Of all the psychological disorders, anxiety is the most common in the United States. About 18% of the population, or 40 million adults, suffer the disorder. Social anxiety specifically effects 15 million people, or nearly 7% of the population. When you look into why so many people suffer anxiety, it’s no surprise.
American society in particular is chock full of prejudice and bias. If you’re the wrong color, the wrong sexuality, or even in the wrong tax bracket, it’s hard to be accepted. Thus you have large swaths of the population feeling anxious.
Despite all that, a study out of Lakehead University made some pretty interesting observations of the unexpected benefits of social anxiety. According to them, those with anxiety disorder scored higher on verbal intelligence tests than those who did not report anxiety.
Additionally, a study at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York found that people with severe anxiety had higher IQs than those who did not suffer anxiety.
Finally, researchers at the University of Haifa’s Department of Psychology in Haifa, Israel, looked at the empathic tendencies of people with social anxiety and found “elevated mentalizing and empathic abilities,” Those suffering from severe anxiety also had higher social awareness and were more sensitive and attentive to the states of mind of others. Their social anxiety may have stemmed from the fact that they so thoroughly feel the feelings of others.
They say ignorance is bliss, so in a way, awareness can be its own kind of torture. Being sensitive to everyone around you is kind of a nightmare and often manifests as anxiety. People with anxiety may not see it this way, but it could be something of a gift.