As the pandemic stretches on over time, the chronic uncertainty and change create, for many, a sense of dread and exhaustion. In this fluid and dynamic situation, we are unable to predict too far into the future. At the same time, we are naturally concerned about what direction our lives will take. We like to know ahead of time if our efforts are going to pay off. Prolonged periods of extreme uncertainty takes a toll on our well-being.
A natural channel for the tension of uncertainty is creativity, it’s an energy we can channel into shaping our responses to change we cannot control. This period is already uncomfortable, so no need to add to emotional overload. But times when everything is unsettled can be ideal for adopting a novel approach. We can view the changes we are compelled to make as a psychological expansion.
Our world is going through great flux, so why not approach new roles, activities, and ideas with a spirit of exploration? And if we can let go of harsh self-judgment while we try doing these new things, the creative mindset can become a more available, adaptable approach to dynamic situations that reduces stress and expands the field of possible choices for how to respond. Thinking and expectations that were a match for a more predictable time now produce an abiding sense of disappointment and for some, despair. This is a time to embrace creative expansion, explore new roles, and play an active part in shaping our experience of life.
Improv games and exercises, along with their emphasis on positive social connection and mutual support, produce exactly this kind of creative expansion. Research showing that improv is effective at helping people break set with old mental patterns was published in the article “Breaking away from set patterns of thinking: Improvisation and divergent thinking” in Thinking Skills and Creativity. In “Working With(out) A Net: Improvisational Theater and Enhanced Well-Being” published in Frontiers In Psychology, Gordon Bermant discusses “a positive relationship between improv practice and well-being in other life domains.” Expansion into creative thinking and expression—linked to enhanced spontaneity and a greater sense of possibility—have a positive impact that we need right now.
Creative risks are emotional, of course, and can bring up all sorts of feelings, from pockets of paralyzing self-doubt to indescribable joy. The trick is to be generous and compassionate to ourselves, as we would be toward a friend at an important turning point in life, when movement in many different directions is possible. This can give rise to an excitement about the risk itself. The outcome might turn out to be far different from what we started out to do, but this approach can produce moments and even hours that feel deeply rewarding, when a steady stream of small but unmistakable risks propels us along the path to the new.
This is a time of great change. We can expand into it and discover something together. With improv, anything can happen. Let’s be open to it.
Jude Treder-Wolff returns to the WBI/JCC Online Positivity Hour on Thursday, August 19, for a talk titled “Improv for Well-Being in Uncertain Times.” Register here.
Jude Treder-Wolff is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Group Psychotherapist, Certified Practitioner of Applied Improvisation, and creative arts therapist, with 30 years experience as a clinician and trainer working in the field of mental health, addiction and wellness. She is also a writer/performer, singer, storyteller creative arts psychotherapist and improviser who speaks and presents on topics related to creativity, creative/experiential methods, storytelling and Applied Improvisation in the process of learning and change for individuals, organizations, and communities. She is host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, an improv game wrapped in a storytelling show, and creator of the solo musical storytelling show “This Isn’t Helping.” Find out more at https://www.lifestage.me/trainers.