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Study Examines Health Impact of Chronic Worry

Worrying has plagued the human race since the dawn of time. Folk lore and urban legends warn of the misery worrying can bring, yet it is part of human nature to worry – even when it produces negative results.

Science Daily recently reported on research from Purdue University suggesting chronic worrying can lead to early mortality, due in part to the fact chronic worriers are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors.

“Research shows that higher levels of neuroticism can lead to earlier mortality, and we wanted to know why,” said Daniel K. Mroczek, a professor of child development and family studies, in the Science Daily. “We found that having worrying tendencies or being the kind of person who stresses easily is likely to lead to bad behaviors like smoking and, therefore, raise the mortality rate.

The personality trait neuroticism possesses certain aspects, such as chronic worrying, anxiety and being prone to depression. Researchers focused on how smoking and heavy drinking are associated with this trait as a person with neuroticism is likely to experience anxiety or depression and may self-medicate with tobacco, alcohol or drugs in order to cope.

In this study, researchers found smoking accounted for roughly 25 percent to 40 percent of the association between high neuroticism and mortality. The other 60 percent appears to be unexplained, but could be attributed to biological factors or other environmental issues experienced by neurotic individuals, according to Mroczek.

“For example, programs that target people high in neuroticism may get bigger bang for the buck than more widespread outreach efforts,” Mroczek said. “It also may be possible to use personality traits to identify people who, because of their predispositions, are at risk for engaging in poor health behaviors such as smoking or excessive drinking.”

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