Neuroticism is classified as a personality characteristic that produces strong surges of negative emotions and adverse responses to stress. While neuroticism can be debilitating, there are effective strategies to help you feel less neurotic. Entering therapy, improving basic life habits, adjusting your outlook, and/or enhancing your support system can lend remarkable results.1,2,3
What Is Neuroticism?
Neuroticism is a personality trait that predisposes someone to have negative responses to frustration, overactive distress, and emotional dysregulation. Highly neurotic people respond poorly to stress and experience frequent and intense unsettling emotions like excessive worry, anger, guilt etc. Individuals with increased levels of this personality trait tend to also have a pessimistic attitude, misinterpret trivial events as devastating, and perceive the world as threatening, unsafe, and unmanageable.1,2,3
Negative Effects of Neuroticism
While some degree of neuroticism is normal, elevated neuroticism comes with a wide range of psychological and physical health concerns, maladaptive coping responses, and other difficulties. Recognizing the damaging effects neuroticism can have on your overall well-being is vital in preventing undesirable outcomes.1,2,3
Negative effects of neuroticism include the following:
- Depression and bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Personality disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Eating disorders
Physical health problems
- Cardiovascular disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Atopic eczema
- Disruptive immune system
- Further decline of existing health issues
- Increased risk of mortality
Life difficulties and other problem areas
- Life dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and pessimistic attitude
- Low self-esteem/self-acceptance and feelings of inadequacy/awkwardness
- Anger issues and pervasive irritability
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Excessive worry/obsessive thoughts
- Smoking and alcohol misuse
- Risky sexual behaviors
- Poor job/academic performance
- Relational problems, marital conflicts, or divorce
How to Become Less Neurotic: 12 Tips
A high level of neuroticism can impact your emotions, coping abilities, and overall health. Nonetheless, this trait is believed to decline over one’s lifespan, and emerging research suggests that people high in this trait can improve their quality of life. Learning a few simple strategies can promote healthier emotional responses and reduce neuroticism.1,2,3
Here are 12 tips on how to be less neurotic:
1. Self-Reflect Through Journaling
If your neuroticism is high, you may be inclined to avoid or suppress emotions, which makes addressing the source of your distress more difficult. As such, self-reflecting via journaling may be beneficial. Writing serves as a healthy outlet to confront, release, and manage your emotions. Furthermore, it may potentially shed light on what is at the core of your struggles.
2. Go to Therapy
The best way to directly address your neuroticism is to enter therapy. Highly neurotic individuals can improve with therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Counseling offers a validating environment for you to express/process your feelings and improve your coping skills.
Additionally, engaging in a treatment called the Unified Protocol (UP) has shown more efficacy for treating neuroticism in comparison to traditional therapies. UP’s goal is to comprehensively target the neurotic trait and provide effective strategies so the person can learn adaptive ways to confront and respond to strong emotions.2
3. Reappraise & Replace Your Thoughts
How we think of or interpret things can deeply influence the way we feel and vice versa. When you’re highly neurotic your general worldview and how you appraise yourself tends to be skewed, triggering a series of uncomfortable emotions (e.g., fear, worry, sadness) that lead to maladaptive reactions.
Consider analyzing your thoughts objectively to identify inaccurate assumptions that cause you discomfort and lead you to act in undesirable ways. Then, look at these from a different angle, and replace them with constructive, factual thoughts. Addressing cognitive distortions can help you develop a more flexible mentality and offset the negative effects of neuroticism.2
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness can be described as deliberately focusing one’s attention on the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Several studies suggest that practicing mindfulness can be an effective intervention for reducing high levels of neuroticism and intense emotions.
The most beneficial aspect of mindfulness for neuroticism is that it’s a means to practice acceptance and realize that difficult emotions are temporary and unharmful. Frequently engaging in brief mindful exercises can help you develop the habit of shifting your attention to the present moment during times of overwhelming stress.2
5. Use Opposite to Emotion/Action Technique
Emotions signal us to act in particular ways or trigger certain behaviors. When your neuroticism is high, your negative emotions tend to activate dysfunctional behaviors. However, you can break this cycle by employing opposite emotion/action. This dialectical-behavioral intervention can help you act contrary to your emotionally driven behaviors.
For example, if you are inclined to scream or curse when you’re angry, instead speak politely and calmly. Or, if you tend to withdraw when you are depressed, reach out to a friend instead. Regularly doing this can help you develop healthier behaviors and reduce the negative emotions that maintain your distress and reinforce neuroticism.2,5
6. Radical Acceptance
Coming across difficult situations or unexpected changes can push you over the edge when you have neurotic tendencies. You may start ruminating about how awful the situation is and get stuck in the negative aspects of the stressor, which only makes stress worse. Using radical acceptance, a dialectical-behavioral technique, can help you deal with things that are out of your control or don’t have an immediate solution.
