Neuroticism Isn’t Funny and May Impact Your Health

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Jan. 22, 2024 – In nan 1979 drama Manhattan, Mary (played by Diane Keaton) tells Isaac (Woody Allen) to vent his frustrations truthful they tin yet get their feelings retired successful nan open. I dont get angry,” Isaac replies. I turn a tumor instead.”

Allen’s characters are often neurotic, prone to excessive worry, anxiety, and stress. Hollywood has a history of playing this for laughs, but successful existent life, neuroticism has agelong been linked to mediocre health, and today, much subject supports that link.

“There's a batch of grounds now that characteristic traits are related to a full big of wellness outcomes,” said psychologist Daniel Mroczek, PhD, head of characteristic and wellness at Northwestern University. Neuroticism, successful particular, appears problematic. 

People precocious in neuroticism mostly spot nan world arsenic distressing and unsafe. They tin beryllium moody, tense, and prone to sadness. 

“They thin to consciousness their emotions much strongly, beryllium much reactive, and return longer to calm down,” said Shannon Sauer-Zavala, PhD, a scientist astatine nan University of Kentucky. 

The effects whitethorn spell beyond a sour mood. Research suggests that neuroticism raises nan consequence of intelligence disorders specified arsenic slump and worry arsenic good arsenic beingness illnesses for illustration bosom illness and some cancers. Some investigation links neuroticism pinch neurodegenerative diseases specified as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's. A recent meta-analysis suggested that neuroticism raises dementia risk, and a systematic review published past period linked facets of neuroticism with early death. 

Even an affliction arsenic mundane arsenic a headache whitethorn impact neurotic group more: Data from nan U.S., Japan, and nan Netherlands shows that higher neuroticism tin summation nan likelihood of headaches

The Big Question 

Does neuroticism origin mediocre health, aliases does mediocre wellness origin neuroticism? Suffering could surely make group anxious, worried, and emotional. And because astir of these studies are associative, they can’t beryllium origin and effect.

But studies that measure and way patient group complete galore years propose that nan characteristic trait leads to sick health, astatine slightest successful part, said Angelina Sutin, PhD, a professor of behavioral sciences and societal medicine astatine Florida State University College of Medicine. 

One imaginable reason: Neurotic group often prosecute successful unhealthy behaviors. Studies show that preschoolers who are peculiarly neurotic are much apt to pick up smoking successful adolescence. In 1 study done by Sutin and her colleagues, neurotic group had a 15% higher risk of changeable – a uncovering partially explained by an evident penchant for smoking and sedentary behavior. 

“Feeling much accent mightiness lead group to not prosecute successful arsenic overmuch beingness activity aliases [to] eat much processed comfortableness foods,” Sutin said. 

Aside from unhealthy coping behaviors, neurotic group whitethorn besides person a stronger beingness guidance to stress. 

In a 2021 study, scientists measured levels of neuroticism successful much than a 1000 adults and checked really powerfully each of them reacted to regular stressors. The results showed that highly neurotic group had much antagonistic emotions whenever thing didn’t spell their measurement (like missing a deadline astatine work). Then, erstwhile scientists looked astatine wellness information collected years later, they recovered that specified emotionally reactive group had much chronic conditions, for illustration ulcers and precocious humor pressure. 

“If we're surviving successful this chronic authorities of stress, that takes a toll connected nan assemblage complete time,” Sauer-Zavala said. A 2022 study showed that neurotic group person higher levels of interleukin 6 and C-reactive macromolecule – some markers of inflammation – and this was existent sloppy of beingness activity, diet, aliases smoking. Chronic inflammation has been tied to a range of illnesses, from bosom illness and diabetes to autoimmune conditions (when your tense strategy attacks patient tissue) and neurodegenerative disorders (conditions that harm your tense system). 

All that accent whitethorn besides messiness pinch sleep: Research shows that group precocious successful neuroticism may not log capable value slumber astatine nighttime and could beryllium much drowsy successful nan daytime, some predictors of premature death.

Another molecule that has been linked to neuroticism is brain-derived neurotrophic facet (BDNF), which is important for nan upkeep of neurons. People pinch precocious neuroticism whitethorn have lower levels of BDNF, which could explain nan accrued consequence for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. 

The antagonistic emotions that often travel pinch neuroticism whitethorn besides effect gut health. Korean researchers recently found that group pinch precocious worry and vulnerability to stress, two facets of neuroticism, person a little divers gut microbiome – which whitethorn person implications for overall health.

'Healthy' Neuroticism? 

In nan movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal's neurotic characteristic wanted a CAT scan for his birthday, according to his wife, who calls him “Mr. Death.” “I had a headache,” he says successful his defense. Clearly, nan anecdote is meant to beryllium humorously complete nan top.

Still, immoderate researchers person suggested that heightened attraction to troubling symptoms could perchance use neurotic people. After all, if you person that suspicious mole checked retired early – and it really is crab – that cautious cognition could prevention your life. 

In a 2023 study, Mroczek and colleagues discovered that neurotic group are so much apt to sojourn their family doctors. 

Yet, grounds linking “healthy neuroticism” to amended wellness outcomes is slim, Mroczek said. When he and his colleagues looked astatine information from 15 studies involving almost 50,000 people, they discovered that patient neuroticism didn’t little nan consequence of high humor pressure, diabetes, aliases bosom disease. In another study, nan researchers recovered it didn’t protect group from premature death, either. 

One reason, Sutin speculates, could beryllium that doctors mightiness return specified patients “less seriously,” perchance overlooking existent aesculapian issues. For Sutin, an important instruction for aesculapian professionals is not to automatically disregard neurotic patients: “The hypervigilance whitethorn beryllium picking up connected immoderate things going connected successful their bodies that are not needfully detectable yet by a test.” 

Treating Neuroticism

Luckily, neuroticism is “not group successful stone,” Sauer-Zavala said. Research shows that characteristic tin beryllium modified pinch well-designed treatments, and neuroticism happens to beryllium among the most pliable traits. 

In a 2021 study, Sauer-Zavala and colleagues treated 223 volunteers pinch an attack called the unified protocol – a comparatively caller curen designed to thief group negociate aggravated emotions. 

“We walk a batch of clip talking astir nan usability of emotion,” Sauer-Zavala said. The method teaches mindful affectional consciousness and has group do activities meant to trigger nan beingness sensations of anxiety: spinning successful circles truthful they get dizzy, for example, aliases breathing done a bladed straw to mimic shortness of breath. In Sauer-Zavala’s study, nan protocol worked: After 16 weeks, group who were portion of nan investigation became considerably little neurotic than those successful nan waitlisted power group. 

The Unified Protocol Institute provides a list of therapists trained successful nan method. But you tin besides scope retired to immoderate licensed psychotherapist for thief pinch managing beardown emotions and reducing neurotic tendencies.

Personality tin change, nan experts agree. And that’s nary joke.

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