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We've all faced anxiety at some point in our lives. Whether due to a career transition, a major life event, or a stressful situation at home, anxiety is a natural response to situations that feel out of our control. But some people struggle with feelings of anxiety much more than others. As the scientific understanding of anxiety disorders grows, so does our perception of what it means to be “an anxious person.”

I have dealt with my own anxieties in life and my impulse tends towards the removal or mitigation of those anxious feelings, especially when they seem counterproductive to the situation at hand. I've found that meditative breathing can be an incredibly helpful tool in releasing anxiety and gaining a feeling of control. So too is changing our perception of anxiety — where it comes from, when it can be a helpful push towards solving a problem, and whether the “problem” being faced truly deserves as much anxiety as we are expending on it.

While I do believe that releasing the internal causes of our anxiety leads to a happier and healthier life, I also understand that for many individuals anxiety has a stronger grasp as the result of biology, not just attitude or mental state. Recent research shows that there are additional factors at work for those who struggle with anxiety disorders, and some of the results may surprise you! In addition to providing insight on the causes of anxiety, I believe they also shed light on some aspects of anxiety that, if embraced, could actually help us channel our anxious feelings in more healthy ways.

What Is Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized social anxiety disorder (GAD) — or, chronic excessive worry accompanied by three or more of the following symptoms: restlessness, fatigue, concentration problems, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance — is probably much more common than you might think. In fact, according to The Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Diseases, social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental disorder. It affects up to 12 percent of the general population, with women tending to be more affected than men (and there's an interesting reason for that!).

Could Higher Intelligence and Empathy Increase Anxiety?

New research points out many interesting correlations with anxiety disorders. A recent article on Spirit Science and Metaphysics states that those who suffer from anxiety disorders are more in touch with the emotions of those around them, as well as having an increased level of intelligence. The article further explores the correlation with a higher IQ and cites a study from Lakeland University, which found that, 

“…people who reported to suffer from social anxiety also happened to test higher on psychological tests which were designed to measure verbal intelligence.  People who reported having General Anxiety Disorder and depression actually scored higher on verbal-linguistic testing than people who did not suffer from anxiety.”

The research also found that, beyond the intelligence correlation, those with anxiety disorders have a greater ability to empathize with those around them. Embracing your ability to have empathy is a human function that is not only based on intuition, but is driven by our own spirituality. An article on FEELguide points out that, 

“…a large portion of people with social anxiety disorder are gifted empaths — people whose right-brains are operating significantly above normal levels and are able to perceive the physical sensitivities, spiritual urges, motivations, and intentions of other people around them.”

Making the Connection

I've written previously about the “fallacy of separateness” that seems to cause many problems in our lives — feelings of loneliness, competition, or anxiety stemming from the idea that we are facing the world alone. It makes sense that these feelings may be more acute for those with high intelligence and greater empathy for others, resulting in sensations of alienation or overload as they take the dissatisfaction or negativity of others onto themselves. However, while these attributes can increase anxiety, they may also hold the antidote. By embracing the knowledge that we are all connected, and building relationships with others who prioritize connection and empathy, anxious people may find that the root causes of their anxiety are superpowers, not Achilles' heels. Their intelligence and empathy can pave the way for a more supportive, interconnected community surrounding them.

An anxious mind is a searching mind — and when we are searching for the right things, that journey can have a multitude of positive effects on our lives and the lives of others. This search means that we are constantly on a path of innovating, learning, and growing. While I still believe it's healthiest to reduce unwarranted anxiety, this research helps me see a different side to that struggle. By channeling anxiety in helpful ways, we can start to create stronger communities that prize connection and empathy.

What are your thoughts on or experiences with social anxiety? Have you found a silver lining? Tweet @Ace_Wagner to join the conversation!