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Too Much Worry Can Be Deadly

Researchers often focus on the link between mental and physical health as they synergistically form a paradigm of wellness. In a new study, psychologists investigated a contralateral effect: if a lack of emotional stability, defined as neuroticism, is correlated to a shorter life span.

According to the authors, personality traits are best described by the “Big Five”: Extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience. Each of these broad measures can be broken down into smaller ones, but in general, this taxonomy appears to take in most of what we think of as personhood.

When you think of someone as “steady” or “flaky” or “gloomy” or “daring,” what you’re really doing is unconsciously taking a measure of these five traits and crunching them together.

So what makes a healthy personality? Psychologists have been studying this important question, and at least two of these five traits appear to be directly related to physical well being and longevity: Emotional stability and conscientiousness. More to the point, wellness is linked to changes in these traits over time.

Consider emotional stability. Or, rather, it’s polar opposite, which psychologists call neuroticism. Neuroticism is the tendency toward hand wringing and negative thinking. People with a heavy dose of neuroticism do not handle stress well, and are often anxious and moody.

Such negativity has been linked to increased mortality in a number of studies, but for Purdue University psychologist Daniel Mroczek this finding raised as many questions as it answered. Does it follow that this inherited trait is a death sentence? Or can people with this propensity change their destiny?

Mroczek decided to explore this idea. Using a standard measure of neuroticism, he tracked more than 1600 men over 12 years, recording not only how neurotic they were at the start but also whether they got more or less neurotic over time. He also looked at mortality risk for these same men over an 18-year span.

As reported in the May issue of Psychological Science, those who increased over time in neuroticism was a ticket to an early grave. In other words, these men—all middle age or older to begin with—did not grow old gracefully. They likely got more and more stressed, worried or fretful, and this downward spiral increased their risk for dying, mostly from cancer and heart disease.

The good news is that men with a fretful temperament, if they managed for whatever reason to calm down a bit over time, had survival rates similar to those of emotionally stable men.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Too Much Worry Can Be Deadly

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Too Much Worry Can Be Deadly. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2007/04/05/too-much-worry-bad-for-health/731.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.