“My Brain Is Not A Brain That Does Well With Down Time”

“My brain is not a brain that does well with downtime. So if I have a lot of down time, it will start out like ‘You’ve had a really rewarding career’ and end up with ‘You’ve failed everyone that ever loved you.Jon Stewart

The rainforest-minded brain needs intellectual stimulation. If it doesn’t get to ponder, analyze, question, and create, it might resort to rumination, as in Jon Stewart’s case, or to arguing over petty situations or ideas, as in the gifted child you have at home’s case. Granted, you may be a prize winning worrier in general, but without the intellectual gymnasium, anxiety is inevitable.

One blog reader put it this way: “It took me far too long to realise that if I don’t feed my brain good things to chew on, it just… chews. Sometimes on bits of me, often it gets very anxious, or I overthink ridiculous, trivial things. My brain needs a high calorie diet of things to chew on, and when I feed it properly it’s a much happier organ and it works better. It helps if there are people inclined to be excited about whatever I’m currently excited about, …. I need challenges and to learn new things and to be puzzled and have to figure stuff out…

It’s important you know this so you don’t get all self-critical because people tell you that you ‘can’t relax’ or ‘you need to chill’ or ‘why can’t you just be satisfied with good enough.’ They may not understand that it is your nature to be driven to learn and create. That curiosity is your extreme sport. That you just don’t do chill.

I am terrible at chill. But I don’t care. Anymore. I used to think I was supposed to be cool. Not so deep. Not so driven. But now I’m good with being terrible at chill. And I’m determined to help you love your un-chilliness too.

Naturally, I want you to learn how to relax, how to soothe your nervous system, how to worry less. But that is different from feeding your mind palace with high calorie nutrition so it is happier, works better, and doesn’t chew on you. That is different from your need to analyze the problem from seven different directions and click on every hyperlink that leads you down the next rabbit hole. That is different from your capacity to grok how seemingly disparate ideas are truly all connected. That is different from your capacity to score poorly on multiple choice tests because you can prove how all of the answers are correct. That is different from your creative imagination, intuitive insights, and multipotentiality that inspire you to leave your lucrative career as an architect to become a yoga instructor who plays the cello in the local symphony and is studying chaos theory on the side while dancing the Argentine tango on alternate Tuesdays.

So, my dearest rainforest-minders, if your brain does not do well with down time, do not despair.

Join me. And Jon Stewart.

We shall be terrible at chill, together.


To my bloggEEs: How does your brain do with down time? Let us know. And thank you to the reader who inspired this post. Sending you all much love and appreciation!

Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

29 responses to ““My Brain Is Not A Brain That Does Well With Down Time””

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  1. Sam Avatar

    I have many a time been told my people that I “have no chill” or “you just need to stop reading deep stuff and relax” and I’ve always maintained constant learning IS my relaxation. But assuming others were right and I was wrong, I’ve tried all of the relaxation therapies and strategies and I end up feeling worse. How you describe it here resonates so strongly with me: having a constant stream of intellectual fodder to chew on is what my brain seems to need and when it doesn’t get enough of that it goes into utter self-destruct mode. Ripping my apart from the seams. Hero to zero in a very short space of time. I’ve learned – at the age of nearly 40 – that I have to keep the intellectual stimulation high to feel content and well. I love it though. Name a rabbit hole and l’ll go down it and love every minute.

    1. pprober Avatar

      What a great explanation of this, Sam. Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Laura Donnelly Avatar
    Laura Donnelly

    So many good and thoughtful comments. Some key points for me:
    * figuring out what works for us individually. David articulates this in a way that resonates with me. This knowing ourselves and our minds is so important and as Ciera says our first school experiences are usually about how to fit in not discovering what allows us to be and work more effectively. But once we start to discover our rhythms and flows – what joy and freedom!!

