I’m back with another installment of Emotional Intensity is My Superpower. The first article dealt with the extreme emotions found in emotional intensity. Part 2 was all about empathy. Today we are talking about how emotional intensity shows up in the body.
Physical Manifestations of Emotional Intensity:
Emotional intensity isn’t only about our emotional reactions to events. There is a physical, or biological, aspect to emotional intensity as well. For many gifted individuals, extreme emotions manifest as a collection of physiological reactions to stress. Stomachaches, headaches, heart palpitations, and anxiety-like behaviors are all common in emotional intensity (Fonseca, 2015a; Peterson, 2006).
For some of our gifted youth, the physical aspects of emotional intensity are misinterpreted as an anxiety disorder or panic attack. Although the outward symptoms are similar, the internal origins have less to do with a mental health concern and more to do with the common aspects of what it means to be gifted. When these symptoms are misdiagnosed, there are often medical treatment responses that can also be inappropriate, resulting in more adverse outcomes (Webb et al., 2007).
It is essential for parents and educators to help gifted children understand all aspects of emotional intensity, including some of these common physical reactions, and teach gifted children how to manage their response to emotional intensity. The list below includes some of the most effective interventions that can help to control physical aspects of emotional intensity.
- Teach and emphasize healthy lifestyle choices. Gifted children need to learn balance at an early age, including how to balance lifestyle choices. Learning to incorporate healthy food, adequate rest, a balance between work and play, and physical outlets or exercise is vital in learning to regulate the physical aspects of emotional intensity. Without this balance, gifted children can experience worsening symptoms of their intensity as sugar, and refined carbohydrates contribute to emotional reactions, and lack of sleep can increase outward expressions of frustration (Fonseca, 2011).
- Teach mindfulness. Whether using a model of meditation or prayer or a more secular version of mindfulness, it is essential that children learn to become fully aware of the moment, as well as conscious of internal states. Teaching gifted youth to regularly pause in their busy lives and mentally check-in, increasing their awareness of the moment and determining their current state of being, can result in an increased ability to manage their emotional state. The awareness creates the space needed to recognize when they are out of balance and make corrections. It also enables them to learn to manage their physical reactions to things; something defined more in the next tip (Fonseca, 2015b).
- Use biofeedback and similar strategies to manage physical symptoms. As gifted children become more self-aware, they are more able to learn to manage their physical responses to emotional events. Techniques like biofeedback allow children to learn to purposefully control their physiological responses. Neuro-feedback trains the brain similarly. Both options can be beneficial as gifted children learn to harness the positive aspects of their emotional intensity and mitigate the more negative issues associated with these attributes.
By now I hope you are seeing the many ways emotional intensity is really one of the strengths of giftedness. Next week, I’ll finish up the series with a look at passions and purpose as it relates to emotional intensity.