Ain't no rest for the neurotic
January 31, 2010 3:00 PM   Subscribe

How can I become less neurotic?

I tend towards the neurotic side of things. Although I don't have a full-blown anxiety disorder, and I'm able to get by alright, I hate how easily stressed out I am - just thinking about things that I need to do makes my heart rate start rising and I tend to avoid tasks, even easy tasks, for this reason. I'm a huge worrywart, and being a perfectionist doesn't help.

From Wikipedia: "Individuals who score low in neuroticism are more emotionally stable and less reactive to stress. They tend to be calm, even tempered, and less likely to feel tense or rattled." I want to be more like this. I am pretty even-tempered on the outside, but on the inside I am often tense and overwhelmed. How can I become more stable and functional?

Right now I'm trying to get into meditation and I find that journaling also helps me process my fears so I can deal. What else can I do? Or is neuroticism a fundamental personality trait that can't be changed? Your perspective, insights, and suggestions are much appreciated.
posted by mossicle to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I do not think neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait that can't be changed, based on the experiences of two friends who became much less neurotic over time. One of them took a comparatively unstressful job, and the other inherited a large sum of money. I don't at all mean to be flip, but your outside circumstances can affect how neurotic your responses are to them.
posted by Mr. Justice at 3:24 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Working on your perfectionism should help your neuroticism. I tend to avoid tasks when I really want (or need) to perform them well. If it tell myself it doesn't have to be perfect, that I can come back and take a second pass at it later, I often do it faster and better than I thought I could.
posted by sallybrown at 3:38 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't help but think that what you've described says more "procrastinator" than "neurotic". Lots of resources are available for tackling procrastination (see previous AskMe questions and Google to start). It's pretty common to feel a lot of anxiety about getting stuff done, and getting it done perfectly-- and then finding it almost impossible to get started in the first place. My personal trick is to pick the thing on my list that I LEAST want to do, then doing it first-- making it much easier to tackle the rest of the list.
posted by mireille at 3:42 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are probably things in your life that are causing background levels of stress. If you eliminate these, then you will have more capacity to handle the daily ups and downs. For example, making peace with unfinished business from your past (e.g., a strained relationship with someone) can have a big impact.
posted by salvia at 3:45 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sorry, the "questions" link in my comment above should be this.
posted by mireille at 3:46 PM on January 31, 2010

Absolutely, levels of neuroticism can change over time. One factor influencing neuroticism is how much you love your job and your relationship.
Although it has a genetic component, it helps to see neuroticism as a learned reaction. You learned to see avoiding or anticipating a threat as an adaptive coping mechanism, and engage in too much thinking about your own disturbing thoughts.
What's the worst that could happen? Seriously? Maybe you could try dealing with this like a phobia, gradually introducing yourself to situations where you have to confront some of these fears, so you can see that the world won't end. Journaling is good, but you need to act and not just keep thinking about your thoughts.
posted by blazingunicorn at 3:47 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a full-fledged neurotic person, I have some insight into this. I have found that as I get older, I worry less. I also believe that your attitude can help. I frequently ask myself "what is the worse that could happen?," then get hysterical, laugh at myself for getting hysterical, and see things in a new and calmer perspective. I also take Zoloft, which is a lifesaver as far as I am concerned.

In some ways my neurotic personality has "ruined" my life. I have not fulfilled my own expectations for myself. I have a high IQ, but work at a much lower level. I purposely do this because I cannot handle working in a high-stress, high-expectation job. I realize that it would be impossible for me to be the person I "want" to be, I simply cannot. Acceptance of this and doing the best I can has made me somewhat content, rather than desperately unhappy.

I am a perfectionist, so I work at accepting "good enough." This is difficult, but can be done. I had to learn to just leave things as they are. This is not easy for me, so I force myself to leave stuff as long as it is "good enough."

I am also fearful, so I do things that I am afraid of doing. I became a dive master. All my life I was terrified of falling into water and drowning, so this really forced me out of my comfort zone. I would have panic attacks while I was going through the diving training, but I forced myself. I would go into the water by myself and practice sitting in water over my head. I will never be a great scuba diver, but I am a certified master diver, which makes me very happy. I picked diving because I knew I was physically able to do it, even if mentally and emotionally it was hard.

There are a lot of things that I do not do because I am afraid of failing. One of my projects in life is to get over this fear. But it has to come from within yourself.

I have had therapy, some of which helped, some not so much. I am grateful for the therapy that did help. I have taken Prozac (which I hated), and now take Zoloft, which has helped immensely.
posted by fifilaru at 3:54 PM on January 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

2nding SSRI's as a reducer of neuroticism.

The recent claims that these drugs are all placebo miss the massive variation in individual effects that is seen by anyone who knows more than one person who has taken these drugs (or any one person who has taken more than one kind of SSRI ;-), as well as in the data itself.

Having done many things to deal with being intense and socially anxious over the course of my life, nothing worked like SSRI's to actually give me the emotional control to feel safe. Well, to be completely honest, nothing other than heroin but that had a few side effects like entirely messing up my life and I don't recommend it.
posted by Maias at 7:58 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

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