High Ability, High Sensitivity, High Anxiety

“All forms of self-expression that tap into curiosities, talents or deeply held interests, when pursued to excellence, are deeply nourishing.”

That quote by Kenneth W. Christian, PhD is from his book Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement.

There are many deeply rewarding aspects of being gifted and talented, creative, with exceptional abilities, or being highly sensitive.

But there can also be emotional and mental health challenges, including anxiety.

Many gifted individuals:
May hold divergent values compared to mainstream culture
Have extraordinarily high standards; have low tolerance for mediocrity and frustration
Have acute awareness of complexities and consequences
Have strong entelechy: (from Greek for “having a goal”): the need for self-determination, for self-actualization

See many more on the page: Characteristics often experienced by gifted individuals.

[Photo: Elle Fanning in the movie Phoebe in Wonderland – from post Our high sensitivity personality: normalcy, wholeness, acceptance.]

Having “acute awareness” and entelechy can lead to distress over social conditions, to existential dread or depression if we are not embracing our talents enough. And “extraordinarily high standards” can show up as perfectionism.

In her article Perfectionism: The Crucible of Giftedness, Linda Kreger Silverman explains that “perfectionism indiscriminately mingles idealism, introversion, preoccupation with one’s flaws, fear of not being able to live up to others’ expectations, and making unfair demands of others. This strange amalgam has been implicated in stress-related ailments, anxiety, depression…”

Panic and anxiety

Actor Edie Falco says she battled anxiety before her stardom in “The Sopranos” and went through “some horrible years.”

“You go to college and you go off and do some plays, and then when the dust clears, you are left alone in your crazy apartment at 4 in the afternoon with no job, no prospects and a waitressing shift to go to.

“And real heavy-duty darkness can set in. I had a little bit of a nervous breakdown, I suppose. Somebody got me a job at a hardware store and I started having terrible anxiety attacks,” she recalls.

“Anxiety attacks have been in my family for years. We are sort of a high-strung bunch… I’ve been in therapy a bazillion years.

She said an attack is “like you’re driving and all of sudden you see a Mack truck crossing the divider and coming at you. And you stay like that.”

But with the attacks now gone, she says, “I feel more in control of my life than I ever have.” [nypost.com Sep. 9, 2002]

HSP / highly sensitive people

Having a more “finely tuned” nervous system, with greater sensory processing sensitivity, can make highly sensitive people more susceptible to anxiety.

For example, a research study found that people who have an exaggerated “startle” reflex may find it harder to regulate emotional arousal.

A report said, “Their sensitivity may, in combination with other hereditary and environmental factors, make them more prone to anxiety disorders.” [Genes affect anxiety and startle response.]

In my podcast interview with psychiatrist Judith Orloff, I asked her about anxiety relief. She noted, “Creative people are extremely sensitive. Neurologically, they are very finely tuned and open to all kinds of energies from the outside, so it’s important they protect themselves and not be overwhelmed.”

Part of the problem with anxiety is labeling our arousal as “bad” anxiety, when it may be overstimulation or intense emotional and intellectual and physical energy levels that psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski termed overexcitability.

In her article Theory of Positive Disintegration as a Model of Personality Development For Exceptional Individuals, Elizabeth Mika notes that “because Dabrowski equated development through positive disintegration with mental health, this allowed him to reframe various psychological states commonly considered pathological, such as anxiety, neurosis and depression, as not only largely positive, but, in fact, necessary for personality growth.”

Creative Intellect

“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.

“Our data shows us that anxiety sufferers all share a superior level of creative intellect.”

That is from the article Creative intellect as a marker for genetic predisposition to high anxiety conditions by Charles Linden.

What to do about anxiety?

What seems to be anxiety may be just a higher level of arousal, excitability, emotional intensity – which can be okay, even more or less ‘normal’ for high ability or highly sensitive people.

At times I feel to “jittery” and anxious to be working as effectively or happily as I want, I occasionally use the homeopathic preparation PureCalm.

Also, I use (about once a week) the Holosync program from Centerpointe Research Institute, which induces deep relaxation.

For a more direct treatment of anxiety, see my info page on The Linden Program.


Products and Programs: Anxiety Relief Solutions

Site: High Ability


High Ability – gifted/talented



Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger, Christine Padesky

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen. The Gifted Adult

Marylou Kelly Streznewski. Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential.


Giftedness characteristics

Self-tests: giftedness / high ability


anxiety sensitivity, anxiety symptoms, anxiety relief, anxiety and stress, healting anxiety, anxiety books

Originally posted 2010-07-01 22:18:52.


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