Worry and intelligence Are Siblings in the Brain.

By Christina Sterbenz

A recent experiment at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center has finally proven what worriers of the world have always inherently known: that constant “what if” in the back of your head does serve a purpose. I guess the phrase, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” no longer applies.

Jeremy Coplan, MD, a psychology professor at the center, and his colleagues found that both worry and high intelligence deplete the neurotransmitter choline in the subcortical matter of the brain. For everyone without a PhD in biology, worry and high intelligence use the same supplies, suggesting the two may have evolved together.

As people became smarter, their desire to avoid dangerous or harmful situations heightens too. Prehistoric humans started considering the good, the bad, and the future consequences of their actions. Cue worry in evolution—survival of the most anxious. So next time you notice that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, keep in mind your highly developed brain just wants to keep you safe.

Unfortunately, these new findings only apply to those of us already prone to worry. The study compared those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to normal, healthy individuals—both with high IQs. In those with GAD, high IQ seemed to up worry in the brain. In the control group, however, a higher IQ linked to a decrease in worrying.

Regardless of IQ or mental afflictions, everyone worries. Even though Coplan and his colleagues have shown a biological basis for that omnipresent “what if,” you don’t have to listen. Take a look at the tips below for greater peace of mind.

First, Stop worrying—plain and simple. Deepak Chopra and Dale Carnegie can help you start the process. Just first decide whether you want a spiritual approach or all-business self-help. Hopefully that doesn’t stress you out.

You could also take meditation. Benzodiazepines, a type of drug used to treat OCD, paranoia, anxiety and a slew of other mental ailments, prevent the brain from producing certain chemicals that cause worry. Your doctor can access your symptoms and prescribe just the right drug.

Before meditation though, seek counseling. Aimee Ellitcott, PhD, from the Caltech Counseling Center says anxiety and worry, like that irrational fear of public speaking, have deep roots in your psyche. Talk to someone.

Lastly, according to Pick the Brain, a popular self-help blog, 40 percent of our worries never actually happen. You feel 40 percent calmer now, right? I guess I just can’t compete with high brain function.


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