Why Is Neuroticism So Toxic?

“80% of success is showing up.” –Woody Allen

Source: Colin Swan/Wikimedia Commons

Many comedians—such as Woody Allen and most of the cast on Seinfeld—are notorious for playing characters who are slightly neurotic or plagued by debilitating neuroses. Although neuroticism[1] is laughable as part of a stand-up act or sitcom, many studies have found that being excessively neurotic has serious consequences.

Experts who study personality[2] traits generally agree that there are five major dimensions of personality called the “Big Five[3].” Of these five traits, neuroticism is the personality trait most commonly linked to developing nearly all forms of psychopathology. The other four personality traits are: extraversion[4], agreeableness[5], conscientiousness[6], and openness to experience[7].

Typically, neuroticism is characterized by distressing thoughts and worrisome feelings that are disproportionate to the actual circumstances of a person’s life. Based on these definitions: How neurotic are you?

Like most personality traits, levels of neuroticism cover a broad spectrum. In small doses, it is harmless, and may actually serve to keep your life in balance. However, in extreme cases, neuroticism can turn into a clinical diagnosis of psychoneurosisdefined as[8] “a functional disorder in which feelings of anxiety, obsessional thoughts, compulsive acts, and physical complaints without objective evidence of disease, in various degrees and patterns, dominate the personality.”

If you are like millions of people around the globe, you probably experience some degree of neuroticism. Luckily, under most circumstances, you can use mindfulness[9] techniques to guide your thoughts and create explanatory styles that diminish neuroticism. Later in this post, I’ll give you some simple tips on ways to reduce your levels of neuroticism based on lessons I learned as a professional athlete.

Chronic Neuroticism Can Lead to Anxiety, Inertia, Depression, and Death

In 2014, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication found that college students who are highly neurotic don’t just avoid taking action, they actually dislike the idea of being proactive. This research identifies that neuroticism is, in many ways, the antithesis of openness to experience.

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