Your boss is pushing you to whip up another presentation in not enough time, construction’s adding 30 minutes to your commute, your kid just can’t kick those earaches. We get it: Life is full of stressors. And the unfortunate fact is, chronic stress hurts your health, both now and later down the road. But new research suggests that it’s how you deal with these situations – rather than the stressors themselves – that can dictate your well-being in your golden years.
To reach this conclusion, a team of psychologists surveyed 435 adults by phone every evening for eight consecutive days, asking them to recount everything that happened within the past 24 hours and to describe their feelings and moods. The researchers say evaluating participants this way, instead of asking them to reflect back on an entire week, month, or year, as most stress studies do, gave them a more accurate picture of day-to-day stressors and how each person handled them.
Then, to determine how stress management impacted health, the psychologists conducted the same survey on the same people 10 years later, this time taking note of their physical well-being. Sure enough, the men and women who were highly reactive to stressors were 10 percent more likely to have chronic conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders, pain, and bladder-related issues than the less-reactive people.
But this is actually good news, says Jennifer Piazza, a researcher at California State University, Fullerton, who coauthored the study, because while it’s impossible to avoid all stressors, it is possible to change the way we respond to them. So what should you do when your blood starts boiling? “Try reframing problems in terms of a challenge as opposed to a threat,” Piazza says. “Also, do your best to not ruminate and constantly rehash negative experiences, which can elicit the stress response.” To stop stress from escalating, she suggests exercise, meditation, and deep breathing and says eating well and getting enough sleep can also keep you even keel.
Whatever it takes to help you simmer down, relax, and move on from an angst-stirring event, do it. Your older self will thank you.