If you spend your days nervously bumbling around like Woody Allen, biting your nails, and constantly stressed about a cold that never seems to appear, you could be in luck. People who show signs of neuroticism tend to live longer, according to a new longitudinal study in the journal Psychological Science.
Neuroticism is one of the “Big Five” psychological traits of a human, with the others being an openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness. In general, neuroticism denotes people who have a higher tendency towards feelings of anxiety, nervousness, worry, fear, anger, and frustration. In the past, research has tended to focus on how neuroticism is associated with depression, phobias, panic attacks, substance abuse, you name it.
All of that doesn't sound particularly good for your health. However, this study suggests that neuroticism actually has a “covert protection against death”.
"Our findings are important because they suggest that being high in neuroticism may sometimes have a protective effect, perhaps by making people more vigilant about their health," lead researcher Catharine R Gale, from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Southampton, said in a statement.
The team examined UK Biobank data collected from 502,655 people aged 37 to 73. They asked all participants how healthy they personally felt they were and to complete a personality assessment. They also received data on their physical health, records of medical diagnosis, and their health behaviors (stuff like whether they’re a smoker or how active they are). They then did a follow-up study an average of 6.25 years later.
After they adjusted for the participants' self-rated health, the data showed that higher neuroticism was linked with a slightly lower risk of death from all causes, including cancer.
"Health behaviors such as smoking, exercise, diet, and alcohol consumption did not explain any part of the link between high scores on the worry/vulnerability facet and mortality risk," Gale added. "We had thought that greater worry or vulnerability might lead people to behave in a healthier way and hence lower their risk of death, but that was not the case."
There could be another “silver lining” to a neurotic disposition. Other studies have shown that neuroticism is linked to a better imagination and higher creativity. Many of the world’s great thinkers are often said to have been “neurotic” in one sense or another, including Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
So, while you will probably spend your days being stressed out, it seems you might live a longer (and perhaps more creative) life.