People have a tendency to put labels on others, and this is particularly common in modern society. You have your introverts (the socially anxious), extroverts (the social butterflies), ambiverts (the in-betweeners), worriers, and so on. So what about the anxious and overthinking worriers?

A recent study has shown that those who possess these traits may actually have an incredibly developed and creative mind to thank for their worrying ways.

The good people at King’s College, London, have reportedly made a connection between an overblown sense of anxiety and a stronger imagination.

As Dr. Adam Perkins, an expert in the Neurobiology of Personality, so eloquently put:

“It occurred to me that if you happen to have a preponderance of negatively hued self-generated thoughts, due to high levels of spontaneous activity in the parts of the medial prefrontal cortex that govern conscious perception of threat and you also have a tendency to switch to panic sooner than average people, due to possessing especially high reactivity in the basolateral nuclei of the amygdale, then that means you can experience intense negative emotions even when there’s no threat present. This could mean that for specific neural reasons, high scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator.”

So, what does all of this mean, exactly?

Worrying is the mother of ingenuity

You can think about it like this: most technological breakthroughs came about because we were worried we’d starve, worried that the other tribe would conquer us and steal our things, worried that the Gods would be angered by our actions and so on. The main difference between overthinkers and the rest of the population – is imagination. Somewhere between fantasy and the reality of the present moment lies the road to self-preservation and progress.

A few examples: Most people’s idea of home safety ends with locking the front door and closing the ground floor windows. Those who are a bit more concerned will have a baseball bat or golf club near the door, or a gun tucked away somewhere secure. However, a worrier will not only be concerned about external threats, but will also envision scenarios like a child finding the gun and getting hurt or a burglar stealing it while no one is home, which leads him to seek out ingenious ways of keeping the weapon safe and out of the wrong hands (e.g., putting it behind a biometric lock or creating hidden compartments).

There might not be a great danger now, but their imagination allows them to think of all possible scenarios and prepare for them accordingly.

A vivid imagination helped us prevail against nature and beast, and worriers have it in spades

Modern worriers find creative ways of dealing with small everyday problems, work-related tasks, and improving their safety. In the old days, our ancestors developed this incredibly vivid imagination as a self-preservation mechanism. During the hottest month of the year, when everything in nature was plentiful, ancient man was able to feed freely. But these people could imagine the cold months that awaited just around the corner, when food would be scarce and the need for shelter and warmth increased.

The early human worriers would hunt down much more than they could immediately consume, and then find ways of preserving meat and plants so that they could last the winter. Worrying about such things served as a worst case scenario safety mechanism, and to envision such scenarios you needed to be incredibly creative.

A lot of world-famous problem-solvers and artists were indeed worriers and overthinkers

Our scientist friend, Dr Adam Perkins, goes on to state:

“Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person. We have a useful sanity check for our theory because it is easy to observe that many geniuses seem to have a brooding, unhappy tendency that hints they are fairly high on the neuroticism spectrum. For example, think of the life stories of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, etc. Perhaps the link between creativity and neuroticism was summed up most succinctly of all by John Lennon when he said: ‘Genius is pain.’”

There are a lot of incredibly creative scientists and artists on that list, and probably a whole lot more than Dr Perkins could name off the top of his head. If you have a tendency to worry about things to the point of being neurotic, there is a good chance you are a creative genius yourself.

Hey, it doesn’t cost you anything test the hypothesis: Try honing those powers of imagination and creative problem-solving, and see exactly where it takes you.

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