Australian researchers have found an effective way how to stop being neurotic. The key is mindfulness.
Research by Mark Moriarty Drake and co. at Australia’s Charles Darwin University has stunned us. They’ve discovered that mindfulness (conscious awareness of the present moment, including being conscious of how we are thinking and feeling) can help us balance emotions [READ: How To Control Your Emotions].
This research shows that when we become conscious of our emotions, we enhance our control over them. This is something that I learned firsthand a few years back when I experienced the worst time in my life.
How I Personally Learned How to Stop Being Neurotic
While living abroad in Canada, I went through a painful breakup that left me emotionally scarred. I was hyper self-critical. The breakup was entirely my fault because I left my girlfriend for another woman. I dwelled on my mistake for months, tearing into myself with self-criticism, focusing on the negative, and being neurotic. It would be many months before I could cultivate inner peace again, [READ: Meditation For Inner Peace].
For months after the breakup, I was living in a permanent state of neuroticism.
What is neuroticism?
Neuroticism is one of the “five basic factors of personality” that shape our character and form the foundation of our psychological wellbeing (you can read more about this on Very Well).
The five basic factors of personality (otherwise called the Ocean Model) are:
Neuroticism is a trait characterised by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability.
Signs of neuroticism
- Dr Naragon-Gainey states that when faced with difficult situations, the neurotic will “put a negative spin on the experience and produce a stronger reaction to stress”.
- Dwelling on your weaknesses, thinking negatively and worrying
- You always respond to stress with anger, anxiety or other negative responses
- You get stressed by the smallest things
- Extreme feelings of grief and loss.
- Worrying over nothing
- You suffer from substance abuse, anxiety, or depression
- You dwell on painful memories.
- Mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and sadness
However, it’s not all bad. Grant H. Brenner M.D., FAPA [co-founder, Neighborhood Psychiatry, Manhattan] says that neurotic personality types are often ” intelligent, humorous, more realistic, and have a greater self-awareness, drive and conscientiousness”.
And researcher Researcher Richard Zinbarg states that neurotic people are often highly sensitive and empathetic.
I suffered from all the symptoms of being neurotic.
When I made the mistake of leaving my girlfriend, I suffered all sorts of troubles. There were emotional pains, like anxiety and self-criticism; there were physiological pains; I even had physical pain manifesting as tightness-of-chest caused by excessive worry and rumination.
It was almost impossible for me to let go of painful emotions. And I suffered from physical pain because of it.
Let’s now look at how to stop being neurotic.
How To Stop Being Neurotic with Mindfulness
Scientists used to think that nothing could stop neuroticism. Recent research, however, shows that one way how to stop being neurotic is by being mindful.
Drake and colleagues investigated how mindfulness affects levels of non-specific psychological distress, such as generalised anxiety. They found that mindfulness makes us less reactive and more able to handle painful moments in our lives. Indeed, this is why mindfulness improves emotional control.
Start being mindful
You can start to practise mindfulness right away, simply by focusing on the present moment in a nonjudgmental way and accepting thoughts and feelings for what they are: just thoughts and feelings.
When we do this, we don’t judge our feelings but accept them. This enables us to observe thoughts and feelings calmly and objectively, which leads to less emotional reactivity and more present-moment mindfulness.
A couple of months after my breakup I started practising mindfulness. In fact, I used very many different meditation techniques. Those techniques helped me to observe my mind in a clear, conscious, and objective way. I could see what was happening in my mind, and my clearer perspective enabled me to control my emotions.
As the famous Buddhist quote says: “You are what observes, not what you observe.” With mindfulness, we observe the mind, and this gives us control over our emotions.
When I was going through my breakup, I kept thinking that I was worthless, that I was a bad person. And because I was consumed by these thoughts and emotions, they took over. But when I practised mindfulness, I stepped back away from my emotions and was able to say “that’s just a thought / emotion. It isn’t me.”
Some people are naturally more mindful than others, says Drake. But mindfulness can be learned. When the researchers gave participants mindfulness exercises, they observed a decrease in reactivity and an increase in calmness.
The researchers suggest that anyone who is highly neurotic or prone to self-criticism should start practising mindfulness right away.
Here’s How to Stop Being Neurotic in 10 Ways
Naturally, there are some serious ways to stop being neurotic, such as by attending therapy and learning Cognitive Behavioural Therapy exercises, but there are also some easier ways you can do at home. Here are ten ways how to stop being neurotic.
1: Label your emotions
Research from Dr Michelle Craske’s lab at UCLA shows that labelling emotions can reduce our reaction to fear and anxiety, according to a BAT (Behavioural Approach Task).
This is based on a potent meditation called Vipassana in which we label our emotions.
