What are the key signs of stress affecting mental health?

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Page last updated: 24/08/2022

Stress is unavoidable in today’s hectic and busy world. Stress results in physical, emotional, and intellectual reactions from the body, causing you to pay the price. While having a little stress now and again is OK, too much stress can make you sick physically and mentally. 

So, how do you recognize that you are undergoing an overwhelming amount of stress? How does it affect your mental health and what can be done? 

What are the key signs of stress affecting mental health?

The following are some of the key signs that stress is affecting your mental health. 

  • Mental illness. You start showing signs of mental health problems such as isolation, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, neglecting personal hygiene, insomnia, or hypersomnia, among others. 
  • Substance use. Using drugs – such as marijuana, khat, codeine- and alcohol to ‘make life easier. The use of intoxicating substances as a means to forget, or as an escape. 
  • Aches and pains. Random body aches or pains such as headaches, nausea, limb pain, and digestive problems. These aches and pains usually have no specific origin and persist despite the use of medication. 
  • Inefficiency. Your usual life is disrupted and you are unable to complete tasks, lose confidence in your abilities, muddled thinking, and make hasty decisions.

What is Stress?

The Mental Health Foundation characterizes stress as our body’s defense against feeling burdened or tensed. It is our body’s way of reacting to different scenarios where it feels pressurized- whether that is the reality or not. This response is a typical human reaction that happens to everyone when encountering a particularly stressful event (whether physical or mental).

When experiencing a stressful event, the body safeguards itself by adopting an automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response”. Generally, the stress hormones will return to their average level once the distressing incident is over and there won’t be any continual effects. Although, excessive stress can cause sustained damaging effects on your physical and mental wellness. 

Some of the ways in which you can safeguard yourself are by educating yourself on how to notice the signs and symptoms of persistent stress and begin developing ways to reduce its damaging effects on your mental well-being.

How does stress have an impact on you?

For stress to be considered chronic, or crippling, it has to have built up over a long period. You might not notice that it affects you until it takes a heavy toll on your life. The signs and symptoms of stress vary and can be caused by several reasons such as mental illness, medical conditions, medication, and the like. Therefore, it is advisable to be aware of the following symptoms, and see if you might be experiencing them. 

Behavioral Symptoms:Social withdrawal.Changes in appetite (eating too much or too little).Irate moodImpatient and inflexibleConstantly tearfulChanges in sleep (insomnia or hypersomnia).Sexual problems.Excessive use of alcohol or drugs.Delaying doing important tasks or abandoning commitments.Anxious mannerisms (e.g. nail biting, pacing)Emotional Symptoms:AnxietyFearAnger or aggressionSadness or depressionConstant annoyance and crankinessFeeling burdenedFeeling abandoned and isolated
Cognitive Symptoms:Inability to concentratePoor judgmentNegative thinking and pessimismWorrying too muchForgetfulness, and disorganization.Physical Symptoms.Perspiring profuselyArrhythmiasMigrainesDigestive issues such as constipation, bloating, or diarrhea.Abdominal issues such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or ulcersChanges in breathing (shallow breathing or hyperventilation).Aches and painsProblems with digestionNauseousness and dizziness.Loss of sex driveWeak immune system

Does Stress Have An Impact On Mental Health?

Yes, stress does have an impact on your mental health. Research shows that when you are stressed out, the chemical transmitters (that send messages between your nerve cells) are released. This lets out stress hormones which influence different areas of the brain that controls your emotions. When this process occurs repetitively, it affects how well our body can handle stress.

Continuous stress elevates the risk of getting depression and anxiety in some people. Being unable to manage the intense feelings can bring about issues with your mental health, or make any existing problems worse. 

Although, some of the signs of stress may imitate the signs of mental illness; It can be challenging to tell the difference between the two and know which came first. 

How Can You Identify Stress?

Oftentimes, someone else will recognize stress in you, because it is not always so straightforward to recognize it yourself.  It is simple to assume that these feelings will lapse over time, however, that might not be the case. It is natural to hesitate to ask for help when feeling stressed as you might see it as an ordinary challenge. But, if being stressed is inhibiting you from going about your day-to-day life, then it is important to take the necessary steps to change.

  • Acknowledgment. You need to accept that the stress and tension is impacting you and contributing to your unhappiness.
  • Identifying triggers. It is important to find out what is stimulating you negatively or setting off these behaviors.
  • Get help: Once you know what is triggering you, get help from a mental health professional, who will provide psychotherapy services to help reduce your stress and manage it better.

What are some ways to Prevent Stress?

Various triggers cause stress. Knowing your triggers may make it easier to form a plan on ways to deal with stress and manage your mental health. Some ways to be able to prevent stress are as follows.

  • Living a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise produces endorphins (happy hormones) that help boost your physical and mental health. 
  • Creating a support system. Having social support has been widely studied as a factor that minimizes stress, improves your health, and decreases your mortality risk.
  • Get a hobby. Research shows that hobbies are a great tool to battle everyday stress, promote healthy mental well-being, and keep your mind sharp. 
  • Diet. Consuming a well-balanced diet is paramount in assisting your body to navigate the physiological changes caused by stress. 
  • Use relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques- such as meditation, yoga, music and art therapy, and aromatherapy- can reduce the symptoms of stress and help you enjoy a better quality of life. 

Even though stress is your body’s natural response to being triggered, too much stress can affect your mental health drastically. It is important to know when you are stressed and recognize the signs that show your stress is becoming chronic. A healthy lifestyle and coping skills can help you develop a better stress response, and preserve your mental health. Please feel free to comment on the content or ask any questions in the comments section below.

FAQs.

How does stress affect your brain?

Due to some of the effects of stress on the body, stress can directly affect your brain. Some of the ways that stress can affect your brain are:

  • Making you irritable which can inhibit your ability to focus
  • The release of high amounts of stress hormones can lead to worsening of memory
  • Shrinking the brain.

What illnesses can stress cause?

Some of the health problems that one can get due to being stressed are Heart disease, Obesity, Mental health illnesses such as anxiety or depression, Sexual dysfunctions, Alzheimer’s, and Kidney disorders- to name a few.

What are the 3 types of stress?

Some of the types of stress one may experience are

  • Acute stress.
  • Episodic acute stress.
  • Chronic stress.

Citations:

Center, C. K. Y. (2021, October 20). 15 Stress-Relieving Hobbies You Should Try Now. Kentucky Counseling Center. https://kentuckycounselingcenter.com/15-stress-relieving-hobbies/

MQ Mental Health. (2018, May 16). Coping: Stress and Mental Health. MQ Mental Health Research. https://www.mqmentalhealth.org/stress-and-mental-health/ 

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