If you are like most mortals, your creativity ebbs and flows. Some days writing flows like water from your pen; other days you struggle across the desert, your thoughts as dry and lifeless as the landscape.
Although nothing guarantees a regular flow of productive thinking and writing, you can do certain things to maximize your creativity. The following are research-based, easy-to-apply suggestions that may surprise you with their simple, elegant effectiveness:
Sleep: Increase your sleep by one hour a day. What? And lose another productive hour? You may discover that the extra hour of sleep more than rewards you with increased productivity. Research at the Henry Ford Sleep Clinic demonstrates that one more hour of sleep per night increases concentration by 25%. That’s a major boost for both creativity and productivity.
Yawning: Professor Mark Waldman, author of NeuroWisdom[i], explains that yawning increases cerebral blood flow, improves mental concentration and brings you into a state of heightened awareness.[ii] Yawning also decreases anxiety and shifts the brain into a day-dreamy state that is more conducive to creativity[iii]. Yawning even has a similar effect to drinking a cup of coffee![iv] In Waldman’s first cross-over experiment with yawning, college students who yawned for four minutes before a test improved the grades by one letter grade. To support creativity, yawn mindfully three times: yawn; pause for 10 seconds to notice how you feel; repeat two more times. Repeat this simple exercise several times during the day, even several times an hour. The more stressed you are, the more you will benefit from yawning.
Stretch slowly. Stretching mindfully reduces anxiety and depression and improves your overall mood.[v] Stretching s-l-o-w-l-y and yawn as you wake in the morning and as you fall asleep at night. Set a soothing chime to go off at least once an hour to remind you to stretch and yawn.
Essential oils can brighten your mood and increase concentration – relaxed concentration that is conducive to creativity. The following essential oils are particularly helpful in improving memory, concentration, and alertness:
- Peppermint Mentha x piperita, vulgaris is a “cephalic,” meaning it increases brain activity. Peppermint also instantly enhances sports performance including grip strength, oxygenation, and jumping distance.[vi]
- Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis enhances memory[vii] and helps to resolve depression.[viii] Rosemary is one of the “cephalic three” – rosemary, peppermint and basil – that are the premier essential oils for improving mental function.
- Basil Ocimum basilicum is stimulates brain activity yet it also has nervine (nerve calming) effects making it an ideal balancing agent for the nervous system. Basil also has anti-depressant, mood lifting properties. Use basil for a maximum of two weeks at a time before taking a two week break because it its methyl chavicol content. Avoid if you are pregnant or breastfeeding; if you have endometriosis or other estrogen-dominant condition; and/or if you have a history of estrogen-dependent cancer.
- Bergamot Citrus aurantium bergamia lifts mood while reducing anxiety[ix] and shifting the brain toward parasympathetic (relaxed) nervous system activity.[x]
- Lemon Citrus limonum improves memory and helps maintain dopamine levels, which may be helpful for depression.[xi] Lemon also decreases cortisone, a stress-related hormone, and increases endorphin levels when used over at least a two-week period of time.[xii]
Follow these suggestions to maximize the benefit of these essential oils:
- Do a skin patch test before using any essential oil. A quick method is to place one drop of an essential oil in the crook of your elbow, bring your hand to your shoulder (to close the elbow), and wait for 5 minutes. Look for any sign of redness or irritation. If the skin is red, itchy, and/or irritated, avoid using that oil. Do this test even if you use the oils for inhalation.
- Use an inhaler for immediate delivery of essential oils to the lungs and brain. Inhalers are easy to carry in your pocket for use at work or while traveling. Add 8 – 10 drops of an essential oil OR an essential oil blend to the cotton wick of the blank inhaler. Insert the wick into the inhaler tube and push the stopper into the tube. Screw the tube into the outer sleeve. Unscrew the out sleeve and inhale for 10 minutes at a time, 1 – 4 times a day.
- Use a diffuser for 5 minutes every hour OR for an hour followed by a four-hour break. Continuous diffusion is very hard on the liver (the primary organ that breaks down and excretes essential oils).
- Add 2 or 3 drops of essential oil to your morning shower. Inhale the steam deeply. Place the drops on the outer edges of the shower. Essential oils will create a slippery surface underfoot, so avoid putting the drops where you stand in the shower.
- Rotate the oil(s) you are using every two weeks to minimize the possibility of developing sensitivity to the oils. Use peppermint and basil essential oils daily for a maximum of three weeks; then, take a 3-week break If you become sensitized to one essential oil, you may become reactive to all essential oils, and then you will have lost this powerful therapeutic tool.
- Choose oils you enjoy. If you dislike a scent, even if it is indicated for boosting energy and concentration, you probably won’t use it. Don’t waste your time or money on essential oils you won’t use.
Yes, you can increase your creativity and productivity using these simple, natural techniques. Yawning, stretching, sleeping and inhaling essential oils are natural allies for improving mental alertness, relaxation, mood, and creativity.
[i] Waldman, M.R. (2017). NeuroWisdomThe New Brain Science of Money, Happiness and Success. New York, NY: Diversion Publishing Corp.
[ii] Massen, J.J., Dusch, K., Eldakar, O.T., & Gallup, A.C. (2014). A thermal window for yawning in humans: yawning as a brain cooling mechanism. Physiology of Behavior, 10(130), 145-8.
[iii] Thompson, S.B. (2014). Yawning, fatigue, and cortisol: expanding the Thompson Cortisol Hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses, 83(4), 494-6.
[iv] Gupta, S.,& Mitral, S. (2013). Yawning and its physiological significance. International Journal of Basic Medical Research, 3(1), 11-5.
[v] Netz, Y., & Lidor, R. (2003). Mood alterations in mindful versus aerobic exercise modes. Journal of Psychology, 137(5), 405-19.
[vi] Meamarbashi, A. (2014). Instant effects of peppermint essential oil on the physiological parameters and exercise performance. Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, 4(1):72-8.
[vii] Moss, M., Cook, J., Wesnes, K., & Duckett, P. (2003). Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults. International Journal of Neuroscience, 113(1), 72-8.
[viii] Machado, D., Cunha, M., et, al. (2013). Antidepressant-like effects of fractions, essential oil, carnosol and
betulinic acid isolated from Rosmarinus officinalis l. Food Chem, 136(2):999-1005.
[ix] Chang, K.M. & Shen, C.W. (2011) Aromatherapy benefits autonomic nervous system regulation for
elementary school faculty in Taiwan. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 946537.
[x] Peng, S.M., Koo, M., & Yu, Z.R. (2009). Effects of music and essential oil inhalation on cardiac autonomic
balance in healthy individuals. J Altern Complement Med., 15(1):53-7.
[xi] Zhou, W., Fukumoto, S., & Yokogoshi, H. (2009). Components of lemon essential oil attenuate dementia
induced by scopolamine. Nutr Neurosci.,12(2):57-64.
[xii] Ceccarelli, I., Lariviere, W.R., Fiorenzani, P., Sacerdote, P., & Aloisi, A.M. (2004). Effects of long-term
exposure of lemon essential oil odor on behavioral, hormonal and neuronal parameters in male and female
rats. Brain Res., 1001(1-2):78-86.
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