“I still have pretty much the same fears I had as a kid.
“I’m not sure I’d want to give them up; a lot of these insecurities fuel the movies I make.”
– Writer, producer, director Steven Spielberg
We can experience many flavors of insecurity, self-criticism, stress and anxiety related to being gifted, talented and creative.
Some experiences, such as a certain quality or level of perfectionism, may help us enhance our talents.
Director Spielberg has also commented, “I think every film I make that puts characters in jeopardy is me purging my own fears, sadly only to re-engage with them shortly after the release of the picture. I’ll never make enough films to purge them all.” [imdb.com]
He has also been quoted about filmmaking in a book on dealing with fear:
“Fear is your ally. The minute you come onto a set and you’re no longer afraid, you are in big trouble.”
But another quote refers to the insecurity many talented people feel, which can interfere with creative work:
“I’m coming from a place of acting, so you’re never quite sure if you’re going to get the crew to even be on your side and you always have this great fear that they will discover that you’re an imposter and that you have no business being there.” — George Clooney
From book Mastering Fear: Harnessing Emotion to Achieve Excellence in Work, Health and Relationships, by psychologist Robert Maurer.
Related article: Overcome Impostor Syndrome Feelings.
Some anxieties – like an overbearing level of perfectionism – can interfere with our creative inspiration and expression, and be crippling in other areas of life.
[Photo is from article Dealing With Worry and Anxiety To Be More Creative.]
Why would high ability and highly sensitive creative people be more susceptible to worry, anxiety and stress?
Paula Prober, M.S., M.Ed., is a licensed counselor who works with adults to “heal unresolved issues from childhood and specializes in counseling and consulting with gifted adults, youth, and families.”
In an article (on her site) The More You Know, The More You Worry, she writes:
“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.”
Prober offers multiple suggestions under the amusing heading:
“What, then, can be done, when a lobotomy isn’t an option?”
Among them is “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.”
See information and testimonials about this technology in my article
Biofeedback Technology for Stress Relief and Emotional Balance.
A short video: Heidi Hanna on using HeartMath for brain recharging
From article with more information from Heidi Hanna, PhD, Elaine Aron, PhD and others: How to Relieve Stress and Anxiety When You’re Creative and Highly Sensitive.
Also see article:
The Stress Mastery Program for Emotional Health by Heidi Hanna
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Michele Kane, Ed.D., an Associate Professor and the President of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children, gave a presentation on Stress and Anxiety: Helping Gifted Kids Cope – which also has helpful perspectives for us adults.
She points out that stress is universal and experienced by everyone, and that “Being bright, talented, creative, motivated, smart, ambitious, and even good looking can add to the stress in your life.”
“Academic success and drive aren’t enough to make life manageable. The world is too complicated and intense, and it’s changing too fast.”
She notes “There are no easy answers, simple solutions, or quick fixes for managing stress” but says, “You can learn to understand why your life gets oppressive, depressive, stressed or otherwise unhealthy. You can learn to live in a new and better way.”
Here is more from her presentation:
Sources of Stress for Gifted People
- conflict between our values and the values of others (what is and what ought to be)
- interpersonal disharmony
- lack of intellectual stimulation or challenge
- challenges beyond our capability to respond
- threats to emotional or physical well-being
- lack of resources to accomplish a task
- time constraints
- setting excessively high standards for ourselves
- fear of failure
- fear of success
- negative self-talk
- emotionally loaded/highly evaluative beliefs about ourselves and our environment
- believing that everyone should love, respect, and praise us
- buying into others’ negative evaluations of us
- global concerns (e.g., nuclear disaster, war, poverty, world hunger, the environment, etc.)
- anger at fate
- need for meaning and purpose
Strategies to Help Gifted Kids with Stress
- Share resources for meditation and visualization; explain the effect on the body
- Explain the biology of stress; determine which how the body sends signals
- Encourage deep breathing and exercise to minimize personal stress
- Supply biographies of notables that were able to resolve personal situations
- Promote experiences in nature as a way to self-soothe
For much more, see the PDF of her presentation: Stress and Anxiety: Helping Gifted Kids Cope.
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More strategies to relieve stress and anxiety
n an interview about his book Mastering Creative Anxiety, creativity coach and psychologist Eric Maisel, PhD comments on why artists may be more vulnerable:
“First of all, so much is on the line. For someone who’s self-identified as a writer, painter, composer, scientist, inventor, and so on, [their] identity and ego are wrapped up in how well [they create] – and when what we do matters that much, we naturally get anxious.”
Dr. Maisel notes that in his book Mastering Creative Anxiety, he presents “a menu of twenty-two effective anxiety management tools, enough tools that everyone can find at least one or two that will work well.
“The simplest is to remember to breathe; a few deep cleansing breaths can do wonders for reducing anxiety.
“The most important anxiety management tool is probably cognitive work, where you change the things you say to yourself, turning anxious thoughts into calmer, more productive thoughts.
“And creating a lifestyle that supports calmness is also very important: if the way you live your life produces a lot of anxiety, that’s a tremendous extra burden on your nervous system.”
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Some of my related articles:
Even people with exceptional talents and accomplishments can feel insecure and struggle with low or unhealthy self-esteem.
Meryl Streep, for example, has said, “I have varying degrees of confidence and self-loathing….
“You can have a perfectly horrible day where you doubt your talent… Or that you’re boring and they’re going to find out that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
This is not an issue for only a few talented people.
Over the many years of researching creative people and reading many interviews with high ability people, I have often seen many quotes like Streep’s. See the article for a selection of these quotes.
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More resource pages:
Mental Health – Emotional Health videos
on The Creative Mind YouTube channel.
A superior level of creative intellect.
