The Impact of Small Stresses in Daily Life

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

“An acquaintance recently told me that she was experiencing heart palpitations. The doctor told her that her heart was missing a couple of heart beats each moment. Surprised and puzzled, she asked how this could happen because she feels healthy. The doctor responded by telling her that her anxiety and stress were causing her physical problems. She responded by stating that she had no stresses or anxieties. It was an interesting reaction because her 99 year old mother is in a nursing home and her youngest son suffers from Bipolar Disorder and is not taking any medication. She overlooked these problems because they form part of her daily life and are, therefore, nothing that she isn’t accustomed to dealing with.”

It is a well established fact that overwhelming stress and trauma take their toll on physical and emotional health. However, there is a question of whether or not the hassles of daily life have any impact. After all, everyone has to get to work, deal with work and home pressures, make a living and raise a family. It is common to sit in traffic jams and wait on long lines at the supermarket or gas station pump. Do these normal and predictable issues pose any kind of physical or mental health threat the way the bigger stressful events, such as divorce, crime, disaster, job loss and death of a loved one, among other traumas, are known to do? A recent study done at the University of California demonstrates that the answer to this question is yes.


A recent study done at the University of California demonstrates that the answer to this question is yes. The study was done by Susan T. Charles, Department of Psychology at the University of California. What the study did was to study daily stresses, and negative reactions to them, impacted subjects in the study ten years after they were first assessed. In other words, heightened emotional reactivity to daily stresses predicted greater general emotional distress and an increased likelihood of reporting an emotional disorder, such as depression and anxiety. These findings suggest that the average levels of negative affect that people experience and how they respond to seemingly minor events in their daily lives have long-term implications for their mental health.

What particularly stands out about this research is that it is not simply that there are daily stresses but that it is how react to them that is important. To the extent that we have negative reactions to them we will experience depression and anxiety in the future. Also, the accumulation of this negative reaction or affect (an affect is an emotion) also takes it’s toll on future mental health. The bottom line is that it is not good to “sweat the small stuff.” Of course, many of us do sweat the small stuff, without even thinking about it.

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The next question that arises is how can people better cope with the inevitable hassles of daily life? This is where mindfulness comes into play. Integrating mindful living into daily life lowers the negative impact on our daily lives and improves emotional and physical health. An excellent book that explains how to do this is “The Now Effect” by Dr. Elisha Goldstein, a fellow writer at Dr. Goldstein explains how to use the space between stimulus and response to break free from habitual and self destructive beliefs and thoughts. The focus is on the now, the present moment and how to use it to improve life.

In addition to mindfulness it is also important to use aerobic exercise to relieve tension and anxiety a way to further enhance daily living and reduce the chances of depression. If exercise cannot prevent depression it certainly helps to better cope with it by reducing it’s impact by providing more energy and optimism to the individual.

Remember, even those minor annoyances and our reaction to them have a cumulative effect years later.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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