This doesn’t mean that you are complacent or dismissive of your emotions or circumstances. Instead, this is a deliberate decision to situate yourself in a better position to think more clearly. By accepting reality as-is, you can move towards a more stable mindset, become more tolerant of uncomfortable feelings, and cope with challenging life events.2,5
7. Effective Problem-Solving
When you are overly neurotic, common problems can feel overwhelming or impossible to solve. Your mind may become clogged with uncontrollable worry, fear, panic etc. Coming from such an emotionally charged state can prevent you from accessing objective problem-solving strategies, but taking a proactive stance can help.
Start by recognizing and accepting your emotions without dwelling. Next, shift your efforts towards what you can realistically manage. In turn, you’ll gain the mental clarity necessary to prioritize, explore your options, find creative solutions, and make sensible decisions. You’ll also begin to develop self-confidence.6
8. Foster Positive Emotions
Having a positive attitude is associated with an overall sense of well-being, less distress, general sense of life satisfaction, better coping, and more. Fostering positive emotions can help counteract the negative ones that arise from neuroticism. With continued and deliberate practice, you’ll notice constructive changes in how you think, feel, and act.7
Here are ways to foster positive emotions:
- Try to focus on the things that are going well in your life, no matter how small they may be
- Reframe your negative internal dialogue
- Practice gratitude by acknowledging external sources that contribute to your well-being
- Do good deeds to feel better about yourself (e.g., hold the door open for a stranger, volunteer, give someone a compliment, etc.)
- Recognize the positive qualities you possess and how they have helped you overcome obstacles
- Foster positive relationships and interact with people who uplift and inspire others
- Focus on basic habits like eating healthy, exercising regularly, and getting quality sleep
9. Embrace the Upside of Neuroticism
Although extreme neuroticism has negative implications, neuroticism in general has a constructive side. People with neuroticism are thought to have greater self-awareness, sense of humor, conscientiousness, intelligence, creativity, and more.8 Essentially, you can use your neuroticism to your advantage.
Learn to embrace your emotions because they provide important information. Instead of avoiding them, ask what these emotions are trying to tell you. Having this different take on your neuroticism may help you feel empowered and increase your self-confidence.
10. Focus On Eating & Exercise Habits
Neuroticism is associated with poor health, decreased physical activity, and deficient nutritional habits.3 If your body is unwell, managing emotions can become even more taxing. Fostering positive lifestyle components like proper nutrition and regular exercise can play an integral role in your overall well-being.
Exercising regularly has immediate, long-term benefits, including improved physical health, emotional regulation, self-esteem, sleep patterns, mood-boosting, and more. Moreover, when you exercise regularly, you empower your internal reserves and maintain good mental health. The level of intention and discipline required by exercise can also help you manage your emotions.7
Nutrition is important for your body and brain, and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that it affects mental health, too. Balanced meals rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can prevent/improve chronic medical and mental health conditions. Lastly, there is scientific data indicating that maintaining a well-nourished body supports cognitive functioning and strengthens resiliency.9
11. Manage Your Stress
When you’re neurotic, you may be more susceptible to stress. Overtime, unmanaged stress can debilitate your general health, lead to dysregulated emotions, and worsen your neuroticism. For this reason, it’s crucial to effectively manage stress.
There are a variety of effective techniques and activities you can practice to control your stress. Find a method that will revitalize and strengthen you physically, mentally, and emotionally. This can bring you balance, help you sensibly manage your emotions, and build resilience to face life challenges.10
Here are tips to manage stress:
- Add more fun to your life (e.g., going to the movies, getting together with friends, going to the park, gardening, joining a book club, etc.)
- Make time for relaxation and self-nurturing activities like deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or a mindful walk
- Maintain a consistent routine that includes healthy eating, proper sleep, and regular exercise
- Journal consistently to process your emotions and cultivate gratitude
- Avoid excess consumption of alcohol and caffeine
- Abstain from substance use
12. Enhance Your Relationships & Expand Your Supports
Having high neuroticism tends to lead to unstable interpersonal relationships, relational problems, and social withdrawal. Focus on the relationships that are valuable to you and/or enhance your life.
Ask yourself: Is there anything I can do to improve the quality of my relationships? Are there any skills I can work on like communication, compassion, assertiveness, or active listening? What are ways I can healthily connect with others? How can I expand my support system?
You’ll find that enriching your interpersonal skills and having a more flexible attitude can improve how you relate to others. Furthermore, establishing and sustaining meaningful relationships can bring you a sense of social connectedness, especially when you’re going through a stressful time.5,7,10
When Is Talking to a Therapist Helpful?
Neuroticism is a risk factor for the onset of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Left unchecked, it can have serious health implications, so if your neuroticism is severe enough to interfere with daily life, speak with your physician or seek psychological help.1 Begin your search through an online therapist directory; filter your preferences and specific needs to find a mental health professional who is well-versed with emotional/personality conditions.
Final Thoughts On How to Reduce Neuroticism
Neuroticism can be difficult to overcome, but there are effective ways to reduce its intensity and help you to better cope. Address your struggles with neuroticism head on by seeking therapy, making lifestyle adjustments, and/or fortifying your support system. By utilizing your strengths and healthy strategies, you can lessen the impact of neuroticism and sustain an overall sense of wellness.