The Long-Term Effects of Stress

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The long-term effects of stress typically include various health issues, including chronic pain, heart problems and anxiety and depression. Yet we often associate such significant health ailments with major stressors, from getting fired to big breakups.

However, new research supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health points out that even minor stress can lead to health problems later in life. This is especially true if we hold onto how those small stressors make us feel, Medical News Today noted.

“Our research shows that negative emotions that linger after even minor, daily stressors have important implications for our long-term physical health,” said Kate Leger from the University of California, Irvine, who conducted the study with her colleagues.

To explore the benefits of the concept of letting stress go and what happens when we don’t, researchers asked study participants to complete an eight-day survey detailing their daily emotions. In this survey, they reported how much time in the last 24 hours they experienced negative emotions like:

– Nervousness

– Worthlessness

– Hopelessness

– Loneliness

– Fear

– Irritability

– Shame

– Anger

– Frustration

From there, participants explained what daily stress factors triggered the emotions they experienced.

After 10 years, participants indicated whether they had developed chronic illnesses and other health issues that interfere with their functionality. Those who didn’t let go of the negative emotions they reported and allowed them to carry into the next day were more likely to experience health issues down the road, according to the study.

“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 said. “But accumulating findings suggest that it’s not just the big events, but minor, everyday stressors that can impact our health as well.”

These long-term effects of stress remained consistent no matter the gender, education and initial health status of the participants.

So why does this happen? For one, lingering negative emotions keep stress-related systems active persistently, which in turn weakens the body, the researchers suggest. Otherwise, bad moods may result in damaging behaviors that can cause health to deteriorate.

Offsetting such long-term effects of stress requires us to dismiss small frustrations. It’s easier said than done, of course, but it has the potential to protect our own well-being.

“Stress is common in our everyday lives,” Leger said. “It happens at work, it happens at school, it happens at home and in our relationships. Our research shows that the strategy to ‘just let it go’ could be beneficial to our long-term physical health.”