Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. Creativity is foundational to our sense of purpose and meaning. Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the result of creativity. All of the things that set us apart from our closest animal relatives—our language, values, artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology—is the result of individual ingenuity that was recognized, rewarded, and transmitted through learning.
When we allow ourselves to be creative, we sense that we're living our lives more fully than when we are trapped in the monotony of the day-to-day. The excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab comes close to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life, and so rarely do. In my work, I have the joy to learn the ins and outs of how creative people live and work. I get to experience them as they work through the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. In my work with artists and other creative individuals, I have found that they are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it's complexity. Creative people show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are separate. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an "individual," each of them is a "multitude."
Here are a few antithetical traits often present in creative people that are integrated with each other in a dialectical tension.
So, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), millennials experience more stress and are less able to manage it than any other generation. What's up with that? Millennials have been found to be more anxious than older Americans. The APA reports that 12% of millennials have a diagnosed anxiety disorder—almost twice the percentage their Boomer counterparts.
On a non-clinical scale, a BDA Morneau Shepell white paper revealed that 30% of working millennials have general anxiety, while a 2014 American College Health Association (ACHA) assessment found that anxiety regularly afflicts 61% of college students. In my work with college students, I have found this to be an accurate representation. Anxiety and stress sabotage my students' productivity and academic performance. Some sources of millennial anxiety may be due to a tough job market, student debt, as well as psychological causes. Some psychological causes that I have seen in my practice are issues such as ambition addiction, career crises, and choice-overload. However, even more simple day-to-day behaviors can trigger anxiety. Here are some reasons that I've witnessed why 20-somethings are so anxious:
Much of the work that I do in my counseling practice is with Millennials. Yes. Millennials. It seems as if Millennials get a bad rap from much of the adult world, but I find Millennials to be, on the whole, deeply thoughtful, complex people who are just trying to figure out how to do this thing we're all caught up in - life. Not to mention they keep me feeling young and on point with what's going on in society and culture.
Naturally, since I do a lot of work in the areas of love, personality, and...relationships, I wanted to take a look at what single millennials think about dating in 2017. No surprise - it's pretty complicated! I checked out the 2017 Singles in America Survey (the most comprehensive survey of singles that reveals how over 5,000 American singles ages 18-70+ view dating, love, and sex today) to see what it had to say about smartphone-addicted, swipe-right-or-left obsessed, ghosting/benching/breadcrumbing Millennials and their views on dating. Here's the Cliffs Notes version:
1. Millennials are dating obsessed. Not only are people who are between the ages of 18-34 125 percent more likely to admit they're addicted to the process of dating, Millennials are 30 percent more likely than other generation to want a relationship this year.
2. But they're also frustrated AF with it. While Millennials are the generation most likely date online, they are also 22 percent more likely to feel that technology makes the process more difficult. In fact, 57 percent of Millennials report being lonely.
3. They date online. The survey found that 40 percent of singles overall have dated someone they met online and only 25 percent have met through a friend, but Millennials are the biggest online daters by far! This group is 57 percent more likely to have created a profile on a dating app, and they're also 30 percent more likely to have a first date that leads to a second.
4. They are more likely to hook-up before the first date than previous generations. Millennials are 48 percent more likely to have sex before going on a first date with someone, and 28 percent of the demographic thinks of sex as a way to decide how they feel about someone.
5. But at the same time, they believe sex is better with a strong emotional connection. Single Millennials are 51 percent more likely than Boomers to have no interest in sex, and they are 40 percent more likely to think that sex is better with an emotional connection.
6. They feel deep pressure to get married. Marriage is definitely on the minds of the Millennial generation. They are 177 percent more likely to feel an overwhelming pressure to get married.
People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of both mania (an exceptionally elevated, irritable, or energetic mood) and depression. These episodes can be separate or depressed and manic symptoms may occur at the same time as symptoms of depression. The frequency of episodes varies. At least four depressive, manic, hypomanic (mild form of mania) or mixed episodes within a year is known as rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.
During the early stages of a manic episode, people can be very happy, productive and creative. They have less need for sleep and don’t feel tired. There is some evidence that many well-known creative people suffer or have suffered from bipolar disorder. But this link may be caused by an unknown third factor, such as temperament.
In our culture, bipolar disorder has the tendency to be romanticized by its association with creative types, but many sufferers’ experience of the illness is far from glamourous. Patients report getting to the point where they can’t function and sometimes need to be hospitalized, especially if they don’t take their medication as prescribed.
"Bipolar disorder may carry certain advantages for creativity, especially in those who have milder symptoms.”
At the same time, however, at the start of a manic episode, a person might make lots of plans because the world seems full of opportunity. Individuals report that they feel high, they meet a lot of new friends, they'll go on shopping sprees and spend all their money, and sometimes they say that they even feel invincible. When prescribed, medication can remove or dull the experience of mania. A person experiencing mania may not like that their high mood and productivity is compromised, so they stop taking their medication.
So... is there something about the manic or in-between episodes of bipolar disorder that can be conducive to creative expression in some people?
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco noted, “It is well-established that people with affective disorders tend to be overrepresented in the creative artist population (especially those with bipolar disorder). Bipolar disorder may carry certain advantages for creativity, especially in those who have milder symptoms.”
