What is Neuroticism?
The five primary factors of personality are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, Openness to experience (try new things) and Neuroticism. A high level of neuroticism makes the person worry, dread the future, overthink about their weakness, and in general feel anxious and restless. People higher on neuroticism spectrum feel harder to enjoy life due to constant turmoil in their emotional state. It is important not to confuse neuroticism with neurosis. Neuroticism is not a medical condition but simply a personality trait.
People high in neuroticism are always worried and anxious about the changing circumstances in their life or even its possibility. Overthinking and stress gives birth to unhappiness and feeling of unfulfilment. They feel like a looser, an abomination. Such individuals can easily be pushed over the edge, when things change for worse. It is therefore important to learn how to cope with challenges arising out of negative emotions and be in a state of peace.
How to test neuroticism?
If you frequently experience lack of confidence, anxiety, depressed mood, pessimism, feelings of guilt, envy, anger, and fear, you might have high level of neuroticism. To diagnose neuroticism, you can ask yourself questions like
- Do you feel restless most of the time?
- Do you indulge in harsh self-criticism with strong feeling of dislike about yourself?
- Do you constantly think and worry about future and little things in your life?
- Do you easily get panicked and irritated?
- Do you experience self-doubt?
- Do you suffer from frequent mood swing?
- Do you feel your temper flare up regularly?
- Are you in constant state of fear because you feel skeptical about intention of people around you?
- Minor changes in life make you anxious?
- You feel guilty for things that are not your fault?
If you answered yes to most of the above questions, you are most likely high on neuroticism spectrum.
Stress, anxiety and overthinking destroys your chances of success and people find your negative state of mind unattractive. Overall, high neuroticism decreases your baseline levels of happiness as you overthink about your “place in the world.”
Here is a quick guide to overcome neuroticism and let go of overthinking and anxiety.
1. Get involved in a project- Something bigger than you
It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it takes your mind away from the source of your anxiety. Be it painting, writing a book, or learning a new skill. A lot of people don’t have a project that’s always on their mind, so they immediately revert to thinking about things that are not right in their life. Pursuing anything bigger than yourself boost your confidence levels.
For me, I’m involved in a creative project that I think about constantly. When my mind is on this project, I find people are actually more responsive to me because I seem passionate and have a positive aura around me.
2. Stay clear of people with whom you feel like you have to put on a fake persona
If you have friends or colleagues that play bullshit hierarchical games, maintain a safe distance from them. Trying to prove yourself better might make you overthink and keep you worried about trying be on top of your game all the time. Naturally, since you are anxious, you wouldn’t be on top for long periods of time, and the when you would be on top, it would again be a high stress situation. It can be emotionally draining to live with a fake persona.
I don’t care if my friends are better than me. I don’t compare my life with them. And hence, I have more fun conversations with them, and I’m not worried about being on top with these guys. To some it might seems like a big fish in a small pond situation, nevertheless that’s going to be the best some of us can do for now to feel self-assured. But honestly, I’m ten times happier, and as an added bonus I don’t have to worry about numbers game. It made me realize, life is not a zero-sum game. You do what you think is best for you, in the process you will lose something, but also gain something more precious. Peace of mind.
I personally don’t believe it is worth putting in massive amounts of mental energy trying to constantly one-up everyone around me. It makes me someone I’m not. Faking your personality, is extremely deleterious to your mental health.
3. Use social media wisely
Not having social media can be considered as a red flag if you are under thirty. That being said, social media is very deceptive because you’re comparing your behind the scenes ‘real life’ to everyone else’s make believe fairy tale ‘reel life’. A lot of people develop an inferiority complex when they see someone go to Las Vegas, Phuket or wherever.
Posting on social media is kind of heavily validation seeking behavior. Sometimes you might be positively received by people who do not matter in your life but overall it’s only going to hurt you if you are going to be obsessive about likes and shares.
By wisely using social media you become the person who is not seeking validation and has something else to do besides posting and enjoys life, without the thought of, I need to share this with my contacts! Life is lived in the moments, live it then and there with people who cherish you. As a bonus, it makes you appear mysterious and interesting.
As part and parcel, exposure to distressing news and commercials create anxiety and fuel materialism. It makes people feel the need to buy materialistic things to relieve their anxiety and feel better about themselves. This creates a constant loop of self-loathing and momentary validation which aggravates neuroticism.
4. Your goal should be having a good time
When you’re out socializing, joke around with strangers. Meet interesting people. Strike up quirky conversations just for sake of having fun. Don’t think about what the guy or girl thinks of you, just have a good time. You don’t have to worry about saying something foolish when you’re trying to socialize. When you just focus on the fun you’re having, every word you speak will exude confidence. You will eventually kill the social anxieties in you without conscious effort.
Meanwhile you can try the golden, exposure therapy. Face your fears. Do things that makes you feel nervous. Step out of your comfort zone. The first time it might hurts as hell. After the tenth or twentieth time it won’t hurt much. Then a couple of hundred times later, you won’t care anymore and you even might find it funny. It’s easier when you have a support network of friends or family behind you for encouragement. You will feel secure and this will also help strength the bonds.
5. Exercise and Workout
Lift weights, build your muscle mass. If you’re underweight, eat healthy food. A Lot of general anxiety goes away with proper calorie intake. Workouts will make you feel good and look good. You can try HIIT or high intensity interval training. 20 minutes twice a week cardio exercises burns maximum fat. Or you can go for Fast paced long walks. Workout and physical training takes your mind off the stress and boost your confidence levels. For people who are prone to stress and overthinking, indulging in fitness exercise can be very helpful.
