neuroticism

No worries: Neuroticism may have a healthy upside

Dec. 27, 2012 at 8:27 AM ET

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By Stephanie Castillo, Prevention

Good news, neurotics! All that extra worry, and those frazzled nerves, might actually have an upside.

According to a new study from the University of Rochester Medical Center, self-described neurotics who also have high levels of conscientiousness (for instance, those who are organized, plan ahead, and are extremely self-controlled) experience lower levels of Interleukin 6 (IL-6), a biomarker for inflammation and chronic disease. In addition to lower levels of IL-6, self-described neurotics also have lower body-mass index scores and fewer diagnosed chronic health conditions.

Researchers arrived at their results after conducting clinical evaluations--12 hours worth of urine samples, along with fasting blood and saliva samples--on more than 1,000 adults. The tests were designed to provide accurate assessments of conditions linked to inflammation, such as heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and diabetes.

"Most studies find that a higher level of neuroticism is associated with increased substance abuse, higher inflammation, and increased risk of mortality," says Nicholas Turiano, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the URMC Department of Psychiatry. "However, what we found was that when people are high both in neuroticism and conscientiousness, the conscientiousness buffers the negative effects of neuroticism," he says. In other words, there is such a thing as "healthy neuroticism."

Researchers need to perform more studies before they can definitively conclude that so-called "healthy neuroticism" carries physical benefits. In the meantime, neurotic folk can reduce their health risks by decreasing their anxiety and learning to regulate emotions, says Turiano. Here's how.

Don't obsess about problems Mulling over incidents that leave you fuming increases anxiety, says Turiano. A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology also found that this kind of angry rumination can increase your aggression levels. A better bet? Distance your mind from the problem. Not sure how to do that? Check out these 3 Ways To NOT Freak Out.

Skip the vino Neurotic people sometimes self-medicate feelings of anxiety with substances like alcohol or tobacco, says Turiano. "Instead, use your anxiety to improve your health by engaging in beneficial behaviors such as exercise," he recommends. (For more reasons to bypass the booze tonight, remind yourself of The Unhappy Side of Happy Hour.)

Plan ahead When you know that anxiety is going to be running high--hello, holidays!--plan your schedule, meals, and exercise routine ahead of time, says Turiano. This way, it'll be easier to make better, calmer choices when you do experience higher levels of stress (ahem, in-laws).

Say "om" Meditation has been shown to reduce levels of anxiety and negative affect, says Turiano. And that's not all: Meditation can also boost your memory, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and just might be the secret to a longer life.

More from Prevention:

How to Control Overreacting

7 Pains You Shouldn't Ignore

Best Foods to Keep Your Mind Sharp

The 10-Second Happiness Fix

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