Worriers, Rejoice! Your Anxiety Actually Means You're More Intelligent

by Dan Scotti

Yeah, you consider yourself an anxious person.

You’re the type to leave the plastic, factory-issued screen protector on your iPhone for, like, seven months after purchasing (or until it falls off by itself), just to be safe.

Beside your bed, you have one of those Costco-bought, industrial-sized bottles of antibacterial gel, and attached to your waistband, you probably have a keychain with one of the miniature, travel-sized, bottles of anti bac attached to it (at all times).

WebMD is your Internet browser’s homepage. You always say no to GMOs, and if a family member doesn’t reply to one of your texts within a two-hour interval, you debate whether or not to alert the nearest authorities.

For you, it’s not so much a matter of whether or not the cup is half full or half empty but whether or not the cup might spontaneously explode and create a potential broken glass hazard.

You’re a worrier. And while some people might look at you as a hypochondriac -- or a Nervous Nelly -- you know you’re just being on the defensive, so to speak.

Sure, this part of your personality might have held you back from doing certain things in the past -- or taking certain risks -- but, the way you’ve always seen it, it’s also prevented you from making a sh*tload of mistakes, too.

While you might’ve bypassed the whole “marijuana experimentation” phase during high school, there’s a pretty solid chance you also might’ve bypassed the whole “marijuana citation/illegal possession” phase that many of your peers experienced along with it.

There’s a Grateful Dead song that I think is poignant with regard to “worriers,” and given the timeliness of the legendary band’s final run (which I was lucky enough to catch in Santa Clara), I think it’d only be right to share it with all of you.

The song "Terrapin Station" tells the tale of two men -- a sailor and a soldier -- who find themselves in the presence of a beautiful woman.

The woman goes on to tell them in order to win over her heart, one of them would have to “risk uncertain pains of hell,” first.

Ultimately, the soldier -- whose strength was strategy (and not disaster) -- decided against risking it all for love, a product of being trained for damage control.

Robert Hunter, the band’s iconic storyteller, claims that the soldier -- worried about getting his heart broken -- was “much too wise” to take the risk.

I always viewed this lyric as a type of tongue-in-cheek way of depicting the cynical nature in which most people view love. But, deeper than that, the idea of "strategy being strength" was always one that provoked thought.

Hunter deemed the soldier the wiser of the two NOT because he acted in a way that won or earned him anything in the end but solely because he acted in the way that prevented him from losing.

Although people who are “worriers” might miss out on certain things, the types of things people who are considered more free-spirited might indulge in also miss out on many of the risks that these types of people might take -- many of which result in vulnerability.

That shows foresight, intelligence.

Well, as it appears, there’s more than just a practical truth to Hunter’s lyrics. Apparently, according to scientific research, there is a valid link between worrying and higher intellect.

As told by David Wilson of Slate, if “ignorance is bliss,” then the reverse -- “knowledge involves anguish” -- must also be true.

Wilson provides some sound scientific evidence behind this claim. According to one “peculiar” 2012 experiment, conducted by psychologists and authors Tsachi Ein-Dor and Orgad Tal of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, “worrywarts” also tend to be smarter.

By administering “seemingly incidental bursts of stress” upon the experiment’s 80 test subjects, researchers were able to gauge reaction times and abilities to sense threats.

After running their series of tests, Ein-Dor and Tal “found that anxious individuals were less willing to be delayed on their way to deliver a warning message,” a finding much in line with one of their prior claims that “worriers sense threats faster than their calm counterparts.”

This idea is very similar to the one that Hunter alluded to in his lyrics on "Terrapin Station."

In a separate study, conducted by Jeremy Coplan of SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York, the link between generalized anxiety disorder and intelligence was examined.

Coplan found that the more severe symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder correlated with higher IQs than those achieved by people with less serious symptoms.

The way Wilson sees it, “a worried mind is a searching mind,” and he goes on to say, “smarter people may have the cognitive agility to examine multiple angles of any situation, for better or worse.”

And these multiple angles may also speak for the creativity of the worrier.

For example, if you’re riddled with a fear of driving in the rain, you’ll likely compensate for your fear by running through a seemingly infinite reel of potentially destructive scenarios (that, more likely than not, wouldn’t -- but could -- ensue).

Having said that, Wilson suggests that anxiety might really be a form of vigilance, a concept that originates from New York psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert.

Although some of the scenarios constructed in the mind of a worrywart may seem unrealistic -- at the time -- if disaster actually ever did strike, in some unconventional manner, suddenly “unrealistic fears” are seen as mental prudence.