All posts by RichardB

I am trained and work as a Creative Arts Therapist. I have passionately studied, worked, and taught as a hands on practitioner of the Creative/Expressive and Healing Arts since 1983. I have integrated training’s in modalities which include Swedish Massage, Jin Shin Do, Trager Work, Hatha Yoga, Gestalt Therapy, Halprin Method, Group Creative Arts Therapy, Tai Chi, Meditation, Motional Processing, Rituals, Interfaith Celebrations, Progressive Early Childhood and Adult Education, Addiction and Recovery Services, Counseling and Psychotherapy, Dance/Movement Therapy. I currently provide Creative Arts and Counseling services to a local nonprofit agency as well as teaching local classes and workshops. I use compassion and acceptance to create an environment that is safe and nurturing for individual clients and/or groups.

Stress and movement

Stress can be indicated when a person becomes stuck/frozen or stopped in a bodily movement that can be described as either gestural, ( movements isolated to parts or part of the body) or postural ( movements carried constantly through the whole body). When  there is a continuous flow of movement from gesture to posture and vice versa than the person is considered moving in balance and not not indicated to be in stress. one example of this is something that has come up in the last 20 years of leading stress reduction exercises with groups. I ask the participants how they know they are stressed out and the top answers are:

I notice I am gripping the steering wheel- I notice I am making a fist- I am clenching my teeth-I am clenching my butt.

Each one of these actions is a frozen gesture and they generally use the most “force”, muscle, blood flow of any other component of the body while they are active.  Think about it, if you clench your fist the blood flow increases due to the sudden contraction of the muscles, a part of your attention is brought to the area because its being engaged, the rest of the body begins to respond to the clenched fist starting with the arm, shoulders, spine, abdominal muscles and so on ad so on. Suddenly your attention increases to the area dramatically and you realize; “oh I’m clenching my fist….”

The first step to releasing this body stress is the breath. When stressed we tend to hold our breath and/or it becomes shallow breathing. Taking a big breath in and a big breath out begins to increase the oxygen to the brain (and the rest if the body). That big breath also automatically signals to the body on a primal level that the stressor is less and the body begins to relax its muscular contractions. Also when we consciously are taking in a big breath we are exerting voluntary control over our bodies which is the opposite of the stress response which is a involuntary response. This voluntary and controlled breath also signals to the brain on a primal level that the stressor is lessen, resulting in the muscles lessening their contradiction.

Of course simply breathing does not seem like much of an answer for someone who experiences chronic stress/anxiety. But it is one more tool that one can use. Like mindfulness, visualizations, and other techniques, breathing is something that needs to be practiced and the more you practice the more effective it becomes.

Smoking Weed = less Creativity

People sometimes think that smoking cannabis makes them more creative. However, research by Leiden psychologists Lorenza Colzato and Mikael Kowal shows that the opposite is true.

Strong cannabis doesn’t work

The findings show that cannabis with a high concentration of the psychoactive ingredient THC does not improve creativity. Smokers who ingested a low dose of THC, or none at all (they were given a placebo), performed best in the thinking tasks that the test candidates had to carry out. A high dose of THC was actually shown to have a negative effect on the ability to quickly come up with as many solutions as possible to a given problem.

Increased creativity is an illusion18

The research findings contradict the claims of people who say that their thinking changes and becomes more original after smoking a joint. There’s no sign of any increased creativity in their actual performance, according to Colzato. ‘The improved creativity that they believe they experience is an illusion.’

Too much cannabis is counterproductive

Colzato said, ‘If you want to overcome writer’s block or any other creative gap, lighting up a joint isn’t the best solution. Smoking several joints one after the other can even be counterproductive to creative thinking.’

The research method

Colzato and her PhD candidate Kowal were the first researchers to study the effects of cannabis use on creative thinking. For ethical reasons, only cannabis users were selected for this study. The test candidates were divided into three groups of 18. One group was given cannabis with a high THC content (22 mg), the second group was given a low dose (5.5 mg) and the third group was given a placebo. The high dose was equivalent to three joints and the low dose was equal to a single joint. Obviously, none of the test candidates knew what they were being given; the cannabis was administered via a vaporizer. The test candidates then had to carry out cognitive tasks that were testing for two types of creative thinking:

  • Divergent thinking: generating rapid solutions for a given problem, such as: “Think of as many uses as you can for a pen?”
  • Convergent thinking: Finding the only right answer to a question, such as: “What is the link between the words ‘time’, ‘hair’ and ‘stretching’. (The answer is ‘long’.)

Mikael A. Kowal, Arno Hazekamp, Lorenza S. Colzato, Henk van Steenbergen, Nic J. A. van der Wee, Jeffrey Durieux, Meriem Manai, Bernhard Hommel. Cannabis and creativity: highly potent cannabis impairs divergent thinking in regular cannabis users. Psychopharmacology, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s00213-014-3749-1

Self-Affirmation Improves Problem-Solving

It’s no secret that stress increases your susceptibility to health problems, and it also impacts your ability to solve problems and be creative. But methods to prevent associated risks and effects have been less clear – until now.
Published in PLOS ONE, new research from Carnegie Mellon University provides the first evidence that self-affirmation can protect against the damaging effects of stress on problem-solving performance. Understanding that self-affirmation – the process of identifying and focusing on one’s most important values – boosts stressed individuals’ problem-solving abilities will help guide future research and the development of educational interventions.

Man Laughing
Man Laughing — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

“An emerging set of published studies suggest that a brief self-affirmation activity at the beginning of a school term can boost academic grade-point averages in underperforming kids at the end of the semester. This new work suggests a mechanism for these studies, showing self-affirmation effects on actual problem-solving performance under pressure,” said J. David Creswell, assistant professor of psychology in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Because previous research indicated that self-affirmation may be an effective stress management approach, Creswell and his research team had college students rank-order a set of values (e.g., art, business, family and friends) in terms of their personal importance, and indicate their levels of chronic stress. Participants randomly assigned to a self-affirmation condition were asked to write a couple of sentences about why their number one ranked value was important (a standard self-affirmation exercise). All participants then had to complete a challenging problem-solving task under time pressure, which required creativity in order to generate correct solutions.
The results showed that participants who were under high levels of chronic stress during the past month had impaired problem-solving performance. In fact, they solved about 50 percent fewer problems in the task. But notably, this effect was qualified by whether participants had an opportunity to first complete the self-affirmation activity. Specifically, a brief self-affirmation was effective in eliminating the deleterious effects of chronic stress on problem-solving performance, such that chronically stressed self-affirmed participants performed under pressure at the same level as participants with low chronic stress levels.
“People under high stress can foster better problem-solving simply by taking a moment beforehand to think about something that is important to them,” Creswell said. “It’s an easy-to-use and portable strategy you can roll out before you enter that high pressure performance situation.