The way in which people respond to everyday stress could be an accurate predictor of their long-term mental health, revealed a study published in the journal Psychological Science.

The study, which was led by Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology & social behavior, aimed to find out whether everyday irritations can potentially harm or even strengthen us.

They gathered information from two different longitudinal surveys conducted in the U.S. The data indicated that participants who responded to a daily stressor – such as an argument – in a negative emotional way were at an increased risk of psychological distress and mood disorders later in life.

Susan Charles said:

“How we manage daily emotions matters to our overall mental health. 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.”

A total of 711 men and women between 25 and 74 who were involved in the Midlife Development in the United States project and the National Study of Daily Experiences, were analyzed.

The results indicate that while major life events can have drastic effects on people’s well being, even minor emotional experiences contribute to overall mental health outcomes.

According to the study, negative emotions in response to everyday stressors can actually contribute to long term psychological problems. Therefore, it’s not necessarily stressors that cause health problems but the way in which people react to them.

Charles concluded: “It’s important not to let everyday problems ruin your moments. 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.”

Researchers at Penn State similarly found an association between the way in which people react to stressors and health outcomes.

David Almeida, professor of human development and family studies, said:

“Our research shows that how you react to what happens in your life today predicts your chronic health conditions and 10 years in the future, independent of your current health and your future stress.

For example, if you have a lot of work to do today and you are really grumpy because of it, then you are more likely to suffer negative health consequences 10 years from now than someone who also has a lot of work to do today, but doesn’t let it bother her.”

Written by Joseph Nordqvist