worry.jpgThe expression ‘worried to death’ has some truth to it. Neuroticism arises from ‘a tendency to over-predict what’s going to be scary and under-predict one’s ability to cope with it.’ Excessive worrying can shorten one’s life and lead to an unproductive and unhappy existence. In a study to be published in Psychological Science, it is shown that besides weight and cholesterol levels, the habit of worrying over minor events is now recognised as a cause of early or premature death in middle-aged men.

Are neurotics born or made? The answer is both. Genes that lead to a predisposition to worry are inherited from one’s parents but environment can exacerbate the condition. Experiences from childhood to adulthood can affect one’s ability to cope with problems and thus the tendency to worry. A major event or a traumatic experience such as the loss of a loved one, a catastrophic accident, and a natural disaster can trigger these alarm signals and worry symptoms.

When overly stressed, our system releases the hormone cortisol which damages and harms our body. However, the study also shows that neuroticism can be controlled much as cholesterol or sugar and salt intake. What are the ways to reign in neuroticism? Therapy, yoga, meditation, an optimistic outlook, exercise, supportive friends and anti-depressant medication can all help. A highly neurotic person who learns to control his emotions can have about the same mortality rate as an emotionally stable man.

Having said that, there is actually a good side to being excessively worried, i.e. worried people tend to be very prepared and thus often successful in what they do. So, why worry?