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Stemming the Flow of Cognitive Lava (CVESD, January 2018)


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An exploration of stress and anxiety in gifted and talented and strategies to reduce both.

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Stemming the Flow of Cognitive Lava (CVESD, January 2018)

  1. 1. MorganAppel, Director Department of Education and Behavioral Sciences
  2. 2. This presentation and a host of related materials and resources may be accessed directly using Slide Share ( Just search my name and you will be there in a flash!
  3. 3. Stressed Spelled Backwards… Is desserts — little consolation to those as young as Preschool who are compelled to contend with it on a daily basis.
  4. 4.  Status as a high achiever or gifted is a gift—unless you are the one experiencing it first hand (both blessing and burden): culture of increasingly high expectations/heightened sensitivities  Many gifted and high-achievers have a tendency to look outwardly for approval and inwardly for blame  May experience unique pressures to ‘perform’ as if the spotlight is always on—even when alone (high standards, even when not observed by others)  High achievers tend to possess the metacognitive skills (sound habits of practice/study skills/organizational skills) that enable them to realize objectives  For gifted and talented, things come naturally—without having to work hard. When effort is required, something must be wrong  Being gifted or a high achiever does not necessarily mean that one is also a perfectionist, but there is often intersection.
  5. 5. Happy Outside, Anxious Within Because our gifted and talented tend not to wear emotions on their sleeves (out of fear of embarrassment or disapproval), one may never be fully aware of the level of stress experienced until it is too late. So many live lives concealed by an emotional suit of armor until the pressure builds up to an extent where everything is released suddenly. What we may perceive to be an immediate change in behavior or disposition may have been building for years. Remember that it is the affective domain that truly warrants our collective attentions.
  6. 6.  Stress is the body’s general response to any intense physical, emotional or mental demand placed on it by self or by others.  Stress in and of itself is not bad (in some cases, it involves levels of excitement in engaging in an enjoyable activity, including falling in love). Source: Kaplan, 1990
  7. 7.  Diligent work on long projects (occurs over time)  Activity overload (sometimes as a means to live up to expectations (self and others)  Vacations and free time (wanting to fill the void)  Busy work (lack of challenge/perceived time wasting)  Lack of immediate and clear solutions (the burden of complex thinkers)  Loneliness/Isolation (even if self imposed)  Compromise or Accomodation
  8. 8.  Striving to Live up to (Exaggerated) Expectations  Perfectionism and Frustration at an Imperfect World  Deviation from Routine  New Situations and Environments  Social Situations, Making Friends  Feeling Like a Fraud (Impostor Syndrome)  Overwhelming Choice/ Multipotentiality  Having to ‘work’ at something  Loss of Control
  9. 9. INTERNAL  Anxiety-prone personality  Fear of failure and/or success  Anger/fear about a disability  Strong need for control  Low self esteem/worth  Fear of strong emotions/intensity EXTERNAL  Lack of nurturing during critical developmental periods  Divorce/difficult sibling relationships  Any type of abuse in family  Rigid role models  Performance pressures  Lack of fit between abilities and environment  Discipline (types)  Bullying Source: Anxiety and 2E Kids, 2008
  10. 10. The Top Five Sources of Stress Among Gifted and Talented School Family Issues Social Relationships Time Management Expectations
  11. 11.  All learning activates the ‘survival’ mechanism  Immediate focus on understanding the environment and resolving immediate problems  The lightning-fast processing involved in gifted and talented individuals and the incessant ‘what ifs’?  We tend to dwell on the negative as a matter of survival (primitive) and avoid those situations In many ways, the brain is akin to a volcano on the verge of eruption, always trying to make sense of circumstances and solve problems in the world that surrounds it
  12. 12.  Physiological: headaches, stomachaches, nervousness, insomnia  Emotional: excessive crying, lashing out, hostility, anger, violence  Relational: conflicts with family and friends, withdrawal  Mental: anxiety, panic, confusion, feeling threatened or frightened, apathy  Spiritual: helplessness, submission, no way out Source: Bradley, 2018
  13. 13.  Ulcers  NervousTwitches  Hair Loss  Migraines  Failed Relationships  DrugAbuse  Eating Disorders  Desolation Source: Bradley, 2018
  14. 14.  Generalized (extreme, unrealistic worry about everyday activities)  Panic Disorder (periods of intense fear, accompanied by physical symptoms and fear of imminent death)  Separation Anxiety (difficulty leaving parents)  Phobias (related to certain situations or objects)  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (repetitive thoughts and behaviors)  Social Anxiety Disorder (fear of being watched, judged, being embarrassed)  Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (reliving stressful events through strong memories)
  15. 15. Cross Cutting: Perfectionism and Stress Perfectionism takes on any number of forms in school and in the world outside of campus. It is not universal. In many ways, perfectionism is driven by anxieties over approval and rejection by others versus envisioning positive outcomes. Many behavioral scientists have suggested that the difference between a producer (or high achiever) and a perfectionist is that the former has drive and the latter is driven (Joelson, 2018). In many cases, it is a matter of motivations behind actions and the ability to find a sense of solace and satisfaction in one’s efforts.
