If you’ve been called a “worry wart,” it’s likely that you’re the type of person who even worries about worrying too much. The advice? Just stop!
You’ll be thrilled to know that a recent study shows that anxiety is a sign of a high intelligence, according to Dr. Adam Perkins, an expert in Neurobiology of Personality at King’s College in London.
He writes, “It occurred to me that if you happen to have a preponderance of negatively hued self-generated thoughts, due to high levels of spontaneous activity in the parts of the medial prefrontal cortex that govern conscious perception of threat and you also have a tendency to switch to panic sooner than average people, due to possessing especially high reactivity in the basolateral nuclei of the amygdala, then that means you can experience intense negative emotions even when there’s no threat present. This could mean that for specific neural reasons, high scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator.”
He also says, “Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person. We have a useful sanity check for our theory because it is easy to observe that many geniuses seem to have a brooding, unhappy tendency that hints they are fairly high on the neuroticism spectrum.”
I’ve always been an active up-all-night at times worrier, and was interested in yet another study that confirmed the same belief.
Psychologist Alexander Penney and his colleagues surveyed more than 100 students at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, and asked them to report their levels of worry. The researchers found that students with more anxiety—especially the ones who agreed with survey statements like “I am always worrying about something”—received higher scores on a test measuring verbal intelligence.
Psychiatrist Jeremy Coplan from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York, conducted yet another study of people with generalized anxiety disorder, and found that people with severe symptoms scored higher on IQ tests than those with milder symptoms.
This doesn’t mean that worrying is suddenly what all the smart kids are doing, and you should do it too. That’s not what it means at all. Worrying is still a waste of time considering much of what we worry about never happens. And of course, worrying doesn’t change the circumstances surrounding the issue.
If you can appreciate the fact that your imagination is active enough to make you worry more, you should also be able to use that intelligence to calm yourself into the realization that it’s better to get out of the problem and into the solution rather than wasting time on the passive act of worrying.
Here are some things to ask yourself in the sometimes rather horrifying process of worrying:
- Is my fear rational or irrational?
- What can I actively do to help the situation?
- If there’s nothing you can actively do, what can I do to distract myself from my fear?
- Am I picking up on someone else’s fear rather than my own?
Establishing answers for these questions may be difficult. It may not even help to know that your fear is rational because you will likely believe you have even more reason to worry.
Try challenging your worrisome thoughts with these questions:
- What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
- What positive spin can I put on this situation?
- What are the most likely outcomes?
- If a friend came to me with the same issue, would I suggest he should be worried or not be worried? And why?
- What is the worst-case scenario?
- What will worrying accomplish?
- What would happen if you completely let go of the outcome of the situation?
If you can deal with the worst case, then worrying is probably a huge waste of time. If you can’t, your best bet is to imagine the best-case scenario. Your mind is a powerful tool and you wouldn’t be the first or the last person to successfully manifest a positive outcome.