Are you someone who has anxiety issues? If so, your anxiety may have evolved alongside intelligence.

“Anxiety, I will transform you into something useful and productive. I will not bow down to you.”

Research has shown a correlation between anxiety and IQ based on higher activity levels throughout parts of the brain, and this could explain your symptoms.

What’s the Link Between Anxiety and Intelligence?

Everyone views anxiety as a bad thing, after all, it makes us feel distressed — and no one enjoys that. But anxiety has been linked to intelligence.

The Scientific Evidence

Within one small study, published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, 26 patients with anxiety disorders were observed alongside 18 healthy controls. They completed an IQ test, in addition to a ‘level of worry’ assessment.

In those with anxiety issues, the higher their level of worry was, the higher their IQ. In comparison, the opposite was seen in the healthy control patients: those with high IQ, showcased low levels of worry while those with low IQ scores, exhibited higher levels of worry.

Similar findings were also documented in a more recent Canadian study, published in Personality and Individual Differences. Researchers concluded that verbal intelligence was, in fact, a unique positive predictor of both worry and rumination.

A Closer Look at the Results

It appears that certain metabolites in the subcortical white matter play a key role. Those with generalized anxiety, not only showed higher IQ scores, but also lower metabolite concentrations of choline and related compounds (CHO).

Once data were combined from both sample groups (those with generalized anxiety and the healthy controls in the original study), it was found that low CHO predicted both higher IQ and levels of worry. As mentioned, the relationship between anxiety and intelligence was positive in generalized anxiety patients, but inverse among healthy controls.

It was concluded that both intelligence and worry may result from a depletion in the subcortical white matter — and that anxiety issues and intelligence may have co-evolved together. Based on these findings, the white matter of our brains may be implicated in anxiety disorders.

Is This Good or Bad?

If you’re someone who exhibits high intelligence and high anxiety, is that a good or bad thing? After all, if these traits evolved together, wouldn’t this be somewhat desirable? Like many aspects of science and neurology, the answer is both yes and no.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The downside to this association is that suffering from anxiety and having strong critical thinking skills can be a somewhat paralyzing combination. Your intelligent brain will feed you possible negative scenarios, causing you to worry more. And you’ll find you’re more likely to ruminate, aka think obsessively about past and future events.

In light of this, there is an upside. Some studies have shown that when both high intelligence and high anxiety are present, this helps individuals avoid potentially harmful situations. This not only allows them to better ‘tune-in’ to potential danger but also heightens their level of alertness. Being alert and attentive can give you a clear advantage in certain scenarios.


At this point, the research is still developing. Although a clear connection has been discovered in terms of anxiety and high intelligence, it does not mean that people who are less anxious are any less intelligent. This relationship is not a predictor of success by any means, and of course, intelligence comes in many forms.

If this relationship is real, it could certainly go both ways. Think of children in school, for instance — those who are predisposed to be more anxious may be more diligent in their studies, improving their level of intelligence. On the other hand, those who are intelligent may create more scenarios to worry about.

Although the jury is still out, many experts agree — anxiety may act as a form of vigilance. So, the next time someone pokes fun at your undeniable worry, brush it off — you may be at an advantage.

Final Thoughts

If you are crippled by anxiety issues, on the other hand, then it’s important to take action in order to better control your thoughts and improve your quality of life:

  • Invest in relaxing essential oils, such as lavender
  • Consume 2-3 cups of chamomile tea daily
  • Ensure you’re eating enough omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the amino acid l-lysine
  • Get outside — a vitamin D deficiency can wreak havoc on anxiety disorders
  • Become more active

On that note, remember this — as the great Marcus Aurelius once said,

“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

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