The great Albert Einstein said it best: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Those are some pretty wise words from the father of physics, right?

Like many great scientists and artists, Einstein valued creativity. This is not surprising, considering science goes hand in hand with academics, which ultimately is linked to creativity. But did you know that science isn’t the only thing connected to creativity?

Mental health also has an undeniable correlation with creativity; in fact, there is a strong link between them. Just think of it this way: We are our most creative selves when we feel the most like ourselves. If you are included in the 21% of adults in the United States who currently experience a mental health condition, you likely feel this on a spiritual level.

But how about the concept of flow? What exactly is this abstract concept, and where does it fit in the puzzle of creativity and mental health?

Well, my fellow creative visionaries, let’s explore.

The Concept of Flow

First, let’s answer that burning question of yours: what exactly is flow? Simply put, flow is a mental state where you are intensely focused. It is the state in which you are your most creative self. That’s the connection between flow and creativity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist often referred to as the “father of flow” proposes this: Flow is a psychological state that optimizes happiness and productivity by intensely immersing individuals in their work.

Photo by Daria Tumanova on Unsplash

As an artist, you often experience these so-called “states of flow.” Also, as an artist, you sometimes suffer from creative burnout when that initial spark of originality dissipates.

To reduce that creative burnout, you must maximize your work when you are in that state of flow. Whether you are a photographer using the principles of design and art in photography or an illustrator looking for inspiration for your next piece—it takes flow.

How Poor Mental Health Affects Creativity

We’ve briefly established that creativity is a science. We’ve also established the link between mental health and creativity. What about how having poor mental health affects creativity?

When you have a bad day or go through a traumatic life event, you don’t exactly feel like your best self in those moments. It is also in that moment that you lose that creative spark and, subsequently, your flow.

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Having poor mental health overall puts a damper on your creative days. On the flip side, being creative is known to reduce depression and anxiety and increase the function of the human immune system.

When you’re asked to live up to a standard, meet a deadline, or certain academic expectations, the stress can pile on. This stress can cause creativity to spiral, which can also crash your mental health. This is why maintaining a creative mindset while trying to improve your mental health is ever so important.

The Stigma Behind Mental Illness and Creativity

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Is being “crazy” a trait of a good artist? Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, and Michelangelo Buonarroti are just a few famous artists with a reputation for being mentally ill. Sure, this makes sense, as there are connections between mental illness and creative flow. However, being mentally ill is not necessary for meaningful work.

We’ve discussed how there are correlations between mental illness and creativity. But we want to stress that it’s crucial to avoid romanticizing unhealthy work practices and stigmatizing creatives with mental health issues.

Rest assured, you can be a successful artist, maintain a healthy mental space and creative flow…and keep your left ear fully intact.

Does Sleep Affect Flow, Creativity, and Mental Health?

Ever heard the phrase, “It came to me in a dream?” Indeed, sleep is directly connected with creativity. It comes as no surprise that catching a fair amount of Z’s helps not only your mental health but that creative flow too.

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Additionally, sleep is essential for many aspects of our well-being. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a military torture tactic.  Going without sleep can greatly impact cognitive function. For example, research shows that driving after twenty hours without sleep is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol content of .10%, greatly increasing the risk of an accident. But when you sleep more, both the function of your mind and body is the most optimal. And so is your creative flow.

Healthy Ways To Heighten Creativity

So what are some healthy ways to increase your creative flow? How can you overcome burnout?

Here are just a few of the many ways you can be your most creative self:

1. Build a Community Around You

Great minds think alike. When you are surrounded by people to bounce your thoughts and ideas off of, it can help generate new ideas. If you are looking for some great minds to inspire you, consider joining our Community Hub.

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2. Engage in Interdisciplinary Tasks

Sing, play, or listen to music. Dance, draw, paint, design, write stories…the lists go on and on. The best way to become more creative is to sit down and build on your existing creative ideas.

Need some inspiration to get your creative juices flowing? Check out our Learning Hub and discover a variety of tutorials, sessions and articles to help you find your creativity for anything from drawing cute characters, to lettering, photography and more.

Photo by Josh Rocklage on Unsplash

3. Don’t Overload Yourself

Finally, overwhelming yourself can lead to burnout, which, as we’ve discussed, can negatively impact your mental health and creative flow.

Make sure to prioritize projects and work on increasing your productivity in those projects most important to you. If you’re a freelancer or work as a part of a remote team, there are many strategies you can use to improve productivity, including reducing duplicate work, setting daily priorities, and automating what you can.

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Wrapping Up

If you take away anything from this article, it should be this: creativity, flow, and mental health lean on each other. While embodying the term “flow” has everything to do with creativity, you must be in the best mental space to be your most creative self.

That’s the ultimate paradox, unfortunately. To be your most creative self, you must be in the best mental space. To maintain the best mental health, you must embody your most creative side. The best way to heighten creativity and maintain mental health is to focus on getting enough rest, practicing healthy habits, surrounding yourself with like-minded people, and engaging in various art forms.

Here at Design Cuts we want to build a future where artists can sustain their creativity while remaining healthy. Remember that you can be a great artist with creative flow and also be mentally well. All of this requires a societal shift in how we understand how great artists work and form strong art communities.

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Shane Barker

About The Author

Magnus Eriksen is a copywriter and an eCommerce SEO specialist with a degree in Marketing and Brand Management. Before embarking on his copywriting career, he was a content writer for digital marketing agencies such as Synlighet AS and Omega Media, where he mastered on-page and technical SEO.