Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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When Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Giftedness Go To College

photo courtesy jeshoots, unsplash

Ellen was a fast talking, deep feeling, super insightful 20 year old. She’d been a high achiever throughout her public school years. The work was easy. She could listen to one teacher while she did her homework for another. She was conscientious and energetic. Curious and imaginative.

She was also anxious. Her active rainforest mind came up with so many worries and then worried about her worrying. She was also a perfectionist. She had an innate desire to create beauty, harmony, justice, and precision. What I call intrinsic (healthy) perfectionism. And she also experienced the extrinsic (unhealthy) variety of perfectionism. She questioned her worth as a human being if she didn’t perform at the top of the pack at all times.

Throughout public school, Ellen had managed her anxiety and perfectionism. She had loving parents who didn’t pressure her to achieve and she didn’t run into much that she couldn’t figure out quickly. But she put plenty of pressure on herself. Excelling in school was intricately linked to Ellen’s sense of self. She was not particularly athletic and often had trouble maintaining friendships. She would be frustrated when other kids didn’t respond well to her complicated play. She didn’t have the same interests as her peers.

Because her early schooling was not intellectually challenging, Ellen came to believe that all learning ought to come quickly and easily. She thought that she ought to “know it before I learn it.” She didn’t learn how to struggle with a concept or how to study for an exam. Ellen also didn’t learn how to manage her time. She never had to. Ellen wanted to be the best. Always get A’s. Be as thorough as possible in all things. And she was successful.

Until college.

Suddenly, Ellen was on her own. Not only dealing with coursework that was more difficult but also planning her schedule, choosing classes, and managing: study time/homework, new friends, dorm life, exercise, sleep, meals, fun activities, laundry, and all those other daily decisions that you can’t predict. Not to mention, she still wanted to excel in all of her classes. She said that she didn’t know how to do it any other way. If she didn’t give 100%, she felt lazy. Or, she thought, maybe she wasn’t so smart after all. Her identity would teeter on the edge. Anxiety overload. Perfectionism paralysis.

What did I suggest to Ellen?

What insights will help the anxious college-attending perfectionists in your life?

~ An extremely active, thinking, analytical, imaginative mind mixed with multiple sensitivities and extraordinary empathy will most assuredly create anxiety. How could it not?

~ Intrinsic perfectionism comes naturally to rainforest minds. High standards and expectations along with an appreciation for beauty, harmony, justice, and precision are inborn. You need to appreciate this about yourself and then find ways to prioritize assignments so that you can manage your workload. What is truly important? Does your chemistry lab report have to be beautiful? Do you need to rewrite your lit paper yet again because you didn’t research every single related subtopic that you thought of? Will your professors still appreciate you if you get an A-?

~ Will giving less than 100% on occasion make you a lazy slacker or is it a realistic way to make time to rest and to feed your soul, which will ultimately allow you to be more productive and kinder to others and yourself?

~ There are some good apps for reducing anxiety: Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace. There are many other suggestions for calming your worries in this post.

~ Get to know what it means to have a rainforest mind. Read more posts from this blog!

~ Chapter 3 in my book goes into depth about the types of perfectionism and provides guidance and resources. Read it!

~ It’s possible that your anxiety might be affected by particular foods or hormone imbalances. Meet with a doctor or naturopath to explore this. Acupuncture, exercise, or neurofeedback can help. If your anxiety is frequently intense and overwhelming, medication might be an option. It can provide enough temporary relief so that you can put some relaxation techniques in place and feel the results.

After a while, Ellen began to speak more confidently about her rainforest mind. She had a greater understanding of her anxiety and perfectionism and was developing ways to manage them.

She explained: “I’m listening more to the calming voice within me. The self-critical voice isn’t quite as loud. I’m learning that I need to be more patient with myself…I can’t do everything. Things take time. Be gentle with myself.”

Be gentle with yourself. Listen to the calming voice within. And be sure to feed your fast talking, deep feeling, super insightful soul.

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Thank you to the clients and readers who inspired this post.

To my bloggEEs: Does this sound familiar? How does your perfectionism show up? What have you done to calm your anxiety? Did this happen to you or your kids in college? By the way, not all perfectionists are high achievers. But that’s the topic for a future post. For more posts on perfectionism from parents of gifted kids and from professionals, click on the link.

