We have all been there. The suspense of waiting can be more agonising than facing the actual outcome. Be it the results of an exam, the feedback on a job application, or the decision about a sought-after promotion, results of a medical test.
This liminal space, caught between the known and the unknown, is a fertile ground for stress and anxiety. Dr. Kate Sweeny, a renowned professor of psychology at the University of California, has extensively researched the psychological impact of awaiting uncertain news. Her work reveals the intricate dance of hope and dread that often consumes individuals during these intervals, highlighting the unique challenges associated with this form of anticipatory stress.
The big question then is what can you do to help manage this stress. We know that “just don’t think about it” doesn’t really work. Sweeny’s research found that getting into a state of flow does help.
What is being in a state of Flow?
Flow is that almost magical state where you're so immersed in an activity that the world seems to fade away. It's like getting lost in a great book, where hours fly by in what feels like minutes. Coined by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is characterised by a delightful balance where your skills perfectly meet the challenge at hand. When we're in flow, we often experience a boost in creativity, productivity, and overall well-being. It's a sweet spot where we're not just functioning, but thriving. This state doesn't just make us feel fantastic in the moment, but its effects can spill over, contributing to a more positive outlook on life and enhancing our mental health in the long run.
How can improvisation help get you into a state of flow?
Peter Felsman shone a flashlight on the subject of anxiety and stress. His 2023 study found that as people got more into the swing of improvisation, they started to get more relaxed about uncertainties.
When you're improvising, there's no time to overthink or second-guess; you're fully immersed in the present, reacting instinctively to the unfolding scene. Each moment builds on the last, demanding your complete attention, and soon enough, the outside world starts to blur. It's in this beautiful dance of spontaneity and presence that you find yourself seamlessly transitioning into a flow state. The worries and distractions fade, replaced by a harmonious rhythm of creativity and connection. This is where improvisation's magic truly shines, guiding us naturally into these deeply fulfilling moments of flow.
The beauty of improvisation lies in its sheer unpredictability. Every gesture, word, or reaction is unscripted, emerging from the spontaneous interplay of the moment. What I have learned is that the present becomes your anchor, your guide. There's no looking back or planning ahead, just the raw, vibrant immediacy of the 'now'. An improvisation coach of mine would often say “get out of your head and get into the now”.
What are you waiting for?
Dive into the world of improv. Discover its power not just for spontaneous creativity, but also as a potent remedy against stress and anxiety. Find your flow; embrace the moment. Give improv a chance. Sign up for one of our easylaughs courses or join a Sunday workshop for a taster. We would love to have you jump on board our raft and get into the flow.
About the author:
Mark Emdin is a member of the global Applied Improvisation Network. He is an organisation development specialist, facilitator and team coach with nearly 30 years corporate and consulting experience. He regularly brings improvisation into his work as it sparks creativity, fosters genuine connection, and cultivates adaptability across the organisations and teams he supports. He is also the easylaughs Head of Workplace Learning.