Have you ever sat down to a writing task and just stared at your blank screen or paper? Perhaps you are creating a blog for work, or writing a speech for a wedding or drafting an email to your boss. Maybe you’re practising another form of creative task such as painting, or writing a song or designing your garden. Whatever the task, it can be so frustrating when your creative brain just seems to be absent.
Alternatively, have you experienced a time when you were full of new ideas and writing and creating came easily to you? Getting into the flow was trouble-free and you finished the task quickly and smoothly? These times are so productive and enjoyable.
I’ve certainly experienced both of these situations, which got me thinking about the why. Why is it that sometimes we are full of creativity and other times we’re not. I wish I had the exact answer and the truth is I’m sure there are many variables at play however I have found a few things that seem to suppress creativity; a bad mood, inadequate fuel for the brain and body, fatigue, poor blood flow to the brain and a busy mind to name a few. I will dive more into these below and the herbs and habits that can help reduce these creativity suppressors.
By Tamara Welsh, Happy Herbalist
A bad mood
Have you noticed the lack of insight you experience when in a bad mood? The blinkers go up and analytical thoughts are amplified. Trying to think outside the box or come up with something new becomes very difficult. Comparatively, when we are in a good mood, we are open to new ideas and we seem to have more of those “a ha” style moments. A good mood makes us feel safe and secure and from this space we are more willing to take creative ‘risks’. If you find yourself in a bad mood, here are a few simple and actionable steps to shake things up:
- Brew a cup of tea or create a delicious drink using mood boosting herbs such as Lemon Balm, Damiana, Brahmi, Saffron and St John’s Wort.
- Stop for a short meditation based on gratitude.
- Move your body by going for a short brisk walk or jog or do a quick resistance training session at home. Just 10-20 minutes or so will help to release endorphins and shake that bad mood energy.
Give one or all of these a try next time you find a bad mood is squashing your creative thinking.
Lack of fuel for body and brain
A lack of adequate energy and nourishment effects our brain function. Eating a well-balanced meal for breakfast that contains plenty of protein and some healthy fats will ensure your brain and body have what they need to take on any creative task the days throws at you. When I chat to my clients about eating a sufficient breakfast, the most common response I get is that ‘I’m just not that hungry in the mornings’. If this is you, try the following:
Upon waking, drink a glass of water or cup of tea that contains herbs with a bitter taste. This could be a Dandelion root or Mugwort leaf tea, a Gentian tincture or spagyric in a small amount of water or any herb that stimulates the bitter receptors in the mouth.
Then if you can, head out for 20 minutes of exercise that suits your body
I find the combination of bitter herbs and exercise is adequate to stimulate digestion and allow for an adequate breakfast to be consumed. Then, feel the difference in your day, when you start it well fuelled and energised. You’ll notice a sharper mind and that is less likely to wind up distracted.
Nothing works well when we are tired, especially our brains. That hazy brain fog due to poor sleep can be really debilitating. Sleep is a crucial time for the brain to clear away unwanted debris and to find hidden connections between ideas. If you are struggling to get quality sleep, I recommend the use of herbal sedatives to create a better sleep routine. Herbs such as Kava, Passionflower, California poppy, Skullcap and Valerian are all useful here as they allow us to fall asleep and stay asleep and can often increase the amount of time we spend in deep and REM sleep. For more tips around getting a better nights’ sleep you may find this blog a helpful read.
Working on getting better sleep each night is essential. But if you are fatigued and need mental clarity quickly, consider the use of herbs that have a stimulating effect on the body such as Ginkgo biloba, Rosemary, Panax ginseng or even the caffeine containing herbs such as Matcha, Kola nut and Yerba mate.
Poor Blood Flow
My experience is that stagnancy in the body leads to stagnancy in the mind. Poor circulation and blood flow to the brain leads to a lack of cognition and cohesion. Again, moving your body is key when you want to stimulate blood and oxygen flow around the body. However, if you know you suffer from sluggish circulation herbs that stimulate the circulation can be really helpful when added into your daily routine. Ginkgo biloba is a wonderful circulatory stimulant with the added benefit of its nootropic effects on the brain. A cup of Ginger tea also has a stimulating effect, warming the body from the inside out. Hawthorn berries may also be useful to support capillaries and circulation. Make sure you include plenty of ginger, garlic, horseradish, rosemary, cinnamon and chilli in the diet to help get the blood moving and focus on foods high in polyphenols to support the bodies vascular system such as green tea, cocoa, blueberries and garlic.
A Busy Mind
When trying to focus on a creative task, a busy or anxious mind can create distraction and even pressure or fear that stop us from performing. As I mentioned earlier, creativity often comes when we are feeling safe and secure and a busy uncontrollable mind is far from that feeling. With an anxious mind comes the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, our fight or flight response. In some cases, you may be able to channel this energy into a creative task. Adrenaline is a hormone of motivation, so use this to step outside of your comfort zone and experience something new.
If you are experiencing a more chronic form of anxiety, herbal medicine can help to nourish the nervous system and reduce the stress response. Nervine tonics such as Damiana, Oat straw and Skullcap help to feed the nervous tissue directly, nourishing a stressed-out system. Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and is therefore a wonderful tonic herb to be used when the adrenals are overworked and cortisol levels are chronically high. Similarly, the herbal adaptogen, Rhodiola is believed to have a protective effect upon the neurotransmitter’s serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which improves mood & decreases anxiety.
Figuring out how to help your neurobiology to work for you rather than against you is key when considering ways to enhance creativity and brain function. I hope you have found a few actionable tips in this article to get you on your way to having a wonderfully creative day.
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Ivanova Stojcheva E, Quintela JC. The Effectiveness of Rhodiola rosea L. Preparations in Alleviating Various Aspects of Life-Stress Symptoms and Stress-Induced Conditions-Encouraging Clinical Evidence. Molecules. 2022 Jun 17;27(12):3902. doi: 10.3390/molecules27123902. PMID: 35745023; PMCID: PMC9228580.