Australian researchers have found an effective way to put the brakes on neuroticism: Mindfulness.
Research by Mark Moriarty Drake and co. at Australia’s Charles Darwin University have discovered that mindfulness (conscious awareness of the present moment, including being conscious of how we are thinking and feeling) can help control emotions.
This is good news for anyone suffering from 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).
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. Self-criticism. Responding to stress with anger, anxiety or other negative responses. These are all signs of neuroticism.
One way to get a grip on neuroticism is with mindfulness. Here are ten ways to do precisely that.
10 Ways To Stop Neuroticism With Neuroticism
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 that has to be learned properly and is well worth the effort.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Painful feelings 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.
Painful feelings 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.
Painful feelings 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 painful feelings 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.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison