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Restless Intelligence: Why Smart People Are So Anxious

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Smart people are often anxious. Is this news to you?

I’m guessing not, since you’re smart. Research has shown that there is a high correlation between being intelligent and socially anxious. The higher your IQ, the higher the chance your social apprehension is higher than usual.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that your social anxiety should be classified as a disorder. But it surely means you should keep it in check. No matter where on the anxiety spectrum you’re placed, here are some of the most essential reasons why smart people are anxious.

1. Smart people can detect more threats

The smarter you are, the wider your eyes are open, which means the higher awareness you possess. Intelligent individuals can, therefore, detect more threats in any given situation. With more threats come more worries. When we are hyper-sensitive, we tend to observe things in more depth around us. That turns us into super-highly aware individuals.

The emotions attached to this hyper-awareness can be detrimental to our mental health. For instance, instead of enjoying a party, we’d be more concerned with how other people feel, if they are okay and if our best friends are having a good time. If the people around us are not safe, we are not safe, meaning our environment becomes threatened and thus, fails to provide us with the security we need. This is where anxiety kicks in.

2. Self-awareness is one of the reasons

Regardless of the hypersensitivity to external stimuli, smart people are usually self-aware. Not only are they attentive to those around them but also concerned about their personal performance. Smart people experience the “spotlight” more often. Monitoring their reactions to everything and everyone can therefore get exhausting. Other people could pick up on these reactions, so they must observe counterreactions subconsciously. This can also be anxiety-triggering.

3. A searching mind becomes anxious

Intelligent people’s brains work 24/7, meaning their minds browse for new information continuously. Higher levels of cognitive abilities lead people to seek new information and examine theories more often. The more the mind searches, the more anxiety it can create if left unchecked. Trying to rationalize everything by finding answers to all the arising questions becomes tiring. Running these mental activities at the same time is overwhelming.

4. Theory of Mind is better developed in smart people

Theory of Mind is concerned with social function and intelligence. The more developed we are, the more stress we will accumulate. The ability to determine other people’s states of mind and attribute reasons to them can, again, be overwhelming. Thinking is good but over-thinking every social situation is damaging to our mental health. That’s because our minds can point us to negative conclusions and thus, skew our natural perception of things. A hyper-understanding of the world around us can have both positive and negative effects.

5. Smart people are empathic

On the same note, smart people are also great empaths. That means that they are aware of other people’s emotional states and well-being. The more we realize and understand how other people feel, the more concerned we become. We take these emotional cues and integrate them as our own, which can destabilize our mood. When we experience such emotions around others, we can easily pick up on their mental states, which adds to the anxiety.

6. Too much thinking can get you anxious

Over-thinking can make you anxious. When you are busy assessing how every single person in the room feels, you might forget about your state of being. The more you empathize with others, the more you forget about your own issues. That can lead you to feel misunderstood or even outnumbered. While you can create and maintain friendships for longer, you’ll also have more to lose than non-empaths. They’re not as concerned about you as you are about them, which could leave you feeling uncomfortable. This lack of comfort can quickly become anxiety.

7. Empirical evidence is key

Smart people look at all the empirical evidence in the physical domain to draw conclusions. That’s because they don’t want to seem naïve or gullible. They want to be self-aware of how various people or situations affect them. However, many times, this leads to excessive control.

You might not want to experience a negative emotion once again, so based on your empirical assessment of a former situation, you’ll naturally avoid it. Unfortunately, not all negative situations can be avoided, so trying to over-control this can trigger you. In an effort to avoid being hurt, you might hurt yourself by triggering your anxiety.

8. Social situations are not always logical

Smart people are always taking logical action. However, social situations are not always logical in nature. They can be based on feelings, emotions, and intuition. People are not always logical, so their behaviors cannot always be predicted. Social anxiety is born out of this concern for unpredictability. Interacting with other people can be more difficult for smart people because these interactions don’t follow a specific set of rules; they just happen. This lack of control over social situations can easily trigger anxiety.

