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How Stress Affects Mental Health

Work deadlines, financial problems, relationship issues, and more can make you feel frustrated, exhausted, and, more importantly, stressed. Stress may not seem like a big deal, but chronic stress (stress that continues long-term without resolving) can have a significant negative impact on your physical and mental health.



Consider the following ways that stress affects your health and how you might be able to reduce your stress so your health doesn’t suffer.  


Chronic Stress Increases Risk of Mental Disorders 

The stress response system is meant to protect you from danger. Unfortunately, in today’s world, the body doesn’t recognize danger the way it used to and often sees even minor issues as a threat to respond to. This means that your body is often in stress response mode, releasing stress hormones like cortisol. The constant, or near-constant, exposure to these hormones from chronic stress increases the chances of developing mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.  


Long-term or chronic stress can also lead to other issues, such as sleep disruptions. In attempting to manage sleep loss, depression, or anxiety, many may turn to different substances in an attempt to feel better. This can lead to substance abuse issues, which can also contribute to mental health conditions.  


Mental Health Impacts Sleep, Appetite, and Energy Levels 

Studies have found that stress and sleep deprivation are related. When you are under stress, you sleep less due to increased muscle tension, racing thoughts, and other signs of stress. When you sleep less, your body produces more of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, and less of the satiety hormone, leptin.


This, combined with the lack of energy that comes with being tired, causes you to reach for food. You eat more food than you would otherwise, and because you’re looking for energy, too, you’ll likely choose sugary or caffeinated options over healthier ones. This can lead to weight gain, which may make you feel more stressed, causing you to continue the cycle.  


Weakens Immune System and Physical Health 

Cortisol, the hormone the body releases when it is stressed, boosts your immunity by limiting inflammation—when it’s released in small amounts and for short periods. Chronic stress is long-term, so your body consistently releases cortisol. When this happens, your body gets used to having so much cortisol, which means inflammation increases and suppresses your immune system.  


The suppression of your immune system can lead to a variety of physical health problems, including:  

  • Arthritis 

  • Lupus 

  • Inflammatory bowel disease 

  • Psoriasis 

  • Type 2 diabetes 

  • Cardiovascular problems 

  • Various cancers 


Additionally, if you turn to drinking, smoking, or drugs to deal with your stress, these weaken your immune system even more. 

  • Suffering from a chronic condition 

  • Catching frequent illnesses 

  • Swollen lymph nodes 

  • Frequent cold sores 

  • Fatigue 

  • Organ problems 

  • Delayed wound healing 

  • Skin infections 


Contributes to Anxiety, Depression, and Burnout 

Research has found that chronic stress contributes to anxiety, depression, and burnout. It does this by draining your psychological resources and causing damage to both your brain and body. You might feel as though you are unable to change your situation, and this feeling can also lead to depression because you feel hopeless. 

 

What’s also interesting is that depression itself is considered to bechronic stress. This means that for some people, the stress they feel may come from having depression, which causes them to be even more depressed. This is why seeking assistance from a mental health professional can be crucial to maintaining or improving your mental health.


Whether you simply talk with a therapist, are prescribed medication, or are given other methods of dealing with your stress and mental health, a mental health professional can help you objectively view your circumstances and manage both your stress levels and your mental health. 


Stress Management Techniques Are Crucial for Mental Wellness 

Ensuring your mental wellness must be a top priority, given how it impacts every other part of your life. One way to ensure your mental wellness is to use stress management techniques to reduce your stress levels. While no one can completely eliminate all stress, it is possible to significantly reduce your stress and learn better ways to manage it so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming and constant.  


A few stress management techniques that can reduce stress and improve mental health include:  

  • Take a few minutes for yourself each day to be alone and simply sit and relax.  

  • Minimize conflict by avoiding unnecessary, unpleasant discussions (in other words, don’t get into arguments that aren’t important). 

  • Avoid multitasking. Multitasking often makes people feel more stressed as they worry about dropping the ball on something important. 

  • Improve communication skills to cut down on misunderstandings, arguments, and stress. 

  • Get regular exercise to release endorphins, which make you feel good.  

  • Eat well and avoid processed foods with lots of sugar, salt, or fats. Processed foods can cause your blood sugar to spike, making your body release more cortisol.  

  • Eliminate some things from your to-do list. If you’re overwhelmed with too much to do, delegate it to someone else or decide it doesn’t need to be done. Giving yourself less to do can reduce stress levels.  

  • See a doctor if your signs of stress include changes in eating or sleeping habits, chest pains, dizziness, signs of anxiety or depression, relationships deteriorating, or suicidal thoughts.  


The Stress-Free Takeaway 

Managing stress is crucial for sustaining good mental health. Individuals can proactively foster their mental well-being by acknowledging and addressing chronic stress.


Implementing healthy coping mechanisms, seeking support when needed, and adopting lifestyle changes can significantly alleviate the impacts of stress, leading to a more balanced and resilient mental state. Remember, taking small but consistent steps to manage stress can pave the way for a healthier and happier life. 

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