“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal” – Albert Camus
Studies have shown that anxiety is the most common mental ‘disorder’ in the United States with 40 million adults (or 18% of the population) suffering from it. Among this percentage of adults, 15 million (or 6.8%) suffer from social anxiety disorder.
It’s not a surprise that so many people are terrified of social situations to the extent that it becomes a problem, considering the causes of this disorder. It can be quite challenging to become socially accepted in a modern society full of prejudices and biases, especially if you don’t fit in because of your differences. It’s from this fear of not being accepted because of judgement or being embarrassed by others that this disorder evolves. There are even chances that this can lead to extreme conditions such as paranoia and schizophrenia.
Oddly enough, despite the fact that social anxiety can be tough and cause much difficulty in a person’s day to day living, it also has some unexpected benefits. Recent studies have shown that those who suffer from anxiety seem to have high IQ levels and enhanced empathic abilities.
Related: Are you an introvert wondering why you feel exhausted after socializing? Here’s Why Socializing For Introverts is Exhausting According to Science.
According to a study with the objective of assessing verbal-linguistic ability at Lakehead University, participants with general anxiety had a higher score on verbal intelligence tests than those who did not report suffering from anxiety.
Another study at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in NYC showed that people who suffered from severe anxiety had higher IQ levels than those who did not.
Additionally, researchers from the University of Haifa’s Department of Psychology, Haifa, Israel, studied the empathy tendencies of people with social anxiety and concluded “elevated mentalizing and empathic abilities” among the participants. This study goes to show that those who suffered from social anxiety disorder have higher psycho-social awareness and consequently showed “sensitivity and attentiveness to other people’s states of mind.” That is to say that socially anxious people may be so sensitive and conscious of other people’s emotions that they find it extremely difficult to be engaged in social interactions, which can be overwhelming for them.
There is a noteworthy explanation for the high levels of intelligence of such individuals. Owing to the fact that socially anxious people fear being judged and rejected by others, they tend to have a higher awareness of the surrounding environment and people. They are constantly analyzing and reflecting on what is going on around them. Their ability to notice things which other people are not aware of arises due to the way they process information and stimuli differently. Their restless minds, caused by the way their minds go through continuous cognitive processes, requires and consequently leads to high levels of intelligence.
In truth, being sensitive to and aware of everything and everyone can be exhausting and overwhelming. By society’s standards, these individuals that have developed this high level of sensitivity and awareness and seek protection from these intense experiences may be boxed out as people with mental disorders. If ‘ignorance is bliss’ then in this case we can say that awareness is torture. But this mental strain actually grants an upper hand. In a different perspective, social anxiety is a gift. Awareness of social situations implies being highly intuitive and having the ability to foresee certain situations and behaviors before they actually happen. So, if you suffer from social anxiety, just know that you have an ability unlike others, a hidden power and a talent to understand with a deeper meaning rather than a mental disorder.