  16. 16.  Rooted in a sense of conditional acceptance: if one cannot be perfect, one cannot be acceptable to people (and self)  A relational issue that is highly dependent upon interaction with and perceptions of others  Our world is guided by series of emotional convictions about ourselves and others  The substance of these convictions is determined in an ongoing way by our attachments to others Source: Davidson Institute, 2007
  17. 17. POSITIVE  Reliable  Responsible  Dedicated  Driven  Persistent NEGATIVE  Critical  Unrealistic  Approval Seeking  Prone to Depression  High Anxiety  Obsessive or Compulsive Behaviors (seeking solace)
  18. 18.  Performance paradox — anxiety over performance defeats performance  Undermines working memory  Influenced by parents’ own perfectionist tendencies and separation anxiety  The perfectionist leads a stressful existence (self-critical; hiding mistakes; among others)  How does brain chemistry impact the learning potential of the perfectionist (adrenaline, cortisol)?
  19. 19.  Strong sense of purpose and high ideals  Methodical and detail oriented  May come across as critical and/or judgmental  Inner critic may impact relationships with others  Frustrated with those who do not ‘pull their weight’  Prevents seeking out challenging experiences  Frequently deal with self- esteem issues  Self critical and seek out (positive) feedback – almost obsessively as a means to bolster self worth  Vulnerable to depression and intense anxiety  Externalize feelings—harsh on those around them  Reduces ‘playfulness’ and creativity
  20. 20. The Longest Road For perfectionists, just arriving at the destination in a perfect way is insufficient. We tend to underscore the need to appreciate not just the product but the process. But what does that mean for the perfectionist who demands a perfect conclusion, but perfection at every point along the way? The road becomes not just hard, but never ending. And exhausting.
  21. 21.  Depression  Performance anxiety  Test anxiety  Social anxiety  Writer’s block  Obsession  Compulsiveness  Gloominess  Loneliness  Impatience  Frustration  Anger  Rigidity  Low motivation The best project is a done project. We know perfectionists focus on outcomes not processes, act in fits and spurts and only find temporary satisfaction in achievements because there is always more to do.
  22. 22. UNDERACHIEVEMENT ‘Feel good Chemistry’ Obsession Stress Chemistry ‘Hitting the Wall’ PRAISE Exaggerated Expectations Many iterations… PRAISE
  23. 23. Icing on the Perfectionist Cake: Impostor Syndrome For the perfectionist, there is only fleeting joy in the now. Successes are only temporary (and likely to be flukes or odd coincidences). In an imperfect world, the pursuit of self-defined perfection can prove mentally and physically exhausting. Many high-achieving and gifted perfectionists also fall victim to the Impostor Syndrome—which is adding a thick layer of self- defeating icing to an already restless sponge cake.
  24. 24.  Difficulty accepting praise, even when deserved.  Feeling like a fraud who will be found out—eventually.  Discounting/qualifying successes.  Overworking/compulsion to be the best.  Probably described as a perfectionist.  Paralyzed by anxiety.  Hide/avoid showing confidence.  Odd relationship with success: equal parts desire and dread (because you feel you do not deserve it).  Compare struggles (everyone seems to be getting by/ahead with less difficulty)  Believe your successes lie in your charm, not abilities.  Focus more on what you have not done, versus what you have.  Convinced you’re just not enough.  Increased distance=increased symptoms.
  25. 25. The Unique Case of Dual Exceptionality Children who are both gifted and learning– disabled are often called dual exceptional /twice- exceptional (or 2e), because their abilities lie outside the norms at both ends of the bell curve.These 2e children are immensely diverse. In fact, they embody every imaginable combination of strengths and weaknesses. --Eide and Eide:The Mislabeled Child
  26. 26.  Research suggests that 2E individuals may be at greater risk due to unique challenges owing to characteristics associated with giftedness and talent as well as impaired functioning (attention problems, difficulty reading, difficulty socializing, among others)  Living in the world of ‘shoulds’ and all or nothing perspectives; oversensitivity to rejection and criticism
  27. 27.  Advanced oral vocabulary but difficulty with the written word  Bright children who are ‘difficult’ (class clowns or troublemakers)  Masters math concepts easily but has trouble with computation  Asynchrony between development of strengths and weaknesses (extends beyond asynchrony associated with giftedness)  Much is discovered about 2E in the context of discussions with parents (with desire to know more)
  28. 28. Students, children or youth who give evidence of achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic or leadership capacity or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities – Title IX, Part A, Section 9101 (22)
  29. 29.  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 2004:  Specific learning disabilities  Speech or language impairments  Emotional disturbance  Hearing impairment/deafness  Orthopedic impairments/physical disabilities  Visual impairments  Other health impairments
  30. 30. ASSETS  Creativity  Thinking Ability  Long-Term Memory  Abstraction  Problem Solving  Insight  Sophistication  Giftedness may be enhanced by the presence of a learning disability CHALLENGES  Appropriate Self Expression  OrganizationalAbilities (complicating factors)/Study skills  Short-term Memory  Sense perception (distractibility, etc.)  Social Interaction  Self Esteem  UnevenAcademic Abilities  Moving from ‘head to paper’  Auditory and/or visual problems
