Life throws you curveballs all the time. Some are big—like divorce and downsizing—and some fall into the category of run-of-the-mill daily stress—spilling coffee on your laptop, say, or getting your driver’s license renewed. While it may seem that major traumas are clearly more meaningful in the long run than minor annoyances, research shows that it’s our reactions to these events, not the events themselves, that predict our future wellbeing. In fact, while you may barely remember the latte-laptop incident of 2003, how you dealt with it at the time might be an important factor in how you feel right now.
Decreasing your reactivity to daily stress is one of the keys to long-term mental health, says Susan Charles, Ph.D., professor of psychology and social behavior at UC Irvine and the lead author of the study. And of course, limiting your stress (to the extent you can) can’t hurt.