Experiencing a rollercoaster of negative emotions more quickly than other people is a trait often referred to as “neuroticism.”
It can be typical to have times when stress makes you a little short-tempered or emotionally raw.
During these vulnerable moments, outbursts and extreme emotional displays may just be the release you’ve needed from long-term pressure.
But when little inconveniences regularly lead to big feelings of anxiety, irritability, or hyper-alertness, you may be experiencing something more.
Neuroticism is a personality trait, not a mental health condition. It’s defined as being prone to easily aroused, sometimes uncontrollable, negative emotions that don’t interfere with daily function.
If you live with neuroticism, for example, you might find that your emotions are easily stimulated, and when you’re at the height of feeling, you may find it challenging to calm down.
Neuroticism is considered one of the “Big Five” personality traits in psychological development theory, originally outlined in 1949 by D.W. Fiske.
Like all personality traits, neuroticism exists on a continuum. It isn’t a one-time display of erratic emotions.
To what degree you express neuroticism on the continuum is part of what defines that personality trait for you and sets you apart from someone else who also experiences neurotic behavior.
“Being neurotic” is a phrase that’s often attached to stigma, possibly due to its similarity to the word “neurosis.”
Neurosis is an outdated diagnostic term once used to describe otherwise unexplainable psychological behaviors.
Someone might say another person is neurotic because they felt that person’s reaction to a situation didn’t make sense. They may even accuse them of “overreacting.”
When neuroticism is a part of your personality, it doesn’t mean you react emotionally without cause.
Your reactions may occur because frustrations truly feel overwhelming in that moment. They may push you to anger, irritability, or depression.
You may not show any outward signs but, instead, internalize negative emotions such as anxiety or self-consciousness.
Some examples of neurotic behaviors can include:
- anxiously fixating on what others might think of your outfit at a business dinner
- obsessively worrying that you did something wrong if you haven’t heard from a friend recently
- expressing extreme guilt and shame for using the last piece of bread
- being so protective and worried about a child that you don’t allow them to play or interact with other children
There’s no definitive list for symptoms of neuroticism, but you may experience behaviors such as:
- a natural inclination for negative emotions (anger, anxiety, sadness, depression, self-doubt, jealousy, etc.)
- easy emotional stimulation
- persistent worrying or ruminating
- finding it challenging to manage emotions in the moment
- experiencing major shifts in emotions
- feeling unable to cope with or overcome challenges
- regular tendency to have excessive reactions to minor scenarios
- persistent worrying
Neuroticism isn’t a mental health condition because neuroticism as a personality trait isn’t severe enough to impair basic areas of your daily functioning.
When neuroticism reaches a point where it’s preventing you from living life, it may be more than just a personality trait. Consider speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional to determine whether there may be another underlying cause to your symptoms.
Experiencing neuroticism doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you.
It could mean that you may find yourself in a constant state of negative emotions, which may not be how you want to spend your days.
When negative emotions are coming on strong, you can help cope with neurotic behaviors by finding ways to return to a place of emotional balance.
Mindfulness, the practice of acknowledging thoughts without ruminating on them, has many applications in the world of mental health.
At its core, mindfulness can help you realize when you’re worrying or obsessing over a thought. By realizing you’re in a neurotic moment, you can help shift your focus to something else.
The concept of thought replacement sounds simple — swap the negative thought for a positive one.
A 2016 study on generalized anxiety disorder found that positive thought replacement through images or verbal cues helped to reduce both anxiety and worry.
It may not be easy to redirect your train of thought in the moment, though.
Writing down a positive affirmation and keeping it in your pocket or carrying bag ready to be accessed when needed can help.
Emotional intelligence training
Emotional intelligence is your ability to identify, monitor, and use emotion accordingly.
A number of self-help books and courses exist to help improve emotional intelligence, but you can start the process by:
- writing down your behaviors, as well as the behaviors of those around you, and naming their corresponding emotions
- asking those around you to explain what they’re feeling in the moment
- using literature to help you associate behaviors with deep-felt emotions
Neuroticism isn’t a mental health condition, but sometimes talking with a qualified mental health professional can help you work through your experiences.
You may also benefit from skills learned through psychotherapy approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which works to restructure and reframe untrue or misleading beliefs that may contribute to neuroticism.
Neurotic behaviors are habitual displays of excessive emotion toward minor situations.
Living with neuroticism doesn’t mean that you’re living with a mental health condition. Calming practices, emotional training, and professional guidance can all help you manage neurotic tendencies.
If behaviors of neuroticism occur and it’s interfering with your daily function, a mental health professional can help you address underlying conditions such as mood or personality disorders.