Have you ever been so stressed you can’t think clearly? Have you ever found yourself paralyzed by fear and dread? If so, then you are part of the millions of people who have experienced anxiety. Small levels of stress are a part of everyday life. “Working effectively with stress requires taking control of our responsibility and our attitude,” according to Alicia H. Clark, PsyD. However, it becomes an anxiety disorder when it starts to interfere with your life.
Anxiety is caused by many factors. According to Joel Minden, Ph.D., “Anxiety is characterized by excessive and unrealistic concerns about the future, emotional and physical tension, and patterns of avoidance–avoiding people, responsibilities, or harmless situations.” You might be predisposed towards anxiety by your genetics. Your environment also influences how well you can cope with anxiety. Finally, your personality can affect your chances of developing an anxiety disorder, as well as how well you adjust to stress. Understanding what these personality traits are and how they affect your mental health is critical to becoming more on guard against anxiety.
Anxiety And The Big Five Personality Traits
Personality refers to the collective traits governing how a particular person behaves. Friendliness, cheerfulness, bravery, recklessness, disorderliness, and aggression are just some of the myriad personality traits that people use to describe each other. Given that there are thousands of personality traits, researchers came up with a system to categorize these traits into five distinct categories:
Openness is the willingness to try new things and to entertain new perspectives. Conscientiousness refers to a desire for order and performance. Extraversion describes the tendency to reach out to people and to build social networks. Agreeableness refers to the desire to develop and maintain harmonious relationships with other people. Finally, neuroticism deals with emotional instability, or the tendency to experience a broad spectrum of emotions in a rapid fashion.
Not surprisingly, neuroticism is well correlated with anxiety. Having less power to control your emotions can take its toll on your mental health. Being too emotional can potentially lead to more stress, and chronic or severe stress can lead to an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety have trouble managing stress, and people high in neuroticism tend to lose control over their emotions.
Research also indicates that high extraversion correlates with lower anxiety levels. One of the ultimate ways to cope with stress is to find support from your social networks. Friends and loved ones can give you the help you need, empowering you to fight back against anxiety. Extraversion allows people to access a more extensive social network and to maintain stronger relationships with other people. Hence, this personality trait helps stave off anxiety.
For the other major personality trait categories, the evidence is mixed. However, people with higher levels of trust, which falls under agreeableness, are less likely to have anxiety. Trust allows people to seek out help and to receive support from other people. Self-efficacy, a trait that falls under conscientiousness, also helps reduce anxiety. Individuals with high self-efficacy are more motivated and more confident to persevere during hard times.
Other Personality Traits Relevant To Anxiety
There are more specific personality traits that influence anxiety levels. One of the most insidious is perfectionism, which pushes people to strive for perfection at all costs. Perfectionism is an extreme form of ambition that hurts people in the long run. By chasing perfection, people tend to ignore other needs and to put themselves in constant stress. As shown earlier, extreme stress can lead to anxiety disorders.
Overthinking can also raise anxiety levels. Dwelling too much on your thoughts, especially after traumatic experiences, can prevent your mind from moving on. Being too worried is a sure way to ruin your mood, leading to increased stress and anxiety.
Surprisingly, being emphatic can increase your anxiety. Caring for other people and being concerned for their well-being consumes some of your mental resources. Highly emphatic individuals also tend to feel guilty whenever they perceive that they’ve failed to help others in some way. Empathy is not bad, and the world needs more emphatic people. However, emphatic people need to be aware of the risks involved in caring too much about others.
Finally, avoidance is a personality trait that can lead to more anxiety. Running away from problems might seem like an effective short-term solution. However, these unsolved problems will eventually return. If people don’t correctly deal with their issues, they will be burdened by them down the line. Avoidance leads to more stress and higher anxiety levels.
Knowing which personality traits can lead to anxiety will help you anticipate the risks. You can then take action by changing some of your more harmful traits. Ultimately, this knowledge will help you prevent anxiety. But according to Jennifer Sweeton Psy.D., “If your anxiety feels overwhelming or difficult to manage, consider seeking mental health services, as professional treatment for anxiety can be very effective for many people!”