Minor hassles add up and affect our health, says research.
We know experiencing significant stress for long periods impacts our health, especially our cardiovascular system. But what about the minor pressures we encounter in everyday life? The days when the children won’t get out of bed, you don’t have enough change for the car park and you’re late for that appointment, and THEN there’s no milk for that cuppa.
Postdoctoral research fellow Nancy Sinn and her colleagues from Penn State and Columbia Universities designed a study to see whether day-to-day frustrations and hassles also affect cardiovascular health.
Daily phone interviews conducted over eight days asked over 900 middle-aged and older adults to report stressful events, rate the severity of the experience, and any negative emotions they may have felt. In addition, an ECG measured heart rate variability.
Scientists use heart rate variability to measure the autonomic nervous system by monitoring the variability between heartbeats. When we are relaxed, the variation between beats is high, indicating the autonomic nervous system is healthy and can respond to challenges and adapt quickly. However, in a stressed state, the variation between beats is low, a pattern seen in depression and anxiety and increases cardiovascular disease risk.
The findings published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that it wasn’t the people with the greatest number of stresses in their lives that had the lowest heart rate variability. Instead, the people with the strongest negative reactions to daily stress and frustrations had the lowest heart rate variability.
“Although hassles and disruptions are common and often unavoidable, how a person responds to these seemingly minor stressors appear to be important for cardiovascular health,” wrote Sinn.
Nancy L. Sin, Richard P. Sloan, Paula S. McKinley, David M. Almeida. Linking Daily Stress Processes and Laboratory-Based Heart Rate Variability in a National Sample of Midlife and Older Adults. Psychosomatic Medicine, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000306