It is said that small challenges in life make us stronger for bigger challenges. Does this apply to the daily stressors that we face in our life? Do they make us resilient? Or do they build up over time only to explode at a later date?
Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology and social behaviour, and her colleagues decided to get to the bottom of this. Their research indicates that day-to-day negative emotions majorly affect long-term mental health.
Using data from two national, longitudinal surveys, the researchers found that a person's negative emotional response to daily stressors—such as arguments with a spouse or partner, conflicts at work, standing in long lines or sitting in traffic—were indicative of anxiety and distress 10 years later.
“How we manage daily emotions matters to our overall mental health,” Charles said. “We’re so focussed on long-term goals that we don’t see the importance of regulating our emotions. Changing how you respond to stress and how you think about stressful situations is as important as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.”
Stuck in a traffic jam? Why not exercise?
The sample that they studied from was quite comprehensive: 711 men and women between 25 and 74 years [participants in the Midlife Development in the United States project and the National Study of Daily Experiences].
Of couse, major events in life such bereavement of the spouse strongly affect mental health. However, seemingly insignificant daily emotions also affect our long-term emotional stability. And since these negative emotions are so regular and persistent, they can severely impact psychological wellbeing.
“It’s important not to let everyday problems ruin your moments,” Charles said. “After all, moments add up to days, and days add up to years. Unfortunately, people don’t see mental health problems as such until they become so severe that they require professional attention.”
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