6. Meditation and Yoga
Practice 10 minutes of meditation, focus on slow, deep breathing with the diaphragm. If you’ve suffered stress and anxiety, you’ve probably programmed yourself to use disordered, shallow breathing. Sit upright and breathe slowly with steady flow of air at comfortable capacity without moving your shoulders or upper chest. Remind your body every day what healthy diaphragm breathing looks like.
Seriously, if you suffer from overthinking, meditate every day. It is the most effective method of fighting anxiety and depression. Meditation enables you to focus on the present and let go the anxieties of past and uncertainties of future. It might take time for results to show, and you don’t notice them right away because you get used to being more involved in the present, and you forget what it was like before. You can try RPM – Rise, Pee, Meditate. Integrating meditation into your morning routine will eventually cement the habit.
Here is the beginners guide to meditation- https://www.howtowhere.com/meditate-beginners-guide-meditation/
7. Practice Mindfulness (Stoicism)
If you can’t bring yourself to meditate, at least cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of observing your internal and external state without judgement.
Researchers suggest that mindfulness can help individuals with high neuroticism. When you think deeply about life experiences, you accept your feelings and thoughts. You don’t fight your feelings but fight it source and try to take meaningful actions to conquer the challenges. Acceptance and acknowledge is the key to fight anxiety, stress and overthinking. Sometimes when undue self-criticism makes you feel upset, mindfulness would help you see the positive aspects of the situation and make your mistake important learning experience. In future, you will know how to avoid and overcomes the types of situations that upset you.
You don’t need to set aside a particular time to practice mindfulness or stoicism, you can get on with your day and ‘enhance’ it with such awareness. The long-term implications of stoic mindfulness are profound.
Stoic Mindfulness is the art of not being overwhelmed by situations that are not under our control. It is human nature to try and control our surroundings. When we feel the control is lost it is natural to slip into emotional turmoil. Stoicism enables us to let go. It is closely related to teachings of Lord Buddha and also forms building blocks of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Nothing can help fight stress, depression and anxiety better than stoicism.
Here are the stoicism exercises you can practice every day – https://www.howtowhere.com/practice-stoicism-everyday-life/
8. Forgive yourself and people around you
Being a forgiving person makes it easier to deal with neuroticism. Don’t dwell on your past mistakes and situations that are not under your control. Stop overthinking. Instead take action to make the most out of current circumstances. Everyone makes mistakes and it is part of learning experience. Forgive, but don’t forget. It would help you avoid making similar mistakes in future. Holding grudge against yourself or other people, is like holding a glass of water with stretched out hand, with time it would cause more pain. Let off the glass to relieve the pain.
9. Avoid Alcohol and Smoking
Under high stress situation people tend to abuse alcohol and tobacco. This habit is counterproductive. They believe it helps them calm their stress and anxiety. But it is a myth. It only relieves the withdrawal symptoms that comes with addiction. This relief is only temporary, anxiety would eventually return and the cycle will continue. Individuals with high neuroticism must adopt healthy lifestyle and deal with the root cause of their stress and emotional turmoil.
What not to do parenting the children high on Neuroticism
It doesn’t help when the parents are huge pessimist themselves and suffer from high neuroticism as well. The situation turns ugly, when children have a mother who nags and frets about every tiny little thing and a dad is defeatist who tries to scare and frighten their kid about natural aspects of life. Parents should not scare the kinds into thinking that the worst case scenario would happen to them, if for example they don’t eat properly, play for too long or don’t get good grades. This put the children in a constant state of stress, and fight-or-flight mode everywhere they go because they are always expecting the worst to happen. It takes a toll on emotional learning curve of children and ruins their relationships with everyone.
Never say things to your children or anyone suffering from high Neuroticism such as-
- No one cares about you or your life
- You are bound to fail or get rejected
- No one owes you anything
- You’re insignificant and nobody
- If you make any mistake, no one is going to help you
These are really bad messages to give to anyone who is predisposed to high neuroticism. Constant negative messages and doomsday scenarios makes children view everyone as a threat, they have huge difficulty forming and maintaining friendships or relationships. It leads to overthinking because they’re scared to fail, they know that “no one will care about them” or even support them a little bit if things go slightly wrong (like if they played in rain and might catch cold). It makes them believe the whole world is against them and makes them worry at every slight thing that could possible go wrong.
Learn how to give constructive criticism
As a small child my father would often paint doomsday scenarios to me every now and then. He would give me “handcart speech” which consisted of doomsaying of how I would end up living on the street and push handcart filled with garbage if I failed my exams, didn’t manage money properly or didn’t toughen up. It left some very deep scars and probably did some damage to my self-esteem. The lesson wasn’t wrong, but the approach thoroughly sabotaged my development as a person.
It’s just completely wrong approach to parenting. Nothing he said was actually incorrect, he just lacked the skill required to deliver the message in a constructive manner.
While giving constructive criticism it is important to start out with positive statement or praise, then gradually make your point that could be construed as criticism, and round it by reiterating the positive sentiment and the fact that you are there to support them. For example, you might tell your children that they are amazing at sports, but that they could improve their grades through time management, and finish it up with the fact that you’re super excited about their next sport event and would be there for them if they need any help with their studies.
When giving feedback to someone high on neuroticism It is important to focus on the situation and not the person. Tell them how they can improve the situation instead of telling they how terrible person they are to get into said situation. Give the constructive criticism through a personal anecdote or an inspiring story of someone who went through the same situation and overcame the challenges. It’s so much easier to overcome neuroticism by keeping a positive outlook.
Dr. Haseena Hamdani, MBBS, DGO, PGD Endocrinology and Diabetes (USW) is a Gynaecologist, currently practicing in Gaborone, Botswana since last 17 years. Prior to setting up this clinic she has worked in India as well as in Zambia, as a Gynaecologist and Obstetrician and was also associated with an Infertility center. She is also an online tutor for University of South Wales.
Find her on LinkedIn