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Author: ‘Daily stressors — specifically the minor, small inconveniences that we have throughout the day — even those have lasting impacts on mortality.’

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Does an argument at the office on Monday still gnaw at you on Friday? Daily stressors come at people from all directions and some negative situations are simply unavoidable. However, researchers at Oregon State University say how you deal with those daily conflicts can seriously impact your health. Their study finds when people resolve their issues immediately, the emotional fallout from the argument is almost totally erased.

Study authors add that reducing chronic stress plays a major role in improving overall health. This is key for both avoiding mental health disorders and reducing physical ailments due to stress.

“Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives. You aren’t going to stop stressful things from happening. But the extent to which you can tie them off, bring them to an end and resolve them is definitely going to pay dividends in terms of your well-being,” says senior author Robert Stawski in a university release.

Previous studies have discovered how impactful chronic stress can be on human health. The emotional strain can lead to issues like depression and anxiety or physical problems including heart disease and gastrointestinal problems. Stress can even impair the immune system and cause reproductive dysfunction. While many might look at major stressors like money or crime as the main culprits, the team says even small problems can have major consequences.

“Daily stressors — specifically the minor, small inconveniences that we have throughout the day — even those have lasting impacts on mortality and things like inflammation and cognitive function,” explains lead author and OSU doctoral student Dakota Witzel.

Unresolved arguments can leave negative ‘residue’ behind

Stawski and Witzel examined data gathered by the National Study of Daily Experiences during their study. The survey interviewed over 2,000 people who reported their feelings and emotional experiences for eight straight days.

The OSU team focused on each person’s arguments and avoided arguments during that time. Researchers define avoided arguments as instances where participants could have argued with someone but chose to let the issue slide. Stawski and Witzel then measured how a person’s negative and positive emotions changed after these incidents; examining changes on both the day of the argument and the day after.

When stressors affect someone emotionally, scientists refer to immediate increases in negative emotions or decreases in positive ones as reactivity. The prolonged emotional fallout from these events is called the residue. Using these measures, the team gauged the negative and positive affect of each participant’s arguments — or the degree to which someone feels these emotions on any given day.

The results reveal on the days of an argument or avoided argument, resolving the conflict immediately greatly improves emotional well-being. Participants who resolved their issues reported roughly half the emotional reactivity of those who let the problem linger.

On the day after these incidents, the results show an even starker difference. People who feel they resolved their stress the day before displayed no increases in negative affect the following day.

Older adults are better at letting go of stress?

Researchers also discovered that age can play a role in how well we deal with stressful situations. Adults 68 and older were over 40 percent more likely than those younger than 45 to successfully resolve their conflicts. However, the emotional affect of resolving arguments stayed the same regardless of the person’s age.

The OSU team suspects there are a few reasons older adults appear better at stress resolution. For one, seniors may be motivated to put emotional troubles behind them because they have fewer years of life remaining. Stawski and Witzel also believe older adults probably have more experience in navigating around arguments and stress.

“If older adults are really motivated to maximize their emotional well-being, they’re going do a better job, or at least a faster job, at resolving stressors in a more timely fashion,” adds Stawski, an associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Although some daily stressors are uncontrollable, researchers note lack of control itself is an emotional stressor. The more people work on their responses to certain situations, the better off their health may become.

“Some people are more reactive than other people,” Stawski concludes. “Resolving your arguments is quite important for maintaining well-being in daily life.”

The study appears in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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