Learn how to gently help a friend or loved one overcome neurotic tendencies and change their life for the better.

Know someone who gets easily frazzled in stressful situations, or freezes up when faced with an important decision? These may be signs of neuroticism.

While the term ‘neurotic’ is often tossed around in pop culture as an insult, it’s actually a personality trait that some researchers believe deserves more attention. In fact, it may be a sign of other mental and physical disorders, according to Benjamin Lahey, PhD, from the University of Chicago in an article published in the journal American Psychologist.

Neurotic people experience feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, self-consciousness, and irritability when faced with both major and minor life stressors. These negative emotions can lead a person to avoid making decisions or taking action to move forward with life, according to a press release for a new study published in the Journal of Personality.

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In this study of nearly 4,000 college students in 19 countries, researchers found that the reason neurotic people have such trouble tackling stress is because they have less positive attitudes toward taking action than non-neurotic people do. So, if you want to help your neurotic friend or loved one, having a persuasive conversation with them may change the way they view their life problems and gently prod them into action.

Don’t know what to say? Follow these five simple tips from Dr. Julia Samton, who is board certified in psychiatry and neurology and the director of Manhattan Neuropsychiatric in New York City.

One way to help your friend or loved one is to reassure them that, in most cases, the situation they’re facing is not life or death, Samton said.

“It helps to be as non-judgmental as possible and to try to do what you can to reassure without criticizing,” she said.

Suggesting that your friend take time to go for a walk outside or do something else to clear his or her head, such as practicing deep breathing, can help him or her sort through conflicting emotions as well as look at the situation more realistically, Samton said.

“Sometimes, distancing themselves from their emotions can help them see reality with a calmer perspective,” she said.

Breathing techniques for relaxation and mindfulness include diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation.

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If your friend is going through a tough time, let him or her know that you want to be present and stay with them until they relax and calm down. And when giving advice, frame it positively and make sure you are giving feedback that is constructive, Samton said.

“Even though they might be experiencing these negative emotions and conclusions, help ground them,” she said.

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When appropriate, share a personal story that relates to your friend or loved one’s situation, such as a time when you were in a similar position and how it worked out positively, Samton said.

If you feel like your friend is not responding to your help, suggest that that they speak to a professional, Samton said. In some cases, this may be a difficult conversation to have, so make sure you approach the subject in a kind and respectful way.

Samton suggests saying something like, “It seems like you’re having a really tough time and maybe speaking to someone about how you’re feeling might be a way that you can feel better,” or, “Everyone struggles, and lots of people have found it helpful to speak to a professional and work toward a better life.”

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