Massage therapy is one key to keeping stress at bay—and new research indicates managing stress is as important to long-term health as proper nutrition and exercise.

New research shows emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may predict long-term mental health. The research suggests maintaining emotional balance is crucial to avoiding severe mental health problems down the road.

Previous, unrelated research has indicated massage therapy decreases anxiety and depression, boos mood and lowers blood pressure.

In the new research, using data from two national, longitudinal surveys, the researchers found that participants’ negative emotional responses to daily stressors – such as arguments with a spouse or partner, conflicts at work, standing in long lines or sitting in traffic – predicted psychological distress and self-reported anxiety-and-mood disorders 10 years later.

“How we manage daily emotions matters to our overall mental health,” lead researcher Susan Charles, a UC Irvine professor of psychology and social behavior, said. “We’re so focused on long-term goals that we don’t see the importance of regulating our emotions. Changing how you respond to stress and how you think about stressful situations is as important as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.”

The results were based on data from 711 men and women between 25 and 74 who had participated in the Midlife Development in the United States project and the National Study of Daily Experiences, according a university press release.

According to Charles and her colleagues, the findings show that mental health outcomes aren’t affected by just major life events; they also bear the impact of seemingly minor emotional experiences, the press release noted. “The study suggests that the chronic nature of negative emotions in response to daily stressors can take a toll on long-term psychological well-being.”

The research, which appears online in the journal Psychological Science.