Sharing this piece by Matthew Welsh today re: new research on neuroticism.
Social psychologists generally agree that all of our behavior can be categorized into 5 unique personality traits that they label Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Much of the research has shown that people who exhibit high levels of neuroticism (which is our tendency to experience “negative” emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness, and depression) is correlated with poor health, unhappiness, and other problematic outcomes.
However, new research has come out that shows that people who exhibit high levels of Neuroticism, but also show high levels of Conscientiousness (which is our tendency to demonstrate self-discipline and aim for achievement against measures or outside expectations) actually have better health, happiness, and likelihood to achieve their goals.
So, what does this mean? Well, most self-help gurus, spiritual teachers, and psychologists warn against the harmful effects that neurotic tendencies, such as anger, anxiety, or depression can have. Some go as far as to say you should never be angry or never feel depressed or anxious. This type of belief and teaching can actually have the opposite effect because it can lead people to feel even more anxious when they are feeling anxious or to feel depressed about feeling depressed… when in reality these type of emotions are part of being human and can actually motivate us to make positive changes in our life.
A more helpful belief and practice would be that it is not actually feeling anxious, depressed, or angry that is potentially harmful; but it is our response to our anger, anxiety, or depression that is important.
In fact new research actually shows that people who exhibit higher levels of anxiety, depression, or anger (Neuroticism), but respond to those feelings in a Conscientious manner actually have better physical health and higher levels of happiness. This is in part because those ‘negative’ feelings can prompt us to make positive changes in our thinking and behavior.
There are various strategies we can use to put this into practice by making better use of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. For example, probably one of the quickest and easiest ways we can counteract these ‘negative’ feelings and manage our stress is through exercise, whether that is a 10 minute walk, yoga, or going to the gym.
Other ways we can quickly respond to our anxiety include taking more control of our thoughts and being more discipline with our thinking when we our feeling anxious or stressed. Some helpful thoughts that we can use to reduce anxiety and increase our ability to feel better when we are faced with feeling anxiety or stress include:
- “I will rise above this situation”
- “I don’t know how, but this situation will help me learn and grow”
- “I am here to serve”
- “I am dismissing this negative thought because I do not need it to achieve my goal”
- “I intend to connect to my whole self right now”
Research has shown that these types of cognitive and behavioral interventions can truly reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, make us feel better, and help us calmly take more direct action that increases the chances of us reaching our goals.
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