We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” There is a common misconception that stress is all about the big events – the big life stressors, such as divorce, death of a loved one, serious illness, bankruptcy, etc. Although these can be stressful, research suggests that the everyday stressors, or “hassles,” may have a stronger negative impact on health than do the big events.
Although serious life events, such as divorce or a death in the family are indeed intensely stressful, they are rare and relatively short term. Furthermore, when faced with a major life event, we often muster all of our coping resources, and meet the challenge head on. Instead, it may be the accumulation of the small stressors, or hassles, that, like the drip, drip, drip of the faucet, build up over time and cause stress-related illnesses.
What are some of these daily hassles?
- Misplacing or losing things
- A tough daily commute
- A weight problem
- An overload at work or too many errands to run
- Home maintenance
- Not getting enough sleep
- Troublesome neighbors
So what should we do to cope with these everyday stressors?
Positive Thinking. Instead of dwelling on the hassles, engage in positive self-talk (“I can do this”; “I’ll take it one step at a time”). Cognitive reappraisal, turning what seem to be problems into minor challenges, works to alleviate stress.
Learn to Relax. Stress involves arousal – the body’s “fight or flight” syndrome. Relaxation is incompatible with arousal, so learn to relax, meditate, take it easy, and when feeling overwhelmed by daily hassles, take some time out to relax and get some perspective.
Reward Yourself. After you solve some of your hassles, take some time out to engage in a pleasurable activity, such as a hobby, sport, or go see a movie.
Coping with stress, whether it is a major life event, or the accumulation of daily hassles, is all about coping with it. Don’t catastrophize. Turn it into a challenge that needs to be overcome.
DeLongis, A.; Coyne, J.C.; Dakof, G.; Folkman, S.; Lazarus, R. S.Relationship of daily hassles, uplifts, and major life events to health status.Health Psychology, Vol 1(2), 1982, 119-136.
DeLongis, A., Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S.(1988). The impact of daily stress on health and mood: Psychological and social resources as mediators. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 486–495.
Lazarus, R. S. (1981, July). Little hassles can be hazardous to health. Psychology Today, 58–62.
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