Our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may
predict our long-term mental health, according to a new study led by a UC
Irvine psychologist. The research, which appears online in the journal
Psychological Science, suggests that maintaining emotional balance is crucial
to avoiding severe mental health problems down the road.
How the study was
Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology and social behaviour,
and her colleagues conducted the study in order to answer a long-standing
question: Do everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s
back, or do they make us stronger and “inoculate” us against later
Using data from two national, longitudinal surveys, the
researchers found that participants’ negative emotional responses to daily
stressors – such as arguments with a spouse or partner, conflicts at work,
standing in long lines or sitting in traffic – predicted psychological distress
and self-reported anxiety/mood disorders 10 years later.
“How we manage daily emotions matters to our overall mental
health,” 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 25 and 74 who had participated in the Midlife Development in the United
States project and the National Study of Daily Experiences.
Negative emotions can
According to Charles and her colleagues, the findings show
that mental health outcomes aren’t affected by just major life events; they
also bear the impact of seemingly minor emotional experiences. The study
suggests that the chronic nature of negative emotions in response to daily
stressors can take a toll on long-term psychological well-being.
“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.”
Jacqueline Mogle, Martin Sliwinski and David Almeida of
Pennsylvania State University and Jennifer Piazza of California State
University, Fullerton also contributed to the study.
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