We've all heard stories of an older person who simply succumbed after suffering a terrible shock such as the loss of a spouse or a profound business setback. It's not too surprising, therefore, that huge life stressors can occasionally be deadly. What might surprise you is that your daily dose of little hassles like traffic snarls and annoying arguments can also add up over time and become lethal.

A Shocking Rise in Mortality

To come to this conclusion, a new study led by Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University, looked at 1,293 male veterans, following them for as much as two decades. The research team tracked the veterans' levels of everyday stress, as well as high stress incidents such as a divorce or losing a job, and analyzed their effects on mortality.

What they found might shock those harried by a pile up of seemingly small daily stresses. Accumulating a lot of these annoyances over time can be as deadly, it seems, as a devastating life event--at least for older men. Those study subjects who reported low levels of everyday stress had a 28.7 percent mortality rate. And how about those with high numbers of little stressors? By the end of the study, 64.3 percent had passed away.

That's an alarming jump in the mortality rate, but if your life isn't exactly a model of calm and peacefulness, don't get too worried. You still have time to change. It takes a while for little stresses to do their damage. "We're looking at long-term patterns of stress--if your stress level is chronically high, it could impact your mortality," Aldwin comments.

Fighting Back Against Stress

There are also countermeasures you can take, according to Aldwin--and don't worry, these don't involve the often impossible-seeming task of removing all those little annoyances from your life. The key to not having stress impact your health is simply how you think about it.

"It's not the number of hassles that does you in, it's the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems. Taking things in stride may protect you," Aldwin says, adding: "Don't make mountains out of molehills."

That might not sound like the most scientific advice even given, but other research backs up Aldwin. The same stressors can have wildly different effects depending on how you mentally process them, according to this fascinating TED talk from Stanford University health psychologist Kelly McGonigal. "When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body's response to stress," she explains.

Not making mountains out of molehills seems to be pretty powerful medicine after all.

Are you letting little daily stresses get the best of you?

Published on: Sep 22, 2014
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