How are you feeling right at this very moment? If you had to define that emotion in one word, what word would it be? When we label our emotions in this way, we become consciously aware of them. This moves us out of the emotion and into conscious awareness. The result is inner peace and calmness.
2: Learn the actual technique of mindfulness meditation
There are two types of mindfulness. The first is trait mindfulness. This is simply being consciously aware. The second type of mindfulness is state mindfulness, which is an actual Buddhist meditation technique. This is a traditional meditation technique that has to be learned properly and is well worth the effort. If you would like to learn, book an online meditation lesson with me.
Research from Zindel Segal at the University of Toronto shows that mindfulness helps with emotional processing because it reduces activation of the part of the brain associated with the self.
3: Mindfulness the other way
As mentioned above, mindfulness also means being conscious and aware in a more general sense.
There are many ways to increase mindfulness:
- Shower with your eyes closed
- Try tai chi
- Eat slowly and consciously
4. Try a tracker
If you get stressed, angry, or upset when things go wrong, a mindfulness tracker can help. Mindfulness trackers work with your Android or iPhone to monitor your stress levels and remind you to practice conscious breathing right when you need to. You can also use apps like Headspace and Calm.
5. Learn from your feelings
Negative emotions teach us important life lessons. Ask what lessons your negative emotion is teaching you, and grow from it.
When you experience a negative emotion, breathe deep. This one deep breath is an opportunity to calm your mind. Tell yourself “This negative emotion is natural. When I understand it, I will conquer it”. Take a second deep breath. Let your body relax. Inhale deeply. Let that energy flow freely into your body. Then breathe out softly and smoothly. Relax. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system to promote calmness.
Negative emotions are natural. As the rainfall nourishes the land, negative emotions nourish the mind and soul. When you try to force negativity out, you actually let negativity deeper in. It’s a paradox.
To be a healthy whole, you must accept the whole. You cannot only accept the parts of yourself that you like. That forces your mind to split in two. Only by accepting the fullness of your existence can you become a healthy, unified whole. Negativity will never vanish. It is always there. And that’s good. Because your negative emotions offer insight.
8. Learn from the negative emotion
Start by meditating on the breath for ten minutes to relax. Your mind will be calm and open. From here, ask your negative emotion to send you the message that you need to learn. Take one deep breath and say to yourself, “I am receiving the message my spirit is sending.” Now listen for the lesson your mind is teaching you.
9. Listen with curiosity
Most emotions exist as a bridge. The bridge is the gap between where you are now and where you think you should be.
Negative emotions tell us two things. They tell us where we are in comparison to where we thought we would be. And they tell us where we will be later compared to where we should be later.
Negativity represents a division between mind and reality. If we thought we’d be a millionaire by age 30, and we’re actually in crippling debt, the mind creates negative emotions, saying “I am not where I said I would be.”
Negative emotions also inform us of where we are heading compared to where we want to be heading. “I want to become famous, but at this rate, I’ll end up being nobody.” In both those instances, you have where you would like to be (now or late) and where you are OR where you will be.
Your negative emotions are essentially telling you “Hey. I’m going in the wrong direction here. I need to rethink this.”
Now you know the purpose behind your negative emotions, you can use them.
To teach is to empower. Your negative emotions are teaching you ways to improve your actions. And they’re empowering you to make real-world changes. Consider the objective reason for your emotion and act on it.
10: Accept what the negative emotion is telling you. Appreciate it. Use it
You now know that your negative emotions are actually helping you. They’re saying “Hey. Heading the wrong direction. Please change the route.”
It’s like your negative emotions are a GPS. They know where you are. They know where you want to be. So, they tell you how to get from A to B. The moment you accept those negative emotions you can achieve genuine and lasting changes.
- Your negative emotions are saying “This job’s kill me.” Okay. Find a way to change your job. Or stick with the job and make it healthier and more enjoyable.
- Your negative emotions are saying “I’m going to get ill if I don’t start exercising.” Great. Start exercising, and you’ll feel better.
- Your negative emotions are saying “I’m not spending enough time with the kids.” Fantastic. Find a way to work more family time into your schedule.
Always remember, you can use meditation to control emotions. And there are different meditations for different emotions [such as meditations for anger management].
Mindfulness is the best way to produce inner peace and stop reactivity. Because of this, it is arguably the top way how to stop being neurotic.
With mindfulness, we gain control of the mind. We stop being the observed and become the observer. This can make a world of difference in times of personal crisis. It’s like we’re stepping out of the frantic tides of emotions and sitting calmly on the shore to observe what’s happening.
With mindfulness, I found my happiness once again. I fought hard to become the person I needed to be, and I beat neuroticism. I became stronger, the type of guy my girlfriend deserved.
We got back together a month later. We’ve now been together for eleven years.