In his article Creative intellect as a marker for genetic predisposition to high anxiety conditions, anxiety coach and author Charles Linden writes about some of his company’s research:
“Over the last 12 years, through working with over 130,000 high anxiety sufferers, we have been able to collect data regarding character traits, genetics and environmental factors which has enabled us to characterize the typical profile of a person who has a predisposition to high anxiety conditions.
“Typically, these people share a character trait, which can only be predetermined by genetics, which, from the moment they are born, predisposes them to the creation of conditions of the emotions, such as anxiety disorders.
“Our data shows us that anxiety sufferers all share a superior level of creative intellect.
“This may not be experienced as academic prowess, but as a distinct range of both physical and mental attributes affecting creativity, emotional sensitivity and clarity, eccentricity, creative energy and drive which, whilst sometimes misguided, provides the tenacity to move forward, sometimes in the face of extreme adversity…”
Photo: British novelist and Vogue fashion editor Plum Sykes – who benefited from his treatment program.
A version of the program on Amazon: The Linden Method.
The stress of the unrealized possible
There may also be pain in the sense of a vertical inner conflict between what is seen as one’s current level of realization and what could be, what is possible given advanced talents.
The wealth of information and ideas available via the Internet may stimulate greater elaboration and realization of one’s talents, but can also result in Internet Addiction Disorder, or IAD, at least for some people.
Those addicted to the Internet, according to Dr. Ivan Goldberg, a New York psychiatrist, need to spend increasingly more time online to achieve the same level of satisfaction, and feel anxious when not connected.
Dr. Kimberly S. Young, Director of the Center for Online Addiction at the University of Pittsburgh Dept. of Psychology, has mentioned a case example of a “formerly happily married mother” who was given an ultimatum by her husband – ‘me or the computer’ – and she chose the computer.
An unhurried lifestyle
Gaining a lifestyle that will have more of an unhurried nature takes some mindful designing, notes Mary Rocamora (director of a Los Angeles school with awareness training classes for talent development):
“The quality of life seems to be much better if it’s simplified. Having the support of a buddy system can be a focus on slowing things down, and not separating out. Checking in with someone helps find the right rhythm for you.”
She also points out this pacing of one’s life may be more difficult for women: “It’s a female thing to put yourself last; it’s so much the way women are programmed: take care of everything else first, then it’s your turn. If you even get to your turn.”
[One of her articles: Counseling Issues with Recognized and Unrecognized Gifted Adults.]
Hiding and self-effacing can be anxiety-producing
One of the characteristic behaviors of many gifted individuals is a tendency to be self-effacing, to hide their exceptional intellect in the presence of those more mundane and less talented — perhaps as a predilection born of introversion or a strategy to hide one’s abilities in order to get along, to avoid being seen as strange, or elitist.
But this self-silencing, according to some psychologists, tends to lead to depression. And depression and stress can interact, leading to increased levels of both.
Writing in the March 1996 APA Monitor (American Psychological Association), Hugh McIntosh mentioned the work of Canadian psychologist Peter Suedfeld, PhD who studied restricted environmental stimulation in lone voyages, polar stations and other solitary situations. Everyone experiences states where they need solitude more than at other times, Suedfeld said. In addition, some people seem to have a trait for solitude, chronically wanting or needing it more than others do.
Research related to solitude suggests that most people have some need of time alone to satisfy any of several psychological needs, including rejuvenation.
This need “probably results from the cumulative effects of social stimulation over recent days or weeks” Suedfeld said. People with few demands and little social stimulation seem to need less solitude and, in fact, may avoid it.
His research has found, however, that those with heavy demands on their attention, social skills or coping mechanisms – such as professors, business executives, mothers of small children – tend to need more time alone:
“It gives you a chance to restore your coping resources, to rest, relax.
“It replenishes psychological energy and physical well-being, as measured by reduced stress hormones, improved immune functioning and other physiological changes.”
Another source of chronic stress may be the heightened capacity that high ability or giftedness confers on many creative people for generating ideas and visions, and creating related elaborate lists of what you “need” to get done and what you haven’t yet done — and how that undoneness can pressure and shame, or deflate and erode energy.
The Relationship between Intelligence and Anxiety: An Association with Subcortical White Matter Metabolism, by Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience.
“We have demonstrated in a previous study that a high degree of worry in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) correlates positively with intelligence and that a low degree of worry in healthy subjects correlates positively with intelligence…”
Scientists Say Mood Disorders Often Related To High Intelligence And Creativity
Throughout history, some of the most creative artists, actors, musicians, and intellectuals have proven to be among the most volatile in temperament, often experiencing significant mood swings and personality disorders.
Some such as painter Vincent Van Gogh, composer Beethoven, and writers Virginia Woolf and Silvia Plath became quite notorious for their outbursts — often displaying erratic behavior littered with violent outbursts.
Though the aforementioned lived long before the introduction of mood stabilizing pharmaceuticals, it is certain that if they were alive today, they’d be among the millions of people prescribed drugs to help level their emotions/mood.
Is being a worrier a sign of intelligence? By British Psychological Society.
“Increasingly psychologists are recognising the strengths of anxious people. For example, there’s research showing that people more prone to anxiety are quicker to detect threats and better at lie detection.
“Now Alexander Penney and his colleagues have conducted a survey of over 100 students and they report that a tendency to worry goes hand in hand with higher intelligence.
“The key finding was that after controlling for the influence of test anxiety and current mood, the students who reported a general habit of worrying more (e.g. they agreed with survey statements like ‘I am always worrying about something’) and/or ruminating more (e.g. they said they tended to think about their sadness, or think ‘what am doing to deserve this?’) also tended to score higher on the test of verbal intelligence, which was taken from the well-known Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.”