the way that many of us have been conditioned to speak to ourselves, put us in a constant state of sympathetic response.
It’s like a car where the gas pedal is won’t release once you pressed on it.
So this is how we live, in ordinary times.
Adding Quarantine to the Mix
Now add to that mix a virus that cannot yet be controlled, quarantine and self-isolation, and the need for more screens and technology to facilitate connection. In many ways, we are literally under attack.
Our nervous systems are preoccupied with keeping us safe. This is task number one.
When the nervous system is in sympathetic mode, it directs all resources to vital functions needed to get to safety. The body and mind contract. Focus narrows.
Creativity is a Luxury of Safety
Creativity, planning, creating a vision, shipping work are luxuries afforded to those who feel a sense of safety. When you’re running from the bear you’re not thinking about creative work; you’re focused on staying alive.
Creativity and expression of ideas are secondary to safety.
So your creative slump or stagnation is really to be expected at this time.
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, with some tips on how you can nurture your creativity at this time.