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Do neurotic behaviors reflect on our longevity?

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Anja M
Anja M Aug 29, 2020
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It seems how the answer to this question is almost fully intuitive: neurotic behaviors shorten our lifespans and deteriorate overall life quality. However, a 2017. UK study came baffling us all with some opposing results. Of 502,655 people aged 37-73 who were asked to complete a self-assessment questionnaire about perception of their own health quality and daily habits, 4,497 died in the following 6,25 years. At first, the scientists spotted a correlation between higher neuroticism and mortality rate. However, when comparing self-assessed health state in the pool of death certificates, the results appeared to show the opposite: the death rate was lower in those perceiving their health as ’poor’ or ’fair’. Additionally, their dietary, smoking, sleeping and similar habits couldn’t be linked to better lifestyles due to a worry about health state. So, what exactly is the catch here and can neurotic, specifically hypochondriac, behavior somehow help preserve our life and health?

Although the results of this study are inconclusive, the authors remind us of a thesis put by Friedman (2000), which suggests those with highly neurotic behavioral patterns develop certain self-sustaining mechanisms that keep them alert and ready to seek for medical help more than the less neurotic ones.

On the other hand, there are numerous studies which point to overly neurotic, usually hypochondriac, profiles that are in for a shorter life span. One of the main reasons is our physiology in charge of reaction in stressful situations. Cortisol, acting as an immunosuppressant hormone, is released when we are amidst fight-or-flight situations and, although life-sustaining in those moments, its release on the longer run is ruinous for glands and internal organs. Following in that line of thought, we can assume hypochondriacs are a more vulnerable group. This disorder is not only usually followed by anxiety, bipolar, or depression disorders, but also in its foundation holds: parenting styles which were overly dramatic when it comes to any physical symptoms; more serious personal or illness of a family member. Therefore, it is important to highlight how it actually represents a shift in cognition of a (potential) physical matter, rather than physical matter itself. Then it comes as no surprise that another research contested that only around 25% of our genetic factors are responsible for our lifespan. The rest belongs to the domain of upbringing and environmental factors formative of our behavior.

So, the question for further exploration entails finding a fine line between neurotic instances which can prove helpful for our self-preservation and those detrimental ones. What are your findings and opinions on this issue of hypochondria and other neurotic patterns?

[1]Gale, C. R., Čukić, I., Batty, G. D., McIntosh, A. M., Weiss, A., & Deary, I. J. (2017). When Is Higher Neuroticism Protective Against Death? Findings From UK Biobank. Psychological Science, 28(9), 1345–1357.

[2]Personality and Risk of Physical Illness Timothy W. Smith and Justin MacKenzie Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 2006 2:1, 435-467

[3]Friedman, H. S. (2000). Long-term relations of personality and health: Dynamisms, mechanisms, tropisms. Journal of Personality, 68, 1089–1107.

[4]Portella MJ, Harmer CJ, Flint J, Cowen P, Goodwin GM. Enhanced early morning salivary cortisol in neuroticism. Am J Psychiatry. 2005;162(4):807-809.

[5]Christensen, K., Johnson, T. E., & Vaupel, J. W. (2006). The quest for genetic determinants of human longevity: challenges and insights. Nature reviews. Genetics, 7(6), 436–448. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrg1871

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