Adrenaline and Creativity

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Some of us need to feel the fear before doing anything at all. Maybe some peace can be gained by just accepting that we function this way…

As I was preparing a new workshop recently, I took a second (literally!) to reflect on how, while preparing a workshop intended to bring a sense of deep groundedness to participants, an integral part of the process for me seemed to be approaching the edge of a nervous breakdown.

It wasn’t that I was not re-engaging myself with the method I was exploring during the workshop. In those moments I kept still, reached down, and had direct access to a source of strength in myself. But this was quite unrelated to the stress, which aimed to blow the whole of me, inner peace and all, off my feet!

I remembered work some years ago with a client who was determined to calm down and concentrate on revising for exams which were vital to him in moving away from his present situation and finding a more meaningful life. While feeling deeply sure of his motivation to take and pass these exams, and reminding himself of it regularly, his revision sessions tended to consist of surfing the internet for apocalyptic scenarios, with breaks to check email.

He tried every kind of method to rein himself in and concentrate on the job in hand. He did not feel that the procrastination, or the stress that drove it, was a serious attempt to sabotage his actions. It did not seem to have anything to say to him. He was aware of the possible upsides of staying where he was and the pressures from others and from various odd corners of himself. But none of this investigation seemed to “stick”.

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In the end, while going over past successes and failures, he realised: when he had avoided working on a thesis for months, then sat down two nights before and just wrote it, he had done himself justice. More than that, he really, really enjoyed it. He felt mobilised, he managed to find every piece of knowledge he had and use it exactly how it fitted. He felt alive, energised and happy. And the result was good.

The simple conclusion we came to was this: this was just the way he functioned. When he tried to push himself into a scheme and be sensible, it did not work. He was certainly not into extreme sports or hard drugs, and he wasn’t exactly an adrenaline junkie — he didn’t feel the need to expose himself to ever more intensive exams! — but he needed that adrenaline in order to bring out the best in himself.

It seems to me that those of us who function like this can immediately cancel out half our stress by accepting that we need to feel the fear before doing it at all! When not attached to intensively maintained fantasy scenarios of how terrible or brilliant it is going to be, or pushed into futile efforts to be calm, or mindful, or in the moment, or organised, or professional, or however we feel we should be, that surge of adrenaline is an extra source of electricity — it literally powers us forward. Riding the wave may strain our muscles and leave us exhausted, but fighting a wave or wishing it was some calm little pool is clearly not only exhausting, but gets us nowhere and makes us feel worse about ourselves.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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