  31. 31.  Stubborn/obstinate  ‘Street smarts’ do not translate into classroom  Highly sensitive to criticism, especially in areas of deficit  Highly impulsive  Unusual intensity of focus  May use humor (or even bully) to distract from areas of deficit  More pronounced during adolescence  Experience and express frustrations related to brain/body control  Humility  Unusual persistence  Negative reactions to first schooling experiences (painful memories—often accused of being lazy)
  32. 32.  Frequent comments related to stress and worry  Clinging behaviors  Excessive nail biting  Avoidance of school or other situations/tasks  Repeated signs of distress  Repetitive behaviors  Behavior problems (running away, defiance, aggression)  Excessive need for reassurance  Loss of appetite/over- or undereating  Hyperarousal/difficulty relaxing  Excessive concern about competence  Excessive or unrealistic worry (how fast can that happen?)  Social isolation  Avoidance of being alone  Refusal to participate in activities previously enjoyed  Any noticeable change in behavior or performanceSource: Anxiety and 2E Kids Newsletter, 2008
  33. 33.  Take stress and anxieties seriously (no matter how young—even though they are ‘just kids’)  Handling stress is a learned skill like manners  Mindfulness training (please see my Slideshare for a PPT on this subject)  Remind children that their anxieties do not define them and that taking action— though scary—is much easier than living with constant anxieties  Explain how stress works and its purposes (the more you know)  Do not hide stress. Acknowledge it and deal with it (de-stigmatize)  Be a good model in handling stress  Work to identify the root causes of stress (categorized: school, home, other)  Cultivate resilience and formulation of realistic expectations
  34. 34.  Incorporate humor as much as is possible: laugh at your situation  Bibliotherapy: (email me for resources to help remove the spotlight)  Talk to others: Misery, in many cases, loves company—always better to know others contend with the same thing  Adequate sleep (note the adequate)  Spend time with energy boosters (people, that is)  Seek help when it is needed.  Take care of your body: nutrition and exercise makes an impressive (and neurochemical) difference. Run it out.  Use positive self talk—realistic and assuring.You’ve handled worse before and you will get through this.  Help others and wind up helping yourself. Shift the focus.  Schedule time for relaxation and understand its purposes— not a ‘guilty pleasure’ but absolutely needed!
  35. 35.  Learn to embrace mistakes and celebrate failure  Explain shortcomings of ‘all or nothing’ perspective  Emphasize the role of learning versus evaluation  Explain how perfectionism can be counterproductive (appeal to the rational side, not the emotional)  Understand where your children are coming from— telling them to ‘loosen up’ won’t do the job  Everyone makes mistakes  The objective is not to eliminate perfectionism, but to guide it in a positive direction  Help with setting priorities  Empathy and self- awareness
  36. 36. HOWTO PRAISE  Reward process and effort, not always the result  Praise efforts with specificity (I really see you were able to connect x with y versus ‘you are brilliant!’  Rely on intrinsic versus extrinsic (material) rewards HOWTO CRITIQUE  Solicit self-appraisal with supporting evidence  Ask what is needed to achieve sought after objectives  Ask what might be done next time to improve results  Understand the nature of mistakes and failure as information, not fixed outcome Source: Psychology Today, 2013
  37. 37.  Own your successes – even if they are not yours alone.  Own your thoughts—also relates to our ‘survival wiring’ and risk avoidance. Shift the focus (versus ‘I will not be self critical’)  Understand the purpose of the feelings: to become motivated to do something.  Understand that you are not alone. Misery loves company, and in this sense, can prove reassuring.  Give others credit for crediting you. You were complimented /selected for a reason.  Understand expertise versus perfection. Lower the bar to a reasonable level.  Prove your own case. Examine the evidence—are you really that good as an impostor to garner so many accolades?Amend the statements of the internal killjoys, if nothing else: ‘I am not an expert in X—YET’ Source: Psychology Today, 2013.
  38. 38.  Embracing versus rejecting reality  Understanding that there may be setbacks on the way to success  Venturing out of one’s comfort zone (taking risks versus adhering to routines with predetermined positive outcomes)  Accepting painful emotions (versus judging success in terms of uninterrupted stream of positive emotions)  Perfectionists by definition reject the possibility of success—both in the personal and abstract senses  Focus on cultivating resilience, flexibility and adaptability
  39. 39. Understanding the Issues Using Plato’s Allegory of the Cave In many ways, high-achieving and gifted students may be thought of as akin to the imprisoned featured in Plato’s Allegory.Their perceptions are shaped by shadow, distortion and exaggerated interpretation emerging from their unique neurobiology and socio- affective characteristics. Thus, one of the most important duties educators and parents have is to help bring children into daylight and offer them a quality of life with a lesser degree of anxiety and intensity. The same neurochemistry that fuels all we love about the eager students in the classroom and at home can wreak havoc internally. That is why counseling takes all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.
  40. 40. Contact Information Morgan Appel, Director Education Department UC San Diego Extension 9500 Gilman Drive #0170-N La Jolla, California 92093-0170 858-534-9273/