Are you a worrier? Are you the type of person who stays up late fretting over the day’s events and what tomorrow might bring? Has anyone ever called you neurotic? Though this personality trait isn’t typically considered a good one to have, new research shows that the neurotics among us may have reason to stop worrying and start celebrating. Neuroticism might reduce a person’s risk of dying early.
The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, studied roughly 500,000 people in the UK aged between 37 and 73. The group completed personality test that measured their levels of neuroticism. They also provided health information, such as blood pressure and BMI. The participants were followed for six years, with some surprising results: those who tested high in the trait of neuroticism tended to outlive those who didn’t.
Even more astonishing was the fact that high levels of neuroticism only seemed to have this protective effect on participants who rated their health as fair or poor. Those who were deemed to be in excellent health received no benefit from their neurotic personality.
The researchers also divided the neurotics into two subgroups: the worried-vulnerable and the anxious-tense. The worried-vulnerable are more prone to hurt feelings, embarrassment, and feelings of guilt. The anxious-tense were, well, more anxious and tense instead of worried. In another interesting finding, the research team discovered that only the worried-vulnerable type of neurotic had a reduced risk of death. This was true no matter the health of the participants.
Despite their tendency to worry, being neurotic was not found to have an effect on a person’s tendency to engage in poor lifestyle habits, like smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, or drinking to excess. Apparently, constant worrying about one’s health does not translate into healthier behavior.
It is possible, however, that this propensity to worry may cause neurotics to seek medical help for potential problems sooner than their non-neurotic counterparts. This could explain the neurotics’ lower death rates from diseases like cancer, where early intervention can save lives. Though this was not tested, it does provide a reasonable explanation for the results.
So, next time you find yourself unable to sleep due to the worries that plague you, you can take heart in the fact that the trait that causes your sleepless nights might one day save your life.