    I had someone ask me once “How did you think of that? Do you think all the time?” One of my problems is answering from that expansive, tumbling idea place without activating one of the social filters I’ve learned can make communication with others smoother. So I responded to this woman: “Don’t you?”
    Quiet time, feeding the mind, moving meditation. During covid I hosted a series of online talks focusing on managing what information we consume and choosing from what sources. The media was constantly force feeding fear and uncertainty with just a small amount of news information. You aren’t just what you eat, you also are what you think.

    Sitting meditation was never my favorite but as a dancer, walking meditation resonated with my being and is a practice I continue.

    Learning our how own minds work and our ways of thinking, processing, escaping, and creating is a wonderful journey of discovery – once we leave the World of Shoulds. A forum like this to share discoveries is an important way to inspire others with what we learn along the way and to reinvigorate our explorations. Thank you.

    1. pprober Avatar

      And thank you, Laura, for inspiring us with your discoveries!

  3. Me Avatar

    I figured out that what is described here is very true for myself too.
    My brain has been starving for so many years, giving the rest if my body a very hard time too! It does the same as me when utterly under stimulated … chewing rubbish!
    Yet a bit if quality boredom goes a long way! Something I have been practicing since childhood and find very beneficial. Then my mind finds peace, probably because it knows the next challenge is on the way anyway 😉

    1. pprober Avatar

      Hm…quality boredom! Thanks, Me.

  4. RL Avatar

    “It took me far too long to realise that if I don’t feed my brain good things to chew on, it just… chews…”
    Very much so. I’ve said that many times – I’m filling up my brain because this layer is going to keep working on things all day long no matter what I’m doing – and if I don’t give it something really interesting (like chemistry, or languages, or a math/space/mapping stuff to play with it is going to be MORE distracting (because of rumination). And it is the strangest thing the people you say something like that to and they just ‘headlight stare’ at you, they have no idea what you mean. And then they rattle off something like ‘You must be so bored! Why are you like that? Don’t you ever turn off?’ Then they say something like: ‘ I’m always so happy when I have time to relax. I can’t wait to do nothing.’ What do they actually mean by that? – I can’t relate. They can’t relate, either – to the multitasking or the multiple layers of thought. Most often, they can’t even relate to me ‘imagining how my brain works’ and just by saying anything about it I’ve already ‘alienated’ them! Even when I’m truly enjoying myself on things I’m always multitasking, physically and mentally. My idea of ‘relaxation’ is ‘expansion’ of my thinking and mind beyond the necessary window of what I’ve been required to focus on – to the Wide Universe and everything I’ve been wanting to do and learn. I’ve tried putting the other people’s idea of ‘relax’ beside mine for years – it was the worst type of disconnect feeling and gave me even more anxiety – as Jon Stewart says about ruminating on past failures etc..imposter syndrome and never relating to my ‘peers’. Over and over I’ve realized – if I’m going to be happy, I have to cater to how I work, not how the world thinks I should. You have to keep affirming it, though, because everyone is always trying to rewrite you to make you fit in their boxes. But their boxes are for their comfort, not yours. It’s a very hard lesson to keep learned though.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Your comments are adding so much richness, depth, and beauty, RL. Thank you. As you can see, I am starting to pull from the comments to create new posts. So, you may find your words gracing future posts. OK?