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Dealing with Anxiety When You Are a Highly Sensitive Overthinker*

photo courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash

There are so many reasons to be anxious these days. So many reasons. What’s a sensitive, empathetic, intuitive, analytical person to do?

I don’t need to tell you what there is to be anxious about. You are quite aware of the little things and the big things and all of the things in between. You could create a very long list. Your capacity for super-thinking and your vast imagination, enormous empathy, and non-stop brain has already added 14 items to your list since you started reading this post.

And, that’s not even taking into consideration that you might be a parent. A person with children. You can just double and triple and quadruple your list of reasons if you made the choice to bring a little vulnerable being into the world. Not that I’m judging you. But, really. What were you thinking? And you thought you were a worrier before you had kids.

I’ve written about this before here and here because it’s such a real phenomenon for people with finely tuned nervous systems, which you know you have. Not to mention, your capacity to feel the suffering of neighbors, trees, children everywhere, and your lonely Aunt Lucille.

Not only that. If you had to start worrying when you were two years old because your mother was screaming obscenities at you and your father was unreliable and self-absorbed, for example, well then, you likely have developed a remarkable ability to become anxious at a moment’s notice. Or to remain anxious all of the time on all occasions (called hypervigilance**) Just in case. You never know. You need to be prepared for the worst.

So, my darlings, you see?  Stop berating yourself for your worrying ways. Stop pressuring yourself to be cool, calm, and collected because you’re so smart. There are reasons for your extraordinary capacity to worry.

I have a suggestion.

In addition to all of the tools and techniques listed in the many articles out there, here’s another that I’ve recently started to practice more regularly. That I’ve found surprisingly helpful.

Here it is.

You know how fear tends to make you want to freeze or shrink or hide or push it away? Instead, notice it and be with it. Where do you feel it in your body? Hello, anxiety. Then, remember that it’s just a part of you. And you are bigger than it. Imagine yourself expanding. Breathe and expand. As odd as it sounds, welcome the anxiety. Bring it on, baby! And keep expanding. You will begin to feel your higher Self and the Love that is in you and around you. Breathe. You might start to notice that you feel lighter and more peaceful. The fear may still be there but you’ve become so large that it becomes insignificant. Imagine that!

The more you practice this, the easier it will be to get into this more peaceful state. And if you want to take it one step further, turn it into a tonglen practice (from Pema Chodron) where you breathe in all of the anxiety all over the world (Seriously!), and you breathe out Love to everyone, including yourself.

Including yourself.

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To my bloggEEs: I’m breathing Love to you right now, my little chickadees. Tell us about your anxiety and your worries. What do you do that is helpful? If you try this technique, let us know how it goes. There may be other, more concrete things, to try first. Sometimes, you need to address the basics first and get spiritual later. Trust yourself. If you grew up with chainsaws, give yourself time to heal via many paths.

*For the perfectionists among us: Is overthinker one word? Should it be hyphenated? Is it two words? I hyphenated it in another post so  should I be consistent? Am I over-thinking over thinking? Oh, brother.

** If you have an extreme case of anxiety, due to early trauma, medication may be an option as well. Sometimes the bio-chemical help is needed so that you can manage your life enough to be able to benefit from the other techniques.

 

 

 

 


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So Many Worries, So Little Time — Anxiety And Your Creative Mind

photo courtesy Lea Dobedout, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy Lea Dobedout, Unsplash, CC

If you’re a sensitive, empathetic human, which you know you are, it would be very hard, OK, impossible, not to feel somewhat anxious these days. OK. Maybe very anxious. There are multiple reasons for this. So many opportunities for anxiety. I don’t need to tell you.

And let’s face it. You were born worrying. That very busy mind of yours could think of endless possibilities for concern. The pteradactyl hiding under your bed. Those timed tests in school. Your friends’ drug problems. The bullies on the street corner. The purpose of dark matter. Not to mention your finely tuned vividly accessible imagination. So many worries, so little time.

Then, if you became a parent. Well. What were you thinking? Parenting. Not the best job for the rumination-prone.

