Life's Little Annoyances (Don't Let Them Get to You)

While we may not be able to control the circumstances that come our way, we can control how we respond to them. Learning to respond to situations rather than reacting is a key factor in managing stress.
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Critical, and sometimes life-altering, situations can happen that throw us totally off kilter: losing one's job, developing a serious illness (oneself or a loved one), or natural disasters such as floods, paralyzing snow and/or ice storms, hurricanes or tornadoes. How well we weather these devastating, out of our control circumstances depends on the strength of our resiliency.

Resilience, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress. It is the ability to "bounce back" after a major disruption in our lives.

Yet, there is another realm of situations, also out of our control, which we sometimes allow to get to us -- traffic jams, the dog in the neighborhood that barks at everything or getting stuck behind a school bus making its route stops. These innocuous incidents are often the ones that make our blood boil, make us seethe with anger or impatience -- in other words, make us stressed.

Changing the way we react to life's little annoyances requires strengthening one of the several factors of resilience: the capacity to manage strong feeling, emotions and impulses. Doing so involves being able to take action without being impulsive and responding out of emotion, and putting emotions aside when clear thinking and action are required.

While we may not be able to control the circumstances that come our way, we can control how we respond to them. Learning to respond to situations rather than reacting is a key factor in managing stress.

When we allow ourselves to get worked up, particularly over the small stuff, we needlessly cause our bodies to go into fight-or-flight mode. Stress hormones surge into our bloodstream -- our hearts beat faster, our blood pressure soars, our muscles become tense.

By developing strong resilience skills we, in turn, develop a keen awareness of our tendency to let the little stuff get to us. Learning to let go of the small stuff will better prepare you mentally, physically and emotionally to handle a critical crisis that may come your way.

How well do you handle life's little annoyances? Take the quiz:

Which of the statements below most accurately reflect your reacting versus responding approach?

1. When someone is talking in the movie theater, I ...
_____ sit there and seethe.
_____ inform the manager.
_____ change my seat.

2. When at a restaurant, if a party seated after me gets their food before me, I ...
_____ complain to the waitress.
_____ remain patient, assuming my meal requires more preparation time.
_____ vow to never come back to this restaurant again.

3. If someone makes an illegal turn in front of me, I ...
_____ yell at them and honk my horn.
_____ assume they are just an idiot.
_____ assume the person didn't realize it was an illegal turn.

4. When someone has more than 12 items in the express line, I...
_____ don't let it bother me.
_____ clear my throat and count aloud my 12 items and comment, "just at the allowed limit."
_____ get irritated and mumble under my breath how inconsiderate some people are.

5. When in the library and people are talking, I...
_____ turn around and shush them.
_____ stand up, gather my belongings and stomp off.
_____ turn to the people and kindly ask them to lower their voices.

Here are a few more of life's little annoyances. Learn to view some of these situations as humorous, rather than rancorous. You just might live a longer, happier life.

  • In a crowded parking lot someone has parked using two spaces.
  • The person behind you in the supermarket runs his cart into the back of your ankle.
  • There's a car riding close to your bumper when you're on the highway.
  • People who don't use the turn signal.
  • The person who makes that sucking sound with the straw when the glass is nearly empty.
  • You can never put anything back in a box the way it came.
  • The elevator stops on every floor and nobody gets on.
  • The person who pushes the elevator button after you already did.
  • You cut your tongue licking an envelope.
  • The cable goes out during your favorite program.
  • People who put their feet on your dashboard.
  • The one or two ice cubes that won't pop out of the tray.
  • You forgot to check your pockets for Kleenex before you put the pants in the wash.
  • The person in the car behind you who honks the horn because you let a pedestrian use the crosswalk.
  • You set the alarm on your digital clock for 6:00 p.m. rather than 6:00 a.m.
  • People behind you in line dash ahead of you to the checkout line just opening up.
  • You had the keys in your hand only a second ago, and now you can't find them.
  • You set up the coffeemaker then forgot to turn it on.
  • When the last person to use the bathroom leaves an empty roll on the holder.

Rita Schiano is an adjunct professor at Bay Path College, where she teaches philosophy and stress management courses. She is the founder of Live A Flourishing Life™, which melds her three professions: philosophy instructor, stress management instructor and resilience coach, and freelance writer. Her book, "Live a Flourishing Life," is used for the college program and in private training programs.

Rita also conducts stress management and resilience-building workshops provided by WorkTerrain, a division of KidsTerrain, Inc. and funded by the Massachusetts Dept. of Industrial Accidents, and she is actively involved with Maine Resilience, a program coordinated with the effort, materials and information offered by the American Psychological Association and the Maine Psychological Association through their Public Education Programs. Rita is an Associate Member of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). Visit her online at and Red Room, where you can read her blog.

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