Sweating the small stuff is bad for your health

Getting stressed out in the car can have a toll on mental health a decade later.Photo / Thinkstock

Getting irritated about the small things in life is just as bad for your health as eating a poor diet or failing to exercise, a new study suggests.

The research shows that getting stressed by everyday irritations such as traffic jams or annoying work colleagues can take a heavy toll mental health a decade later.

In fact, our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life can be used to predict the state of our mental health in the long-term, the study found.

The research, which appears in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that maintaining emotional balance is crucial to avoiding mental health problems later in life.

Susan Charles, professor of psychology and social behaviour, and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, conducted the study in order to establish whether everyday irritations add up to trouble or whether they make us stronger and better able to deal with future trials.

Using data from two national surveys, the researchers found that participants' negative emotional responses to stress could be used to predict psychological distress and self-reported anxiety ten years later.

"How we manage daily emotions matters to our overall mental health," Professor Charles said.

"We're so focused 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."

The results were based on data from 711 men and women between the ages of 25 and 74.

According to Professor Charles and her colleagues, the findings showed that mental health outcomes are not affected by just major life events - they are also influenced by the impact of seemingly minor emotional experiences.

"It's important not to let everyday problems ruin your moments," Professor 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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