  5. Ciera Avatar

    Definitely laughed at this one, Paula. My mind also just…chews. I’m having fun feeding it a high nutrient diet and you and others have made me accept that I not only can, but need to feed it accordingly.
    I recently bought an amazing, massive and exquisitely detailed biography about the often misunderstood life and literary works of Fernando Pessoa that I am enjoying each night before bed (his many identities and ruminations that led him to create what he called independent heteronyms are fascinating), after master’s readings and independent research, with playing instruments sprinkled in between, and yoga to start most days, along with staying cozy in sweat pants and sweaters many mornings to read in various languages with my hand wrapped around a hot mug of coffee with beautiful music in the background, with no rush to leave by 7:45am. Bliss. It is amazing to have this period of time to not work two jobs. I am lucky to spend more time in the trees and by the river. I’ve also found cute cafés (with multilingual baristas and doggos hanging with their humans), cozy corners in the local libraries and so many ideas that are able to come to existence and blend in cool ways with each other with the freedom of not having a zillion humans to teach, assess and help improve in school settings. After a few weeks, I made myself a ‘schedule’ (not too constrained) to ensure I advance my goals and don’t become too ‘lost’ down those rabbit holes of hyperlinks, that lead me to incredibly interesting knowledge and wisdom. Anxiety and less than pleasant past experiences do come to mind regularly, so I am learning to let those thoughts come and then go, to breathe deeply and to be fortunate for the present moment and period of flexibility to dream and plan for what I would like to do, where I would like to live and how I want to spend my coming time on Mother Earth. I can’t only work one part time job in Canada for too long. Time to envision infinite options (as yes, everything is connected) tend to keep me ruminating in wavy circles or loops. Knowing many languages means I could go live, work or study in many very different places, which adds to the mix. To so many others, my life is not what it could or ‘should’ be at my age of 32 as a female, but I’m so pleased that I have the privilege and freedom to make it what I want, and especially that I wasn’t already married off, that I have financial independence, that I can legally buy property or take out a loan or get involved with different associations in my community.
    It’s been really hard to learn that I have the right to do what I want, that I don’t have to do what is expected of me (due to 12 years of conservative all girl’s schools with too many rules, silly uniforms and busy schedules and strict immigrant my family and the internalization of all that, given that I am often very hard on myself). I’m still like an early elementary student in that fundamental learning about life choices, but very much enjoying the learning.
    Thanks for keeping us all grounded, dear Paula. Not sure what my life would be if I hadn’t found your blog in 2017.
    <3 to you all

    1. pprober Avatar

      It’s a privilege to keep you all grounded, sweet Ciera! Always good to hear from you.

  6. Sheep’s Wool Avatar
    Sheep’s Wool

    Paula, I love this post.

    1. pprober Avatar

      I’m so glad, you ninja magician!!

      1. Sheep’s Wool Avatar
        Sheep’s Wool


  7. David Avatar

    This made me smile 🙂 And it resonates! I find it hard to, e.g., sit and watch television, but my usual hangover cure is to lie in bed and read about Soviet labor law, formal logic or Taoism. In the diet analogy, my system can’t handle junk food! Not that I’m judging, either for real or intellectual food; it’s just about what works or doesn’t for me.

    One thing that does work is the cognitive parallel of “intermittent fasting”, where I leave big chunks of time for thoughts to expand, coalesce, and sometimes collapse under their own weight to form stars. It isn’t chill or down time in the sense you use above, which end up as rumination or “ghosts building walls” (a Chinese phrase for circling around in the dark). It’s more like a temenos: a space demarcated for worship and left empty so that the spirits can visit, or in Jungian terms, so the unconscious can come along and play.

    This is easier said than done! I’ve had to work intensively on my anxiety/trauma to make sure they don’t come and fill the space instead. But the result is an increasing capacity to let my thoughts guide themselves, or in the star analogy, to condense into light-giving spheres of imaginal fire.

    1. Sheep’s Wool Avatar
      Sheep’s Wool

      Oh, David – thank you; thank you for sharing 🤸🏼‍♀️ (I’m putting in an emoji here of acrobatics because I feel a solidarity energy with what you have shared, and that my brain feels chuffed with itself when it’s doing somersaults, backflips, leaps, glides, mid-air roly-polies. I’ve used the word ‘ninja’ and ‘magician’ to describe myself when feeling particularly pleased with myself like this – and to describe others, who I admire – but I didn’t connect it to this brain curiosity, interest in cognitive gymnastics and creativity. Thank you for sharing, David, and I’m grateful for Paula’s awesome post that has helped me realise something new).

      1. David Avatar

        My pleasure Sheep’s Wool, and I’m very happy to be the source of any mid-air roly-polies 🙂

    2. pprober Avatar

      Oh, yes! Well, said. The temenos. So important. And, oh my, let the analogies shine!! 🙂

  8. Ewabs Avatar

    very recognisable.

    normal life is okay, I always keep busy.
    But vacation? now that is a problem. My plan is always to do nothing NOTHING at all, you know just be on the beach, enjoy the sun. maybe eat a lot.

