Most people think of neurotic behavior as a bad thing. Whether you’re overanalyzing every text, preparing for the worst-case scenario or acting impulsively, there’s no question that these behaviors can negatively affect your health. A new study, however, says there are some instances when neurotic traits, which are tied to feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, guilt and depression, can actually help you live longer.  

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The longitudinal study took place in the United Kingdom and included more than 500,000 people. Those who reported higher levels of neuroticism, one of the big five personality traits, and were in fair or poor health actually reduced their risk of death. Additionally, people who were neurotic by worrying or feeling extra vulnerable also had a lower mortality risk, regardless of their health.

"Our findings are important because they suggest that being high in neuroticism may sometimes have a protective effect, perhaps by making people more vigilant about their health," lead researcher Catharine R. Gale of the University of Edinburgh and University of Southampton said in a statement.

For the study, Gale and her team collected personality assessments measuring neuroticism in people ranging in age from 37 to 73. Participants also rated their health as excellent, good, fair or poor. Indicators of health like body mass index, blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes and smoking habits also were included in the data.

Then, scientists analyzed death certificates and found that 4,497 people died during the follow-up stage, a span of roughly six years. The findings showed that those who had higher levels of neuroticism overall had an increased risk of death. But this did not seem to be true for everyone.

"When we explored this further, we found that this protective effect was only present in people who rated their health as fair or poor," said Gale. "We also found that people who scored highly on one aspect of neuroticism related to worry and vulnerability had a reduced risk of death regardless of how they rated their health.”

Further, actual indicators of health (like diet and exercise) didn’t seem to shed any light on the research.

"Health behaviors such as smoking, exercise, diet and alcohol consumption did not explain any part of the link between high scores on the worry/vulnerability facet and mortality risk. We had thought that greater worry or vulnerability might lead people to behave in a healthier way and hence lower their risk of death, but that was not the case," Gale said.

Another study from 2012 indicated that some levels of neuroticism can reduce inflammation-related diseases, as long as it’s paired with a high degree of conscientiousness. If you’re too neurotic and not conscientious, you might resort to self medicating, explained an article in Women’s Health. However, balancing both can help you develop what's known as healthy neuroticism.

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“Healthy neuroticism is using your anxiety to not ruminate and get stuck in your problems,” study co-author Nicholas Turiano, PhD, told the magazine. “You’re so in-tune with what’s going on in your body—you have that much anxiety about your health—that you’re going to do something about it.”

The key is in harnessing self-discipline and responsibility which seem to be valuable tools for general life success. 

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