The Fascinating Link Between Anxiety, Stress, and Intelligence

The Fascinating Link Between Anxiety and Intelligence

It turns out that anxiety isn’t all bad. In fact, the more you worry the less you may have to worry about. New research shows that those who have anxious thoughts tend to be more intelligent. So no worries smarty pants, anxiety and stress might not be as bad as you think.

The Link Between Anxiety and Intelligence

A study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences found that people who struggle with anxiety have a much more active imagination that allows them to anticipate threats that many people might not see coming. This is especially true of complicated threats that are harder to deal with when you don’t see them coming. And while those with anxiety might spend time fearing threats that will never happen, they are still more ready to deal with the threats that do happen than those who don’t have anxiety. What’s more, a vivid imagination is also a sign that you’ve got quite a bit going on upstairs.

Anxiety Helps Focus the Mind

An Israeli study followed 80 students asked to evaluate a piece of artwork on a computer. However, the actual research had little to do with the artwork and more to do with flustering the participants. Once students got on the computer, they encountered a computer virus and were asked to contact IT. But along the way, according to the story on, students encountered all sorts of hindrances. The students that were the most anxious about getting the task accomplished were also the most likely to get it done and get it done well. Therefore, anxiety was also linked to the ability to hone in on the task at hand.

How to Increase Focus

You don’t have to suffer from anxiety to have a focused mind. And it is true that those with more focus are more likely to get things done well. You can take steps to focus your mind. These include:

1. Start early.

When you have to focus on a task, make sure you start with that first. Don’t get distracted with emails and other administrative work first thing in the morning when your brain is primed, save those tasks for later in the day when you’re less focused. For most of us, mindless work is a much better fit in the afternoon.

2. Take a moment to get centered.

Before you start work in the morning, take a few minutes to get focused on the task at hand. Close your eyes, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and hone in on clearing the mind of clutter and focusing on what needs to be accomplished.

3. Identify your focus.

Here’s the thing with focus: you can spread it too thin. If you interview really focused people, you’ll find they’re not very good at multitasking. Choose the task that needs your focused energy and only use your energy on that one item. Maybe have a focus of the day, week, or month.

4. Unplug.

Again, you don’t have to return an email or text the moment you get it. When I’m working, I like to put my smartphone in another room so that I’m not tempted to scroll through Instagram or answer a text. If it’s an emergency and someone really needs me, I can hear the phone ring. A distraction-free workplace is crucial to focus.

5. Take pinpointed breaks.

We tend to be the most effective in the morning for the first three hours of the workday and then again in the afternoon for as much as 90 minutes at a time. So while you can work beyond that time and not take breaks, you may actually be getting less done that way. Utilize your most effective focus periods by taking breaks periodically throughout the day. Get up, take a walk, call a friend, or do some yoga, whatever you like.

How Smart People Deal with Stress

As part of this article, I did a mini survey of my five most accomplished friends. When they feel anxiety, how do they deal with it? What tips and tricks can we glean from those with anxiety but are able to use that anxiety toward success?

1. Be strategic about your worries.

It’s most helpful to worry about only the things you can control. For example, the more prepared you are for whatever work project you have coming up, the less room there is to worry about it. Don’t just worry about the work that needs to get done, get to work on doing the work. Do what you can for every aspect of your life where you can affect change.

2. Are threats rational?

Take an aerial look at the threats at hand to see if they’re rational. If they’re not rational, then take a closer look at what’s contributing to your worry. Is it really what you think?

3. Start with a clear head.

Anxiety can wreak havoc when your mind is not clear. Start your day with some sort of healthy routine like running or yoga in order to ensure that your mind is healthy and ready to look at the threats you face.

4. Write a list.

Sometimes, anxiety is hard to pinpoint. You can feel it physically, but you’re not completely sure where it’s coming from. That’s when it can be helpful to write down what could be contributing to your stress and decide what steps should be taken to deal with it.

5. Sometimes it’s a good thing.

Remember that sometimes stress and anxiety about time constraints or the ability to get things done effectively, can actually help you accomplish your goals. Therefore, it’s not always such a bad thing.

But if stress and anxiety are becoming problematic and making it difficult for your to function, or you feel you may be suffering from anxiety and stress related to depression, make an appointment to talk with your primary care physician about it.

What makes you stressed? Do you think there’s a difference between stress and anxiety? We want to know! Drop us a line via Twitter @EcoSalon.

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