Do you experience frequent bouts of anxiety? Research suggests that this might be a sign of higher intelligence.
It’s natural to feel anxious from time to time, especially when facing a new or challenging situation: Before a big presentation, upon entering a new social scene, or when starting a new job.
Recent studies suggest that there may be a psychological link between your mood and intelligence quotient (IQ).
Researchers have found that your intelligence might play a role in how — or how often — you experience anxiety.
Several studies in recent years have explored the connection between anxiety and intelligence.
In a 2018 study, researchers discovered that people with a higher IQ had a higher chance of being diagnosed with psychological disorders such as:
In the study, more than 3,000 members of the group Mensa — an organization composed of members who score in the top percentages of standardized IQ tests — were surveyed.
They were asked to share whether they had experienced symptoms of specific mental and physical disorders or conditions and if they had ever received any formal diagnoses.
Researchers found that Mensa members reported experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, with 20% of them reporting an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Another 26% shared that they had received a diagnosis for other mood disorders such as depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder.
These results also supported the “hyper brain-hyper body” theory that explores the relationship between intelligence and physical and psychological reactions — particularly those associated with stress.
Researchers used a series of questionnaires and imaging technology to assess 44 participants. Of these, 26 had been diagnosed with GAD. The remaining 18 had not received a diagnosis.
Those with GAD scored higher in both worry and IQ levels. Those without anxiety disorders scored lower. These findings support a direct link between intelligence and anxiety.
Emotional intelligence may also play a role in anxiety and other mood disorders.
A 2021 study suggests that different levels of emotional intelligence can be tied to emotional distress, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, and worry.
Anxiety and verbal intelligence
Verbal intelligence, in particular, may be tied to feelings of worry, fear, or anxiousness.
This type of intelligence is what you might think of as being academically intelligent or “book smart.” People with verbal intelligence use language-based reasoning — such as speaking, reading, or writing — when considering information or trying to solve a problem.
A 2015 study found a direct link between anxiety and academic performance. In this study, 126 university students were asked to report feelings of worry or anxiousness about test taking and other school work.
The study found that students who reported higher levels of anxiety were also the ones who scored higher on tests.
Because the evidence gathered in this study was self-reported, more research is needed in this area to fully understand how or why verbal intelligence may be linked to stress and anxiety.
There may be several reasons why anxiety and intellect are so closely linked.
Those considered to have higher intelligence often approach subjects more logically. While logic can be an asset in many situations, it can also sometimes be an obstacle and contribute to feelings of stress or anxiety.
Many situations are fluid and can’t be managed by logic alone. This can create tension for those with a more empirical mindset, as they may not understand how to manage these situations that may involve feelings over reason.
People with higher intelligence might also be more anxious because of the following:
- A heightened sense of self-awareness may cause them to place greater stress on themselves to perform well or be a higher achiever.
- A strong sense of observation may make them more aware of their surroundings, including real or perceived threats.
- High levels of empathy can make them sense and feel the feelings of those around them, including others’ anxiety or stress.
- Constantly ticking minds can sometimes lead to overthinking and cause them to feel worried or overwhelmed.
- Fear of not being perceived as smart can lead them to push themselves harder so that others see them as intelligent.
There are many strategies to help you calm stress or overcome anxiety. You can try:
- Channeling your thoughts into action. It can be easy to let ourselves remain “in our heads” when anxiety creeps in. Consider taking action to solve your distress. This can help turn those negative thoughts into proactive solutions.
- Being present. Intelligent minds are often 10 steps ahead, which can spark anxious feelings. By slowing down and letting yourself exist in the current moment, you can soothe anxiety or worry. Practicing meditation or mindfulness are great techniques for rooting yourself into the present.
- Connecting with your physical self. Anxiety lives in the mind and body, and engaging in physical activities can help reduce symptoms. Yoga, deep-breathing exercises, or other strategies that help put your body at ease can help melt anxiety away.
- Using positive affirmations. Repeating positive affirmations or crafting mantras for yourself can help you reframe your mindset and overcome feelings of stress, fear, worry, or anxiety.
- Turning to others. It can be difficult to rely on others when we’re plagued with anxiety, but turning to trusted loved ones can help you overcome worry and fear.
- Seeking professional support. Sometimes we need guidance that goes beyond what we can do for ourselves. A mental health professional can provide tools and resources for managing anxiety. They can also diagnose an anxiety disorder and, if needed, help you create a treatment plan tailored to your needs.
Recent research has found that those with higher intelligence may be more likely to experience worry, anxiety, and other mood disorders. There are many possible reasons why.
People with higher IQs often have an increased sense of awareness, deeper levels of empathy, or a fear of failure — all may result in more worry and stress.
But anxiety isn’t always an obstacle, and it can offer many benefits. The same increased awareness can help prevent dangerous situations, more empathy can help form deeper bonds with others, and a fear of failure can help motivate success and achievement.
If anxiety begins to affect your daily life, there is hope. There are several ways to seek help or cope with symptoms. Connecting with loved ones, practicing meditations, or even seeking support from a mental health professional can help you overcome anxiety.