The people I’ve had the worst relationships with in life have generally been those who are highly neurotic. For this post, I’ll define neuroticism as being inconsistent, anxious, aggressive, and overreacting to minor obstacles.
Neuroticism is a fantastic tool for damaging any relationship, in either business or personal life. A certain amount of neuroticism is healthy (and normal in many circumstances–although there is no such thing as “normal” when it comes to people and their personalities), but in the modern world where we need not be concerned about getting eaten by tigers so there’s little value in anxiety.
Anxiety is a normal reaction, particularly in a world where we’ve destroyed the normal social structures (communities) and integration with our natural environment in the name of “growth” (which is just a euphemism for “make the stock market go up”).
However, the reality about anxiety (and neuroticism) is that while the feelings you have are very real, and may be accompanied with a very real physical reaction, those feelings are still just feelings, and exist nowhere but in your mind. What you feel is a choice, you can blame externalities if you wish but that is not how the brain works, regardless of what kind of stimuli you are exposed to (perhaps excluding toxic stimuli such as lead poisoning and other forms of environmental pollution). Learning to recognize, understand, and control these emotional reactions is one of the core principles of cognitive behavioural therapy, and also stocism.
It’s easier said than done to simply “be less neurotic”, but here are a few strategies you can use (which all take practice and conscious effort):
- When feeling overwhelmed, angry, upset, etc.: try pausing, taking a few deep breaths (try the “box breathing” technique), and reset before proceeding.
- In situations where you find yourself reacting negatively (instead of positively), pause and try to reframe the problem in a positive way
- Learn to let things go. For example, if you find yourself in a car getting mad at another person in a car because you don’t like that they are driving more aggressively than you, remind yourself that the point of cars is to go from point A to point B without crashing. There’s no prize for being the fastest person on the road. There are penalties for being the quickest car on the road (even though there’s less enforcement of traffic laws on US roads, and cars are becoming more dangerous).
- Remember that everyone has their struggles, and nobody is always “happy”. Be the better person if you can. When people are having a meltdown, the antidote to their meltdown is to be calm.