9. Smart people tend to over-decipher

IQ and EQ are not the same things. IQ refers to cognitive intelligence (‘brains’), while EQ refers to emotional intelligence. As smart people, we tend to decipher emotions in a more rational way; but emotions are not always rational. People can react in strange and unpredictable ways to the same stimuli because their minds are complex. To put it more briefly, reactions to the same stimuli might vary. Since these emotional reactions are not consistent, they cannot be boxed in and transmuted into patterns. Thus, it is easier for us to misinterpret emotional reactions and then feel stressed about it. And as you might well know, constant stress leads to anxiety.

10. Channeling awareness into action

I don’t want to end today’s article without offering any solutions. The only solution I see is channeling that hyper-awareness into action. Since intelligent people have a harder time comprehending everything at a basic, simple level, the answer is to stop thinking and DO. When you feel socially anxious, stop over-thinking, and become present. Do not try to find patterns and reasons for everything; just be. Stop thinking of all the possible outcomes, and enjoy the present moment. Participate in the action that is taking place in the now without worrying about your brain. A good method to start channeling is meditation.


Anxious people worry more because they also have more to lose. So, it’s important to admit to these anxious feelings and work on accepting them. After integrating them into your life, you can start taking action. This is the only way to better understand your emotions and become less anxious. If you’re smart and in denial about your anxiety, I hope this article opened your eyes just a bit more. Take baby steps and stop worrying so much. You got this!



About the Author: Alice Jones is a writer and journalist at a law essay writing service. She is from San Francisco, CA. She graduated from the University of San Francisco and got a Master’s degree while working for Bestessay.com. Alice concentrated on such topics as business, marketing, and freelance.

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios only.

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9 thoughts on “Restless Intelligence: Why Smart People Are So Anxious

  1. Sam says:

    This is an amazing article! I almost can’t believe how accurately this fits my situation. Thank you for publishing this.

  2. H says:

    a Reply to Mr/Mrs:

    You forgot to mention your position (read: side) on “Dunning Kruger effect”? :/

    Someone is born to act before others (without neglecting anyone/any-thought)…

    It is what it is…

    btw, thanks for the article

  3. D Perri says:

    Yeah .. catch 22 .. not smart enough to say “Hey, maybe we should be concerned about these things that have these smart people so anxious” .. nope, let’s go with. “Hey smart people .. chill .. this is fiiiiiiiine”.

  4. Larry says:

    Interesting. I definitely have a lot of social anxiety and haven’t had many friends ever – currently having just one and she lives six hours away from me. However, given the fact that I am intelligent, in the superior range, I never believed that I was intelligent until just this past year (I am 48) because I am dealing with so much childhood trauma (complex PTSD) from chronic childhood emotional abuse and 13 years of K-12 social ostracization combined with near daily verbal or physical assaults that as a child I would zone out during class all of the time combined with Catholic teachings of inherent sinfulness and the requirement to constantly repent. Due to the way that elementary school subjects are taught, I was able to catch up EXCEPT in math, where revisiting the same skills do not happen all that frequently versus language arts where the same skills are revisited year after year at differing levels of complexity. Anyway, all of this caused trauma that kept me very lonely for most of my life, running into one bad relationship after another until I met my husband almost 20 years ago and experienced kindness for the first time. But his kindness hasn’t been enough and I had a complete breakdown almost three years ago now that has left me unemployed and searching for answers. This intelligence angle is certainly a consideration.

  5. Danielle Leblanc says:

    Hi Larry,

    Thank you for reading and commenting on this blog post.

    Have you considered therapy? This might be a good step towards finding the answers you are looking for and also allowing yourself further healing and support.

    I will email you directly and provide resources if interested.


  6. Elizabeth Steenkamp says:

    I suffer from anxiousness and always tried to understand. Then I searched the link between intelligence and angst. Then the answer came. I used to be fine with lots of people, or so I thought , but lately I really do not care about being surrounded by a lot of people and also don’t feel obliged to keep a silly conversation going. I rather keep quiet and listen.
    Anything I should consentrate on?

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