A new study published in Psychological Science, has determined that our responses to daily life stresses may predict our long term mental health and that constant expose to negative stress plays a large role in causing sustained emotional distress.
Psychological scientist Susan Charles of the University of California, Irvine and colleagues conducted the study in order to answer a long-standing question: Do daily emotional experiences add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or do these experiences make us stronger and provide an inoculation against later distress?
Participants’ overall levels of negative emotions predicted psychological distress (e.g., feeling worthless, hopeless, nervous, and/or restless) and diagnosis of an emotional disorder like anxiety or depression a full decade after the emotions were initially measured.
Participants’ negative emotional responses to daily stressors — such as argument or a problem at work or home — predicted psychological distress and self-reported emotional disorder ten years later.
The researchers argue that a key strength of the study was their ability to tap a large, national community sample of participants who spanned a wide age range. The results were based on data from 711 participants, both men and women, who ranged in age from 25 to 74. They were all participants in two national, longitudinal survey studies: Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) and National Study of Daily Experiences (NSDE).
According to Charles and her colleagues, these findings show that mental health outcomes aren’t only affected by major life events — they also bear the impact of seemingly minor emotional experiences. The study suggests that chronic nature of these negative emotions in response to daily stressors can take a toll on long-term mental health.