Oftentimes, people living with bipolar disorder report that they are at their most creative and productive when feeling most healthy. For example, the poet Sylvia Plath, who is widely believed to have had bipolar disorder, said that when she was writing she was accessing the healthiest part of herself.
In 2005, a study tried to unravel the relationship between writer Virginia Woolf’s creativity and her mental illness, which was most likely bipolar disorder. The psychiatrist Gustavo Figueroa of the University of Valparaiso, Chile, writes, “She was moderately stable as well as exceptionally productive from 1915 until she committed suicide in 1941.
“Virginia Woolf created little or nothing while she was unwell, and was productive between attacks.” But, “A detailed analysis of her own creativity over the years shows that her illnesses were the source of material for her novels.”
It does seem that for those who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, creativity can offer a powerful means of expression.
Figueroa, C. G. Virginia Woolf as an example of a mental disorder and artistic creativity. Revista Medica de Chile, Vol. 133, November 2005, pp. 1381-88.
Liu, A. et al. A Case Study of an Emerging Visual Artist with Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Neurocase, Vol. 15, June 2009, pp. 235-47.
Many of the couples that I work with show up to counseling confused and frustrated because they just don't know what to do with the one another. They are missing each other. Their needs aren't being met and they have fought for so long that now they are just numb. They are stuck. The key to unlocking stuckness and creating lasting change is learning to listen and to expand on key emotions.
In order to do this, I work with the couple to identify their negative patterns of interaction. The negative patterns are the enemy - not the partners themselves. By focusing on the exchanges in the session and helping the partners see the spiral they are caught in, rather than just focusing on the last thing the other partner just said, helps them begin to see the entire dialogue; how it has a life of its own and hurts each of them. However, even though both individuals recognize the spiraling patterns, the situations keep repeating. They get trapped in the emotions and sucked back into their stuckness. It's important during these times that we slow down the interactions in the session so the emotions truly come to the surface and the other person can see and understand why his or her partner is responding in the way that they are. Actually talking about the emotions--often fear, sadness, embarrassment, shame--changes the conversation and all of the sudden the partners are hearing each other and experiencing each other differently for the first time.
In relationships we are looking for a unique kind of emotional responsiveness - it's a responsiveness that is key to lasting love for couples. Dr. Susan Johnson says that emotional responsiveness has three main components:
Just like I often ask in sessions - Are you there, are you with me?
1. Microcreate. Allocating regular time to create is vital, but we can also create in short bursts whenever windows of opportunity open. On busses or trains, for instance, we can do some mental practice or jot down ideas.
2. Be resilient. Given that creating involves experimentation and missteps, it takes mental toughness to keep pushing our limits. When problems arise, or if we receive criticism that hurts us, we need to be able to bounce back and press onward.
3. Create through turmoil. Life brings unexpected complexities. Instead of being derailed by disturbances, if we keep creating through tough times, even at micro levels, we support our motivation.
4. Refuse to procrastinate. Many would-be creative people put off starting or finishing projects. But such procrastinating behaviors are actually manifestations of angst that arises when we worry about rather than dive into artistic problems. If you tend to sidestep your creative work, take up some anti-procrastination techniques. For example, think about your creative work just before you sleep and then do some micro creating as soon as you wake up in the morning.
5. Collaborate. Creating with others lifts our artistry. But before we commit to collaborative projects, our partners and we should clarify our objectives and roles.
6. Counter negativity. If we find ourselves harboring toxic thoughts like, “I’ll never have new ideas,” we should respond by disputing the negativity, affirming our ability to create, and then getting to work.
7. Maintain energy. Creating takes a lot of energy. It’s important to commit to healthy lifestyles and also schedule restorative time. Especially when we wrap up large projects, vacations—even brief ones—ward off burnout and recharge our motivation.
8. Be accepting. Sometimes our creativity will soar; other times we’ll fumble. In order for our creative paths to continue to be open, we have to accept the bad days with the good. Ultimately, what matters most is that we are consistent in our work. If we do that, we liberate our creativity, and our lives are meaningful.
When experiencing creative block, it’s important that you don’t browbeat yourself. Lulls in creative energy are necessary to the overall creative process, and even though the lack of creative energy can be frustrating and psychologically painful, it’s important to move toward viewing these periods as times of growth. The in-between times is when creativity gets its start.
It’s important to have a lot of thinking time – and thinking time happens when you least expect it to happen. When experiencing a creative block, try these helpful tactics for working through it:
It has been found that people who engage in everyday forms of creativity are revealed to be more open-minded, curious, persistent, positive, energetic, and intrinsically motivated by the act of creation. Research suggests that creative cognition draws on both the executive functioning that is tied to intellect and the associative divergence that is associated with openness (Nusbaum and Silvia, 2011; Beaty et al., 2014; Benedek et al., 2014; Jung, 2014) increases the probability that ideas will be original. Whether the idea is creative, however, also depends on the protective intellectual factors needed to steer the chaotic storm. Not surprisingly, then, individuals who score highly in daily creativity report that they have a greater sense of well-being and personal growth compared to their peers who engage less in everyday creative behavior
The act of creating can be therapeutic for those who are already suffering. For instance, research shows that expressive writing increases immune system functioning, and the emerging field of post-traumatic growth is showing how people can turn adversity into creative growth.