The godawful commute. The fight you had with your partner this morning. The kitchen sink that won’t stop leaking. Minor annoyances? Maybe. But these little, everyday hassles can add up and may be as likely to do you in as the bigger, more serious stressors in life, like divorce or job loss, according to new research in the journal Experimental Gerontology.
The researchers used a sample of 1,293 older guys (the median age was 65) from the Normative Aging Study, a project started in the 1960s by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to study a variety of physical and mental-health issues. After controlling for demographics and health behaviors (like smoking), they found that the men who reported a higher number of minor, everyday hassles had about the same mortality risk as those who reported more highly stressful life events.
As psychologist Jeremy Dean notes at PsyBlog:
Just under half of those followed went on to die during the period of the study, but their chances of dying depended on the hassles and stressful life events they’d experienced.
Only 29% of those who’d experienced few everyday hassles had died, while that proportion jumped to 64% for those who’d experienced high levels of everyday hassles.
For major, stressful life events, the figures were around one-third dying for those who’d experienced few events, increasing to around 50% for those who’d experienced a high number of stressful events.
So if you’re the sort of person who gets worked up over life’s relatively mundane problems, you would do well to heed the words of lead author Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University. “It’s not the number of hassles that does you in, it’s the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems,” she said in the press release. “Taking things in stride may protect you.” The classic advice — if you can’t change your circumstances, change your attitude — could, apparently, save your life. As a wise (if fictional) man once said: Serenity now!