As though you don't have enough to worry about, now you have to worry about how you react to the everyday stresses of life: A recently published study in the journal Psychological Science suggests that how you react to little daily irritations can have a long-term impact on your mental health.
Researchers found that your overall level of negative emotions may make you more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders 10 years from now.
The University of California, Irvine, researchers conducted the study to answer the question: Do everyday bumps in the road build us up and make us stronger against "big" stressors, or do they make up the straw that breaks the camel's back?
"How we manage daily emotions matters to our overall mental health," study author Susan Charles, Ph.D., told the Telegraph. "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."
Deoborah Rozman, psychologist and CEO of HeartMath, a nonprofit that focuses on stress-related research, agrees. "The key takeaway from this study is that we have to learn how to manage our reactions to stress."
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Stress is unavoidable and can cause a number of unpleasant side effects including headaches, chest pain, stomach pain, low sex drive, and angry or emotional outbursts, but you can keep it from eating up at you, Rozman says. While following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are all vital to maintaining overall good health and will help you stay energized and keep a positive attitude, learning how to de-stress in the moment is key to feeling calmer, bringing your heart rate down, and feeling better fast.
"When you're feeling stressed or angry, your heart rhythms move in a sort of jagged, incoherent pattern," Rozman says. "This signals the emotional centers in your brain, which triggers a stress response and causes your heart to race and your blood pressure to rise."
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Rozman recommends trying the "quick coherence technique" the next time you feel your blood pressure rise or you sense yourself becoming angry, irritable, or emotionally drained:
Focus your attention on your "heart center," putting your hands on the center of your chest. As you focus on your heart, try to imagine your breath flowing in and out from that area. Then inhale and exhale slowly and deeply for 10 breathes or until you find a rhythm that feels good to you. As you breathe in and out, try to think of something positive in your life—for example, your friends, family, or pets—and try to remember how you feel when you're with them. Or try to recreate a positive experience, such as a vacation, and try to remember why you enjoyed it and how you felt when you were there.
"This help create positive changes in your heart rhythms and bring your heart and brain back in synch with each other so your brain gets the signal that it's okay to relax," Rozman says.