According to the Association for Psychological Science in 2016, neuroticism is characterized by an individual’s tendency to experience negative emotions, especially in response to stress. People who are described as having trait neuroticism find it more difficult to recover from stressful situations and their emotional response system is more easily triggered. Dr. Gregg Henriques, author of A New Unified Theory of Psychology and writer for Psychology Today has identified 4 main components that determine a person’s level of trait neuroticism:

  1. Sensitivity – referring to how easy the emotional response system can be triggered. The greater the sensitivity, the lower the stressor or problem needs to be to trigger a response.
  2. Frequency – referring to how often a person’s emotional response system is activated. This is often related to a person’s environment and regular pattern of stressors they experience.
  3. Intensity – referring to how strong a person’s negative affect response is. This could be the difference between someone being disappointed or devastated, slightly nervous or completely panicked, annoyed or outraged.
  4. Duration – referring to how long a person’s response system is activated and how difficult it is to recoup and become relax after that.

A 2016 study conducted by Northwestern University published in Clinical Psychological Science found that of 547 participants, those who scored high on trait neuroticism were likely to develop substance abuse, as well as anxiety and depression disorders. Depression and anxiety disorders are maladaptive patterns of negative thinking and emotion that arise from vicious cycles. These cycles may develop from a response to the environment, which may cause a person to develop a mean inner critic as well as feelings of defeat, shame, and ineffectiveness. Therefore, those who develop a negative cycle of thinking often emerge anxiety and depression disorders.

Thankfully, there are tools to help people overcome their negative thought patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach often used to help people restructure their thoughts into more positive, productive thoughts. CBT involves worksheets and journaling that patients are asked to complete on their own time, which means that work will be done outside of the therapist’s office. The person will also be able to learn how to recognize negative thoughts and will practice “debunking” those thoughts into more logical, positive, and realistic thoughts so that they can lead happier, more productive lives.

If you believe that you tend to lean more towards trait neuroticism, don’t be dismayed. You can easily work through your negative thought patterns by speaking with a therapist and reviewing online resources for cognitive behavioral therapy. With dedication and patience, you will develop a healthier mindset, and you may even prevent the emergence of anxiety and depressive disorders.





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