Creativity in the times of coronavirus: Here’s how creative outlets helped Shakespeare, Newton and now, you, amid pandemic

Hindustan Times, Delhi | ByNaisha Bansal | Edited by: Alfea Jamal
Jul 29, 2020 10:56 AM IST

Amid quarantine and the coronavirus pandemic, we may be struggling to get out of bed, and relive the same day, over and over again, but it won’t hurt to get the creative juices flowing, especially for your physical and mental health. Read on about how creativity helped Shakespeare, and can benefit you too.

Most of us are battling boredom or chore duties while quarantined and isolated indoors, thanks to the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, but unlike those of us who while away staring at the walls, let alone do anything of value, the Bard wrote supposedly some of his greatest works while quarantined during the plague in the 1500s. It is believed, mostly according to internet legends, that literary genius William Shakespeare not only wrote King Lear during an endemic of 1564, but also got a head start on Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. On the opposite end of the creativity spectrum, mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton’s work in the late 1660s, while he was quarantined at home on account of the bubonic plague, is considered to be his best, including discovering differential and integral calculus, formulating a theory of universal gravitation, and explored optics, experimenting with prisms and investigating light (as per a report in the Washington Post).

Man is a social animal, and constantly being confined can cause a lot of negative feelings, stress, anxiety and even depression.(Pixabay/Unsplash)
Man is a social animal, and constantly being confined can cause a lot of negative feelings, stress, anxiety and even depression.(Pixabay/Unsplash)

Getting inspired in the times of adversity and uncertainty, and exploring creative outlooks is not a new concept. Whenever we think of creativity, the first thing that comes to our mind is painting, singing, dancing, and more. However, there is a lot more to the concept, than just that.

According to cognitive scientist Margaret Boden, such work would be termed as “historical creativity”, that is, creation of something new and surprising to the world. But there is another type of creativity, “psychological creativity”, which is the capacity of an individual to create something that is valuable and surprising to themselves.During these month of isolation and quarantine, many of us have surprised ourselves with our newfound skills, and have experienced some form of “psychological creativity”.

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The novel coronavirus has spread across the world, ravaging country after country, for more than the past five months, and has put all our lives on hold, forcing us indoors, afraid to venture out unless absolutely essential. However, the human spirit is unbeatable, and people across the world have come up with innovative devices, products, services and more to tackle the pandemic, and get used to the ‘new normal’ and maintain safety. Classes are being taught online to ensure social distancing, masks are being made at home, as are sanitizers; scientists, doctors, public policy makers, company heads, teachers are all trying to find ways to make things work in the midst of this pandemic. Necessity, truly is the mother of invention.

Before the pandemic, all of our lives had structure and routine, and people have been so accustomed to living their lives by the clock. However, the coronavirus pandemic completely reassigned all pre-conceived concepts of structure and routine, and people were left grappling to adjust to the ‘new normal’, one that allows more time with one’s family and self. Before the virus, our lives were so fast paced that we weren’t living, simply existing, and many people have discovered that the pandemic is the best time to stop this madness and take a moment to connect with our inner selves. This is where creativity comes in.

Since the past few months, you may have noticed your social media feeds cluttered with ‘creative’ posts, with people having taken up painting, dancing, singing, baking, learning how to play musical instruments, making TikToks, calligraphy and much more. We are doing everything because there are fewer distractions and with no commute or going outdoors, we have a lot of free time to do things we couldn’t before.

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People have come together in the balconies of Italy to sing or have come together, across the world, to make TikTok challenges. But ever wonder why we are all being creative while the world is dealing with a pandemic, inappropriately so as some may think. Well, a research done in 2016 says that engaging in a creative activity can lead to a positive state of mind. Dealing with the pandemic does not only mean taking care of one’s physical health, but mental health too. As we acknowledge the heightened atrocities of the world, it’s equally important to look out for the silver linings for our own sanity and our mental well-being.

Staying at home in isolation means countless and aimless hours of sitting, and is accompanied by two things: constraints or restrictions and boredom.

According to an article by Harvard, while we tend to believe that constraints restrict creativity, it actually has the opposing effect. In situations where there are no constraints, people follow what psychologists call the “path of least resistance”, rather than investing in developing new ideas. But constraints force us to rethink and look for new solutions for our problems. For example, using technology as a means to connect to our friends, even our neighbours. According to another study, there are different levels of boredom that can be mapped on the axis of how negatively we feel and how motivated we are to do something about it. In level three (searching) and four (reactant), people are highly aroused to alleviate the feeling of boredom. It’s almost like an itch that you want to get rid of. You require stimulation, so you start looking for it, and that inspires creativity.

Man is a social animal, and constantly being confined can cause a lot of negative feelings, stress, anxiety and even depression. Not everyone can easily navigate through these major lifestyle changes. Creativity helps us feel better. It can be anything- painting, cooking, singing, dancing, knitting, playing, and much more. It is extremely important to express one’s self, especially through a creative outlet. Here are some advantages of being creative during this pandemic can be:

• The part of the brain that regulates stress response and emotions is the limbic system and the amygdala prepares us for fight or flight response. Both these centers are bound to be stimulated in this period leading to feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness. But the important thing is to slow things down. To get into the “flow” of things. A state where you’re completely absorbed into something. Indulging in creative activities can provide this flow.

• It kills time evidently. An average person has about 60,000 thoughts in a day and during this time, negative thoughts can be overpowering. A creative act can help focus the mind and it has also been compared to meditation as it helps in calming the brain. Even just gardening or cleaning the corners of your house can be very calming.

• Creativity allows us the time to go deeper in ourselves to our core and results in human reflection. It helps to bring out our inner feelings and desires and turn them into commodities and products.

• Any creative act, whether it is artistic or not, successful or not, will lead to a flood of dopamine, the feel-good chemical, in your brain and that will lead to a sense of happiness, accomplishment and confidence.

So, pick up the one thing that interests you, or inspires and motivates you. The one thing that you could never find the time to do or the one thing that you have always made excuses for. Challenge yourself. But don’t push yourself too hard. Don’t just be artistic but be creative. Create ideas, things, solutions, structures, ways that surprise you and make you happy. Try to indulge once a day. Experience that rush of dopamine that we all need it. When we emerge from this pandemic, we will be equipped with the new ways of doing things to deal with the new normal and that will be our silver lining.

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