    Then 10 musea, 5 books ( with one on politics and one on philosophy) 2 guided walks, and one nature reserve later I am on the flight back home going. YEP didnt work again.
    because if I really do nothing my brain does indeed chew on it self. and that is awful. so lets keep busy. I have learned by now that a lazy beach holiday is not for me. unles I learn surfing, snorkling, body boarding, go on a fishingtrip, and a tour with a marine biologist talking about everything.

    1. pprober Avatar

      And, that would be an excellent holiday for your rainforest mind! We are allowed to redefine vacation.

  9. Nimue Avatar

    I’ve not been having a good week around feeling useful, or worthy or adequate, so, reading this has been very powerful for me. Thank you.

    1. pprober Avatar

      And thank you for the inspiration, Nimue!

  10. Heather Avatar

    “Boredom is not in itself creative – it’s what it leads to that is important”

    Taken from an article over on BBC about “How boredom can spark creativity”. Also reminded me of something else I happened upon over on Politico a while back regarding the “Social-Mediafication of Protesting”…

    1. pprober Avatar

      Thanks, Heather!

  11. Clignett Avatar

    Hm.. this one’s got me thinking.. doen time.. I guess I don’t do down time..
    only when I’m watching series I can keep my brain quiet, but in the background it’s still running. So it could happen that I suddenly pauze the series and write something down, sit back and hit play again, and let my brain fall into the background again.
    Otherwise I’m always doing something or other, googling anything and everything, planning (my appointments are completely screwed up, so I need to fix that), and of course walking with Indie who is having a midlife crisis puberty thingy. 🙈🙈
    He’s 5, going on 80! Typically Beagle behavior: “No! No!! Noooo!!! Arooo!! I want to go thát way!!” Me: ok, let’s go that way. No problem. He: nooo!! Now I want to go the other way! (Walks 3 steps) Oh wait, no, I need to think! (Sits down) Let me think!! (Lays down) No! I don’t want to go anywhere, just let me sit/lay here! Me: Indie, it’s cold and raining, you need to pee and poop (and on the last round:and I need to go to bed!) (Sits again)
    He: I don’t care! I sits really good here! (Snorts).. I sigh.. get a good grip on the leash, make him stand up, and walk sternly until he’s walking on his own again. He shakes a few times (good boy!! Well done!! Good choice!!!), and we can finally walk a (little) round.
    So, there’s that to keep me busy.. 🐶😅🤦‍♀️

    1. pprober Avatar

      Those animal companions can be so important. Thanks, Clignett.

  12. Carol Avatar

    For me, personally, I don’t dig challenges – I seek joyous/positive engagement. So that I can link heart and spirit and mind for a happier brain 🙂 I do require a bit of “still time” every day, but can’t be still for too long, or my brain does kick in, fer sure! If it’s getting overactive while at my day job (not joyous engagement), and serious anxiety kicks in, I try to play a favorite tv show or movie in my head, or do research on something I’m interested in or curious about: sea animals, surface of Mars, new treeless saddles on the market, dark matter in space, etc. Once I do what I love to do (I’m a musician and writer and equestrian), my mind is very happily focused, and everything calms down – I’m in the zone (want to live in that zone!). I just have to admit to myself that I have to have a set down time schedule. And I try not to criticize myself. And yes, I’m looking for a new job!

    1. pprober Avatar

      Oh, joyous/positive engagement sounds good, Carol. 🙂

  13. Jenni Avatar

    Me too! particularly at work. I really want to be stimulated at work, and rarely am. Which of course gets me to thinking that I should have done better, known better, so I could have had a more challenging career….

    1. pprober Avatar

      I hear you, Jenni, and yet there are times when finances make it necessary to stay in a job that might not be as challenging as we’d like. So there is that! Then, it can help to find ways to be stimulated outside of work.