But here’s the good news. Your rainforest mind is not just here for apprehension, anxiety and angst. Nooooooo. You, dear friend, also have an enormous capacity to be inspired. To feel awe. To know wonder. And this may save you. (along with the many suggestions in this other post and occasionally shrieking in your car after a particularly vigorous kick boxing class)

You know awe. The night sky. An ocean sunset. Swimming with dolphins. The birth of your child. Listening to Lady Gaga sing ‘Til It Happens to You.

Wonder can take you out of your angst. Even just for a moment. It can allow you to feel your deep knowing. That there’s something larger, more beautiful, more powerful out there and in you. Maybe you call it Beauty. Maybe you call it Love. Maybe you call it Intuition. Maybe you call it String Theory. Maybe you call it God.

Whatever you call it, get yourself some awe. Let wonder back into your life.

It will soothe your worried soul. 

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To my blogEEs: Where do you find awe? What inspires you? Tell us about your sense of wonder. What has helped you ease your anxiety? Thank you, dear readers. You inspire me.


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The More You Know, The More You Worry

photo from Anne Allanketner

photo from Anne Allanketner

Perhaps you thought that if you were smart, you wouldn’t be a worrier. If you were smart, you’d know all of the answers. You wouldn’t have to be anxious because you could think your way out of any problem.

But, in fact, you may worry constantly. You worry when you’re sleeping. When you’re hiking. When you’re cooking. When you’re driving. When you’re not worrying.

So what’s with that?

Let me explain.

Your very active rainforest mind is able to dream up so many things to worry about. Less complex minds may worry less because there isn’t as much thinking. With you, there’s lots of thinking. And if you’re highly creative? Watch out. Even more worries.

Add to this, your capacity to notice things that others don’t. More to notice, more to worry about.

And, of course, if you have deeply held ethical beliefs around justice issues and if you’re sensitive to the suffering of all beings, then, well, there might be a teensy weensy bit of anxiety in your world.

See what I’m saying?

I understand that you think that you ought to worry less because, as a smart person, you’re supposed to be a great problem solver. And maybe you are a great problem solver.

That may not stop the worry.

Of course, there might be complicating factors. Trauma in childhood might make you anxious today. Pressure and expectations due to your smartness might make you nervous. Hormone imbalances and illness might cause anxiety. You could be a parent.

Complicating factors.

It’s not easy to sort it all out. But I’m here to suggest that there’s a connection between your rainforest mind and your capacity for worry.

What, then, can be done, when a lobotomy isn’t an option?

1. Read this other post with its list of fabulous suggestions. Then, do some of them.

2. Try one of the research-based guided imagery CDs produced by psychologist Belleruth Naparstek. She has CDs on anxiety, stress reduction and many more topics.

3. Read the research from the Heartmath Institute and see if you might want to try one of their devices to improve what they call your “heart rate variability” and reduce your stress.

4. Experiment with a technique called yoga nidra. It’s one way to calm your nervous system and feel connected to the earth and your spirituality. There are free recorded guided meditations here.

5. Get hugged by someone you love, including your animals. Breathe and feel the connection deeply in your body.

6. Consider working with a team of sensitive, capable practitioners (naturopaths, physical therapists, psychotherapists, doctors, healers, shamans, teachers, artists, etc.) who will help you find the best tools for your particular needs. You’re complicated so there’s no one practitioner or one technique that will be the perfect answer. You don’t have to be alone with your anxiety. Even though you tend to solve problems for others and you may be the smartest person in the room at any particular time, don’t give up on finding help for yourself.

You may be naturally inclined to worry. Because you think a lot, it’s easy to slip into an anxious state. You have a mind that needs to be active, questioning, and dancing. Imagine that if you get more intellectual stimulation, you will worry less.

And, if all else fails, go for beauty. See the gorgeousness of the flower, the rainstorm, the laughing children. And the beauty of you. Worries and all.

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To my bloggEEs: Let us know what you worry about and how you find ways to calm and soothe yourself. If you’re a parent, these ideas apply to your children, too!

This post is part of a collection of posts about anxiety, gifted children and gifted adults. For more fascinating reading, click on the link below.