What Does It Mean To Be Neurotic?

Just about everyone will feel anxious from time to time. Whether it’s worrying about an upcoming job interview, stressing about money and paying the bills, or fretting because your kid hasn’t come home and it’s past curfew. Whatever it is that causes this anxiety, it’s a perfectly natural and normal part of life. But what does it mean if this intense anxiety and these worries don’t go away

Negative or obsessive thoughts can easily take over your mind and make it hard to function and cope with everyday situations. This is called neurotic behavior and could be the result of a mental illness. 

What Is Neuroticism? 

The definition of neuroticism is a proclivity toward anxiety, negativity, self-doubt, and excessive worrying. A person that is neurotic will constantly experience the rehashing of the worst-case scenario in their head and have intense feelings of guilt, worry, fear and depression. Neuroticism is classified as one of the Big Five personality traits recognized by psychologists along with extroversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Just like all personality traits, neuroticism is measured on a spectrum, meaning that everyone is neurotic in some ways, and it’s just a question of how much.

 Neuroticism mostly refers to the way that people experience negative emotions when they are faced with stress. Individuals that are higher on the neurotic spectrum have a much higher tendency to produce levels of worry or sadness that do not necessarily match the severity of the situation. 

The History Of Neuroticism 

The word neurosis has been in use since the 1700s to describe mental, emotional, or physical reactions that are drastic and irrational. At its root, neurotic behavior is often the automatic and unconscious response to managing deep anxiety. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association removed the term neurosis from its diagnostic manual as part of a revamp to standardize the criteria for mental illness. 

Today, neurosis is not considered a stand-alone mental condition, and instead, its symptoms are placed in the same category as an anxiety disorder. Neuroticism would later be classified as one of the Big Five personality traits, and most negative stigma would be removed as a result.

What Are Common Traits of Being Neurotic? 

Since neuroticism is measured on a spectrum, everyone’s a little bit neurotic. However, people with highly neurotic personality traits will share some combination of the following characteristic:  

  1. A tendency toward mood disorders involving anxiety and depression
  2. Hyper awareness and self-consciousness of personal mistakes and imperfections
  3. A proclivity to dwell on the negative aspects of life
  4. An expectation that the worst possible outcome in any given situation is the most likely one to occur
  5. Highly reactive to stress and frequently upset emotionally
  6. Tendency to be compulsive and may replay the same scenario in their mind over and over
  7. Prone to hypochondria and panic disorders
  8. More likely to adopt maladaptive behaviors such as self-medicating with alcohol, food or other substances

Are There Treatments for Being Neurotic? 

People that have a neurotic personality have a higher tendency to self-medicate by smoking cigarettes, abusing alcohol and other drugs, and have negative relationships with food. Obviously, these are not healthy ways to combat the effects of neuroticism. Some of the better ways that a neurotic person can help curb their behaviors are:

  • Exercise every day. Getting 30 minutes of exercise daily is best, but even a 15-minute walk can do a lot to improve mood and help reduce negative emotions.
  • Talk to someone. Talk to family and friends about what is fueling your anxiety and let them know the ways that they could potentially help.
  • Get more sleep. A lack of sleep will worsen anxiety and stress so strive to get eight hours of quality sleep every night if possible.
  • Cut back on caffeine and alcohol. The chemicals involved in drinks that contain caffeine and alcohol have a direct link toward raising anxiety levels. Substitute these drinks with water as often as possible.
  • Eat healthier meals. A well-balanced diet and healthy snacks boost energy and mood. Make sure to eat at every meal as well: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Overeating and undereating can both enhance neurotic experiences.
  • Reframe thoughts. While this may be challenging, try to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. Ask yourself questions like: is the thing I’m so worried about really as bad as I think it is?
  • Write It Down: Keep a journal and track the things that trigger your anxiety, and look for potential patterns. Try to think of better ways to handle these situations for the next time they arise. 

In the event that these measures are not effective ways to combat the anxiety and emotions that stem from neuroticism, consider seeing a mental health professional in order for more information. 

Is Being Neurotic a Bad Thing or Good Thing?

It’s important to remember that being “neurotic” is not a medical condition or mental health disorder. It is a personality trait and a common state of being. Everyone experiences naturism. It’s just a question of how much. Now, if a person is experiencing frequent distress, depression, anxiety, phobias, or addictions as a result of their neuroticism, then seeking counseling or therapy would be wise. 

Therapy would be able to help them to better manage these feelings of stress and anxiety, which would help prevent overly neurotic behavior and improve mental wellness. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be an especially helpful treatment for people with overwhelming neurotic tendencies. 

While it may seem that neuroticism is largely a negative thing, having a small and manageable amount in life can be a good thing. Neurotic people have a tendency to strive and have an inner, self-directed drive to succeed. They often have a proclivity toward rumination that can be a great asset if they work a high detail-oriented job or one that requires in-depth thinking and analysis. Neurotic people can also be healthier than others on the spectrum as a result of their high conscientiousness. They often have fewer chronic health concerns, healthier body weights, and lower levels of inflammation. Healthy neurotics are also better equipped to deal with stressful situations and seem to find ways to channel their anxiety into motivation that benefits them. 

Additionally, since people on the higher end of the neuroticism scale are more prone to negative emotions, they also tend to possess more emotional depth as a result. Lastly, neurotic personalities may have had an evolutionary advantage due to their tendency to be more risk-averse and vigilant in regards to their environment. Simply put, there are many downsides to neuroticism but also many benefits. Just like a scale involved with anything else, you don’t want to end up too far on either end of it. 

Can Neuroticism Be a Mental Illness? 

Neuroticism is a personality type and not a diagnosable medical problem. However, that doesn’t mean that the experiences and emotions that are being felt are the result of a neurotic personality and not a mental illness. Most of the symptoms of neurotic behavior are fairly common, with the symptoms of several mental illnesses. 

Some of the heightened emotions that a neurotic person may feel include:

  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Hostility 
  • Irritability 
  • Sadness
  • Self-consciousness
  • Vulnerability
  • Worry

These emotions are all-natural, but a neurotic person will experience them in intense and overwhelming ways. However, these experiences may be the result of mental health problems as well. Neurotic behaviors do not include delusions or hallucinations but are instead obsessive thoughts on negative emotions and failures, real or perceived.  Having a neurotic personality may make a person more prone to get what’s known as “internalizing disorders” such as:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Social phobia

The Takeaway 

Being neurotic means that a person is more likely to experience extreme emotions, especially anxiety, depression, and worrying. While neuroticism is a personality trait and not a medical condition, it shares a lot of symptoms with various mental health illnesses. If you struggle with severe neurotic tendencies, it could be a sign of a mental health-related issue.

Neuroticism is measured with a spectrum which means that technically everyone is neurotic. The question is exactly how neurotic are they, and is it too much? While in general neurotic behavior has negative consequences, there are some potential benefits for those that are in decent control of their neuroticism. 

However, if you are experiencing extreme bouts of neurotic behavior, it may not be a healthy amount and could be a sign of an underlying mental health issue. If this is the case, then seeking out a qualified mental health professional should be a high priority. 


  1. What it Means to be Neurotic: The Pros and Cons of this Personality Trait
  2. Neuroses and neuroticism: Differences, types, and treatment
  3. What is Neurotic Behavior? (webmd.com).
  4. The Big Five Personality Traits (verywellmind.com)
author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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