Quick, think of a neurotic person. Did Woody Allen pop into your head?
Neuroticism isn’t just a trait reserved for middle-aged male New Yorkers who thrive on hypochondria and over-analysis. (Though New Yorkers are “more high-strung and creative” than the rest of the country.)
But as far as the gender stereotype goes, females actually win (er, lose?) this one. Women report feeling more stressed and tend to be more neurotic than men.
“There’s a persistent gender difference in the way women express stress and anxiety. Women are far more likely to ruminate about stressful situations and internalize,” says YouBeauty Psychology Advisor Art Markman, Ph.D.
There is a genetic component, but we’re not fated to be neurotic from birth—there are other factors that play a role.
Ladies: Neuroticism decreases with age
“The trajectories suggest that part of the reason there is a big decline is that there is such a huge rise during the teens. So some of that decline is probably escaping the forces that make it so high,” co-author and personality researcher Sam Gosling, Ph.D., says. “There are corresponding changes in self-esteem during this time,” he notes.
Along with a boost in self-esteem with age, women may develop better tools for coping with stress as they gain life experience.
“Adolescence and early adulthood are difficult times for many women. As they figure out what sort of adult life they want to lead, and get some practice at balancing the complex social-role demands that often result, they become more emotionally resilient and less vulnerable to anxiety and depression,” surmises Chris Soto, Ph.D., co-author and professor of psychology at Colby College.
Any given working gal may be a lover, a mother and at a certain age, a caregiver to her parents. Women must learn to balance the important relationships in their personal and professional lives. If you’re at your limit, take solace in the fact that your anxiety may lessen as you gain experience navigating these roles. Self-soothing techniques, like breathing exercises, can get you there more quickly. So can learning when to put you first.
Where you live makes a difference
Some states have more neurotic people. Is it because they’re attracted to certain cities, or the traits of these states breed anxiety? It’s most likely a combination of both.
Think of how cities can make you feel frazzled. It’s not so easy taking in a quiet moment and some fresh air on the polluted, high-traffic streets. It’s no wonder that psychological stress is greater in densely populated areas, rather than in sparsely populated regions. If your day is full of hustle and bustle, build in time to quiet your mind and refresh your body.
Your environment’s also important because stress is as contagious as laughter. People who are in relationships with depressed people have more negative moods themselves.If you live around many depressed and anxious people, your neurotic behaviors may be higher than usual.
People in “neurotic states,” like in the Northeast and Southeast, have fewer health-promoting behaviors. Highly neurotic people jog less and exercise less at home than people in low-neurotic states, such as in the Midwest and the chiller West Coast.
This makes it less of a shock that neurotic states have shorter life expectancy overall, particularly linked to heart disease and cancer. These effects remained even after accounting for differences in income, education and race.
One last thing to consider: A little sunshine can give you a sunnier disposition. Those regions with little direct sunlight during cold months are more likely to have depression, stress and anxiety—all which are linked to neuroticism. Although this tends to lessen with the warmer months, living long-term in such areas may lead to higher levels of neuroticism than living in places with more direct sunlight.
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