WELLNESS
09/12/2014 08:15 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How To Stop Sweating The Small Stuff (For Good)

Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy via Getty Images

We've probably all heard the phrase "don't make a mountain out of a molehill." The age-old idiom implores us to let go of the little things -- there are bigger things that are worth our energy. And it's the truth. Fretting over a small misstep isn't worth the effort it takes, whether it's being stuck in traffic, suffering from a bad hair day or showing up a few minutes late for dinner.

Despite knowing that we shouldn't sweat the small stuff, we can't help but do it anyway. So how do we kick the habit for good? Below are three things you should know about those everyday stressors and how to let them go.

Stressing over the little things can affect our lifespan.
guy stress

A recent study out of Oregon State University found that older men who tend to obsess over little, everyday annoyances tend to live shorter lives than those who let things roll off their backs. "It’s not the number of hassles that does you in, it's the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems," Carolyn Aldwin, the director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at OSU, said in the study. "Taking things in stride may protect you."

Chronic stress -- in any capacity -- also has an adverse impact on our health. It can lead to high blood pressure, a weak immune system and insomnia.

Even the smallest slights alter our bodies.
stress

When we experience stress, even if it's just a moment of exasperation, the cortisol levels in our bodies change. The hormone spike is minimal compared to monumental stressors (like final exams), but those little surges can add up over time, Nancy Nicolson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, told Real Simple earlier this year. According to Nicolson, our cortisol levels may rise 10 to 15 percent when we agonize over something small.

The little things are a fact of life.
shrug

We're always going to have those days when we spill coffee, those moments we think our friends are ignoring us or the nights we misplace our keys. We're humans, and it's natural to make mistakes.

As Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explains, it's our reactions to these minor stressors that determine reality. "Little things going wrong can make you fell angry, sad, frustrated, or even guilty," she wrote in a Psychology Today blog. "Figure out which emotion you’re experiencing. It’s only when you know what your emotion is that you can set about changing that emotion."

Ready for the good news? Research suggests that we may be able to train ourselves to stop sweating the little things. Here are some ways to do it:

Make a comparison.
direction choices

Sometimes all it takes is a little perspective. That misplaced necklace probably doesn't hold a candle to a big work presentation you faced in the past. Humans are remarkably resilient and in order to practice mental stamina, we have to view things objectively for what they are, Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is The Way, previously told HuffPost Healthy Living. The stress you experienced from that big event passed -- and this little hassle will, too.

Toss it out.
paper trash

One effective way to get rid of that little stressor is by physically throwing it away. According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, writing negative thoughts down on a piece of paper and then tossing them out could help clear your mind. There's nothing more cathartic than literally trashing what's stressing you out.

Practice mindfulness.
meditation

Mindfulness isn't just some new age-y phenomenon that only works for dedicated meditators; it's a simple activity that can do a world of good in different aspects of your life. This includes deflecting any negative thoughts you may be having. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can be an effective strategy in stopping rumination. By being aware of your thoughts -- and noticing them in a nonjudgmental way -- you can condition yourself to examine them before reacting to them.

Give yourself a time limit.
clocks timing

If you absolutely must (and we mean must) think about that little irritant, make it a timed experience. Allow yourself five minutes before moving on. While you're doing that, examine the emotions that come with your reflection. According to Whitbourne, doing this will help you then urge your body -- and your mind -- to relax and find a solution.

"Once you've taken emotions out of the picture, you can tackle the requirements of the stressful situation," she wrote. "You'll be more likely to remember that, yes, you do have an 800 number to call for tech support to fix that messed up computer. You'll be able to sort out your strategies to address that annoying email. Whether it's emotion or problem-focused coping that the situation demands, your new mental clarity will allow you to find the route."

This GPS Guide is part of a series of posts designed to bring you back to balance when you're feeling off course.

GPS Guides are our way of showing you what has relieved others' stress in the hopes that you will be able to identify solutions that work for you. We all have de-stressing "secret weapons" that we pull out in times of tension or anxiety, whether they be photos that relax us or make us smile, songs that bring us back to our heart, quotes or poems that create a feeling of harmony or meditative exercises that help us find a sense of silence and calm. We encourage you to visit our other GPS Guides here, and share with us your own personal tips for finding peace, balance and tranquility.

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