Let It Go, Let It Go: New Research Says It's Better For Your Health

Researchers looked into how people respond to life’s daily stressors and found that holding onto negative feelings takes its toll on your physical wellbeing.
Kerry Lengyel
Published: April 14, 2018
It’s time to let things go and forgive and forget, say the authors of a new study published in the Journal of Psychological Science. Those small stressors in your life — such as a spat with your significant other — may harm your long-term health if you let initial emotional reactions linger into the next day.

Conducted by researchers from the University of California, Irvine and Pennsylvania State University, this study investigated whether a person’s response to daily stressors has long-term implications.

"When sharing the frustrations we feel after having an argument with a friend, or learning of an unexpected work deadline, people often will tell us to 'just let it go,’” the authors wrote. “Yet surprisingly few studies have tested the utility of this advice."

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Methodology
Researchers analyzed data from the Midlife in the United States National Longitudinal Study of Health and Wellbeing, a community-based, nationwide study where 1,155 participants answered various questions about daily stressors for eight consecutive days. Participants answered questions, including:
  • Over the past 24 hours, how much time did you spend experiencing negative emotions, such as nervousness, worthlessness, loneliness, jitteriness, irritability, restlessness, frustration, fear, shame, upset, anger or feeling that everything was an effort?
  • What daily stressors triggered those negative emotions?

Then, nearly 10 years later, the same participants were asked about the current state of their physical health. Did they develop any chronic illness? Did they experience any other health issues that interfered with their daily life? Did they experience any health issues that made regular tasks difficult?

Findings
After evaluating the recorded data, researchers found that participants experienced heightened levels of negative effects the day after a stressor occurred.

"This means that health outcomes don't just reflect how people react to daily stressors or the number of stressors they are exposed to,” Kate Leger, PhD, lead author and researcher at UC Irvine, explained. “There is something unique about how negative they feel the next day that has important consequences for physical health."

Researchers also discovered that higher levels of this lingering negative effect were associated with participants who reported either chronic health conditions or functional limitations 10 years later. These effects of stress on long-term health were also the same regardless of gender, level of education and health quality at the beginning of the survey.

But why? Researchers gave two possible reasons:
  1. Lingering negative emotions can activate your stress-related systems, which, in turn, can weaken your body and leave you more susceptible to disease.
  2. Negative emotions can lead to unhealthy decisions, such as eating junk food, smoking or drinking alcohol.

"Our research shows that negative emotions that linger after even minor, daily stressors have important implications for our long-term physical health,” Dr. Leger said.

But these findings also suggest that learning to let go of those daily stressors has a unique importance for long-term physical health. Stress is common for everyone — especially veterinarians — but holding onto that grudge or giving your friend the cold shoulder may create much more than just an issue between you and that other person.

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