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Get stressed in traffic jams Be warned. It could harm your mental health years later
Getting stressed by everyday irritations can cause mental health problems a decade later
Researchers warn that the cumulative effect of getting annoyed at small things every day is damaging

By
Emma Innes

PUBLISHED:

17:13 GMT, 3 April 2013

|

UPDATED:

00:47 GMT, 4 April 2013

As most of us know only too well, even at the best of times they’re just plain infuriating.

But being stuck in one queue or traffic jam too many could spark more than simply a foul mood – it can lead to severe mental disorder, a study claims.

Everyday irritations such as waiting in traffic can build up over time and cause mental problems later in life, psychologists found.

Getting irritated about the small things in life is just as bad for the health as eating a poor diet or failing to exercise

Getting irritated about the small things in life is just as bad for the health as eating a poor diet or failing to exercise

And learning to keep a cool head in the face of modern life’s daily stresses is as essential as a healthy diet and an exercise routine, they said.

Susan Charles, a professor of psychology and social behaviour, led the study to find out whether everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or whether they make us stronger. Using data from two national surveys, researchers found negative responses to daily stresses such as arguments with a partner, conflicts at work, standing in long queues or sitting in traffic led to psychological distress or anxiety and mood disorders ten years later.

The results, based on data from the Midlife Development in the United States project and the National Study of Daily Experiences, from men and women aged 25 and 74, show mental health problems are not affected by just major life events, but also by seemingly minor emotional experiences.

The findings echo the premise of the 1993 Michael Douglas film Falling Down, in which his character ‘snaps’ while waiting in LA traffic.

Getting stressed by everyday irritations can take a heavy toll on your mental health in ten years' time

Getting stressed by everyday irritations can take a heavy toll on your mental health in ten years' time

Speaking of the findings, published in
the journal Psychological Science, Professor Charles said: ‘How we
manage daily emotions matters to our overall mental health.

‘We’re so focused on long-term goals that we don’t see the importance of regulating our emotions.

‘Changing how you respond to stress
and how you think about stressful situations is as important as
maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.

‘It’s important not to let everyday problems ruin your moments. After all, moments add up to days, and days add up to years.’

Professor Charles, of the University
of California, Irvine, added: ‘Unfortunately, people don’t see mental
health problems as such until they become so severe that they require
professional attention.”

■ Middle managers are under the most
stress in the workplace, a study claims. This is because they face more
challenges from above while having to maintain authority over
lower-ranking workers. In the study, experts at the universities of
Manchester and Liverpool monitored stress hormones in monkeys.

Among the findings, which they said
could be applied to human hierarchies, was that monkeys in the middle
order had the highest levels of stress hormones. They are involved with
conflict from those below as well as from above. Katie Edwards, from
Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology, said: ‘People in middle
management might have higher levels of stress hormones compared to their
boss at the top or the workers they manage.’