A new research study suggests the way we manage our emotions on a daily basis can influence our overall mental health years later.
Researchers sought to answer a longstanding question in the study: 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?
Susan Charles, Ph.D., of the University of California, Irvine and colleagues discovered that indeed, our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may predict our long-term mental health.
The study is published in Psychological Science.
Using data from two national surveys, the researchers examined the relationship between daily negative emotions and mental health outcomes ten years later.
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 arguments or a problem at work or home — predicted psychological distress and self-reported emotional disorder 10 years later.
Researchers believe a key component of the study was the 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 the chronic nature of these negative emotions in response to daily stressors can take a toll on long-term mental health.