If you’ve ever been called “neurotic” before, chances are, you didn’t take it as a compliment. After all, neuroticism in people is often tested by their responses to statements like “I get irritated easily,” “I worry about things,” and “I get stressed out easily.” Doesn’t sound too fun at first glance, right? But this new study may change the way we all view neuroticism — forever.
Neuroticism has in the past shown to lead to greater creativity and increased motivation. And now, here’s the whopper: If you’re neurotic, you may live longer than those who aren’t, new research suggests.
The study, published in Psychological Science, examined a humongous set of health data collected from more than a half million U.K. residents aged 37 to 73, between 2006 and 2010. It examined the subjects’ neuroticism along with their self-reported health. During the time period of this study, nearly 5,000 of its participants passed away.
While the researchers studied this data, they noticed a strange trend: The people who rated their own health poorly tended to have higher levels of neuroticism, but a lower likelihood of premature death.
So at first, lead researcher Catharine Gale thought that the folks with more neuroticism who lived longer were simply taking better care of their well-being. Not so! As it turned out, these same people were less likely to munch on healthy foods like fruits and veggies and more likely to smoke or drink alcohol on a very regular basis. So, what gives?
“The only thing we could think of was whether people were more vigilant about their health,” Gale said. “Perhaps they saw their doctor more regularly when they had symptoms they were worried about, and that might lead to earlier diagnoses of serious illnesses, particularly in the case of cancer.”
There’s no official data in the Biobank to support or disprove this idea, but Gale believes it’s a plausible hypothesis.
“We don’t know that that’s the protective mechanism, but certainly we found that one aspect of neuroticism is that regardless of how you rated your health, it seemed to be protective of health,” she said.
In other words, even though the subjects might have taken not-so-great care of themselves, they may have known when was the right time to see a doctor. Though more research would be needed to confirm that, we definitely already know that seeing a doctor can make a very big difference in your life. Perhaps it’s bigger than we ever imagined.