Science Shows Why You Really, Really Shouldn't Sweat the Small Stuff

Science Shows Why You Really, Really Shouldn't Sweat the Small Stuff

Not to stress you out or anything, but a little bit of stress can actually kill you.

That's according to a new report scheduled for publication in the journal Experimental Gerontology, which suggests that the minor annoyances we experience during everyday life are just as detrimental to our long-term health as major life traumas like job loss or divorce. 

This means that the little things that drive us crazy — sitting in traffic, that leaky faucet and that goddamn jerk at work who won't stop smacking his lips while he's eating — can lead to higher rates of depression, mental illness and lower life expectancy.

"People who always perceived their daily life to be over-the-top stressful were three times more likely to die over the period of study than people who rolled with the punches and didn't find daily life very stressful," Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University and the lead author on the study, told NPR. "There are a number of ways chronic stress can kill you."

The science: Aldwin and her team analyzed a sample of 1,293 men with a median age of 65 from the Normative Aging Study (NAS), a Department of Veterans Affairs project started in the 1960s to study long-term health issues among veterans. This was a longitudinal study, and some subjects were tracked for more than 20 years.

After controlling for demographics and health behaviors, researchers found that subjects who reported higher numbers of daily frustrations had virtually identical mortality rates as those who reported more highly stressful life events. Only 29% of subjects who experienced few everyday hassles had died, while that percentage jumped to 64% for those who'd experienced high levels. For major, stressful life events, the percentages were around 33% dying for those who'd experienced few events and 50% for those who'd experienced a high number of stressful events.

According to Aldwin and her team, the problem is chemical: Regular annoyances, like major moments of stress, lead to increased levels of cortisol — the "stress hormone" — which leads to a degraded capacity for learning and memory, lower immune function, increased blood pressure and cholesterol, enhanced weight gain and a higher risk of heart disease.

So what can I do about this? Regular physical activity can help keep cortisol levels low. So can meditation. But really, the best way to stay healthy is to follow the cliche and don't sweat the small stuff.

"It's not the number of hassles that does you in, it's the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems," Aldwin said in a press release. "Taking things in stride may protect you.

Or, just take a lesson from the Costanzas:

h/t NPR