Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The stress of relaxation

November 20, 2012

Dear Sherrie,

Artists go to their studios for a variety of reasons. These can include a desire for wealth and fame, a deep-seated passion for art, a need to communicate ideas, the love of process and play, a sense of societal obligation, the fear of having to take a regular job, prior failures or incompetence in other professions, distaste for conventional work, a feeling of comfort and sanctuary that comes from private creativity, trying to get away from someone or from people in general, a need to explore one's own potential, avoiding domesticity or less-than-challenging pursuits, familial, parental or peer expectations, etc. For many creative folks, the need for garden-variety cash flow may be rather down the list. 

Recent research seems to show that a small but significant subset goes to work because relaxation stresses them out. Apparently some "driven" folks may just have a need to be busy. They have what psychologists are now calling "relaxation-induced anxiety."

I'd appreciate if you didn't mention this to anyone, but I have it. When I was in grade five I gave a show-and-tell called "Bobby's Hobbies" in which I explained my drawing, painting, bird-watching, woodland exploration, collecting of stamps, seashells, beach wood, mechanical gadgets, mushroom spore-prints and broken clocks. I was as busy as a one-armed man using dental floss. Our teacher, Miss Ayliff, a certified joy-denier if there ever was one, told the class, "All work and no play make Bobby a dull boy."

Christina Luberto, head of a current relaxation study at the University of Cincinnati, thinks that the paradoxical increase in anxiety as a result of relaxation is more common than we might think. In her study, individuals were asked to fill out a questionnaire called The Relaxation Sensitivity Index. It turns out that people with high relaxation sensitivity were also high in anxiety.

That was me in grade five--anxious. Relaxing gave me the unpleasant feeling of losing control. In later life I've come to see control as a mixed blessing but also key to generating creativity and finding success.

The Miss Ayliffs of this world have got it quite wrong. As studio proprietors, we learn that work is play. With no boss, no committee and no band of demanding customers in the waiting room, it's a dream of a job. And I'm not sure, but I don't think it makes you dull.

Best regards,


PS: "We wanted to develop a test to examine why certain individuals fear relaxation events or sensations associated with taking a time-out just to relax." (Christina Luberto

Esoterica: In my studies of artists' motivation, I've found that the reasons given are not always the real reasons. Artists need to find and understand the primal truth of their own motivations. The more I look at it, the more I realize that habits do more to form success than perhaps any other factor. If you happen to be one of those artists who regularly avoids lethargy and laying about, you may have been blessed with the habit of work. Don't be anxious about it.

1 comment:

Creativity Coach-Sherrie said...

I certainly don't have this problem. I can spend days relaxing. Though I can also say that I do get upset with myself (a form of stress, right?) when I realize all the time I wasted that I could have spent on writing.
Cest la vie!