The Unexpected Link Between Anxiety And Intelligence

Anxiety doesn't discriminate, and nearly one in five American adults each year are affected by anxiety-related disorders (via the National Institutes of Health). Occasional anxiety is a normal part of everyday life, with situations like job interviews, big presentations, or simply joining a new social situation being common triggers of anxious feelings. However, when those feelings morph into intense feelings of fear they can negatively impact your life (via the Mayo Clinic).

There is no clear cause for anxiety, according to the Cleveland Clinic. That said, it's likely that there are a number of triggers, including heredity, trauma, environmental factors, or even a chemical imbalance brought on by excessive or prolonged stress that can be the culprit. However, it turns out that your intelligence quotient (IQ) may also be dictating your mood. Some studies have shown that there may be a psychological link between being smart and experiencing anxiety (per 2018 study).

How your IQ impacts your mood

A 2018 study published in Intelligence discovered that people with higher intelligence had a greater chance of being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), mood disorders, and autism spectrum disorder. The study surveyed more than 3,000 members of Mensa, an organization made up of people who are regular high-scorers on standardized IQ tests. The researchers found that 20% of the Mensa members reported suffering from anxiety disorders, while 26% percent claimed to have been diagnosed with other mood conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder.

In addition to the research on Mensa members, a 2011 study published in Frontiers Evolutionary Neuroscience found that people with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) tended to have higher IQs and worry more. Through a series of questionnaires and imaging technology, they discovered that participants with GAD scored higher in both worry and IQ levels, while those who did not have anxiety disorders scored lower in both categories.

There may also be a physiological link between intelligence and anxiety, according to another 2011 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The study found that patients who had high anxiety had fewer connections of white matter to the amygdala. White matter is made up of bundles of nerve axons related to the brain's transmission of information. Given that emotional processing is dependent on the strength and integrity of the brain's circuitry, aberrations in the white matter could provide a link between brain function and anxiety.

What causes the relationship between IQ and anxiety?

There may be several reasons why people with higher IQs are more at risk of suffering from anxiety and other mood disorders (via Psych Central). Logic, for one, can be a factor, as people with higher intelligence tend to approach situations more empirically. Unfortunately, many situations in life are frequently changing and cannot be managed solely by thinking them through logically, leading to feelings of stress and anxiety. People who are used to being able to solve a problem solely with their brains can become tense when confronted by a situation that involves emotion instead of reason.

Additionally, those with high intelligence also have a higher sense of self-awareness, which can lead to them putting stress on themselves, as well as high levels of empathy and a strong sense of observation. They also can suffer from a mind that is constantly racing, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed.

If you are struck by feelings of anxiety, there are several things you can do to try and help manage your symptoms (via the Mayo Clinic). These include keeping active, quitting smoking, cutting back on caffeine, and trying stress management techniques, like medication and yoga. You can also talk to your doctor about your anxiety and how it affects you, as he or she may be able to find treatment or techniques that can target your specific symptoms.