Us neurotics could use a little good news. We’ve just spent the last few days worried sick about what to do now that our specific brand of toothpaste has been discontinued. We’re running low on toilet paper, only 12 rolls left. The grocery store was sold out of creamy peanut butter, throwing a huge monkey wrench into our best laid grocery shopping plans. Meanwhile, the dust on the coffee table at home is getting out of hand, you lost a sock in the laundry yesterday, you’ve convinced yourself that the mole that’s always been there on your arm is definitely getting bigger, and you’re stricken with fear over how to get home from the gym now that they’re doing construction on your normal route. Meanwhile, you missed a spot shaving this morning, may have swallowed an orange seed with breakfast, and are almost positive you forgot to lock the front door before leaving for work. To be sure, life is rough. Really rough.
But here is a little good news for us neurotics out there. A recent study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that there may be such a thing as “healthy neuroticism.” Neuroticism is loosely defined as being a “worry wart,” someone who is moody, prone to over-thinking, nervous, and often either hostile or depressed. It’s no wonder then that many neurotics use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and help make them more “normal.” But the study found that neurotics who were also highly conscientious (people who are reflective, plan ahead, are organized, responsible, hard-working, and exhibit good self-control), tended to be pretty healthy people.
How did the researchers conclude that these highly neurotic but also highly conscientious people were healthy? One major finding was that these people had lower levels of an immune system protein in their blood called Interleukin 6 (IL-6). This particular protein is called a “biomarker,” and is a telltale biological sign of inflammation in the body. Those with high levels of IL-6 in their blood are almost surely suffering from inflammation somewhere in their body and are more likely to either develop or already have chronic disease. Inflammation is related to almost every serious, chronic, and life-threatening medical condition including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke (and yes, even Celiac Disease). So the fact that these conscientious and neurotic people showed low levels of just this one protein indicates that these people are in pretty good overall health, and show low disposition to chronic disease that not only shortens life span, but also significantly reduces quality of life.
The researchers also found that the highly neurotic and conscientious people tended to have a lower BMI (body mass index). BMI is simply a function of height and weight. Depending on your BMI, you are either normal/healthy (18.5-25), overweight (25-30), obese (30-35), or morbidly obese (35 or greater). Now, BMI is not the perfect statistic, as it doesn’t take into account things like muscle mass, lifestyle, family history, diet, and blood chemistry. But it is correlated overall with mortality; the higher your BMI, the more at risk you are for death.
As to the question of why these highly neurotic, conscientious people seem to be healthier, it’s all conjecture at this point until further research is conducted. The authors of this particular study surmised that although neurotics are often predisposed to risky behaviors like abusing alcohol and drugs, the fact that they are also highly conscientious lets them understand the consequences of their behavior, plan better, and perhaps limit their alcohol and drug intake. They are also perhaps more likely to use healthy activities like exercise, meditation, or music to quell their constant stream of negative thoughts and emotions. And highly conscientious people are also more likely to try and use preventative measures to avoid future disease and seek solutions to the current problems in their lives instead of ignore them and continue down the spiral of risky behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse.
So neurotics, have no fear (or at least, less fear) because there is probably such a thing as healthy neuroticism. Life can be downright exhausting for us neurotics, but if you do find yourself suffering from too much neuroticism, try and balance it out with also being highly conscientious. Be reflective, in tune with your body, and try and seek solutions to your problems. Indulge that hard-working and responsible side of yourself. Let yourself be organized and try and limit the unhealthy behaviors and maximize the healthy behaviors you engage in to deal with your neuroticism. And at the end of the day, know that although your neuroticism often feels like a burden on your soul, it may be the very thing that is keeping your soul, as well as your mind and body healthy and free of disease. And don’t worry, you’ll find a new brand of toothpaste.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube