UC Irvine-led study explores cumulative effects of everyday negative emotional responses.
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.
Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology & social behavior, 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 tribulations?
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.”