Individuals whose negative emotional responses to stress carry over to the following day are more likely to report health problems and physical limitations later in life compared with those who are able to "let it go," found research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
"Our research shows that negative emotions that linger after even minor, daily stressors have important implications for our long-term physical health," says psychological scientist Kate Leger of the University of California, Irvine. "When most people think of the types of stressors that impact health, they think of the big things, major life events that severely impact their lives, such as the death of a loved one or getting divorced," Leger says. "But accumulating findings suggest that it's not just the big events, but minor, everyday stressors that can impact our health as well."
Evidence from previous studies suggests a clear association between same-day responses to stress and long-term well-being, but the impact of lingering emotional responses remained unclear. That is, does it make a difference if a stressor - such as a flat tire, a bad grade, or an argument -- leads to negative emotions that spill over into the following day? To find out, Leger and colleagues Susan T. Charles and David M. Almeida analyzed data from the Midlife in the United States Survey, a nationally representative, longitudinal study of adults.
These associations emerged independently of participants' gender, education, and baseline health and they held even after the researchers took participants' same-day emotional responses and average number of stressors into account. "This means that health outcomes don't just reflect how people react to daily stressors, or the number of stressors they are exposed to - there is something unique about how negative they feel the next day that has important consequences for physical health," explains Leger.
Leger and colleagues hypothesize that this link could play out through activation of stress-related systems or through health behaviors, two potential mechanisms that offer avenues for future research. "Stress is common in our everyday lives. It happens at work, it happens at school, it happens at home and in our relationships," says Leger. "Our research shows that the strategy to 'just let it go' could be beneficial to our long term physical health."