Have you ever felt several tabs opened in your head? Do you often find yourself thinking of so many things at once? This is a cue that you might be going through stress. Stress is a psychological effect that can manifest as a feeling of loss of control, exhaustion, irritability, aggression, or sadness. Stress can take several forms, but ultimately, it takes a toll on your mental health and overall quality of life. Stress itself is not a disease, but when you frequently undergo stress, it heightens your risk of developing mental health issues like anxiety, psychosis, depression, and substance abuse.
Stress is typically a reaction to situations that we perceive to be out of our control or threatening. It can be associated with positive happenings (childbirth, relocation, or getting a new job), or negative happenings (losing a loved one, financial incapacity, or heartbreak). The cause and degree of stress vary for each individual, and so is the coping mechanism you develop to fight the stressful event. It is pertinent to recognize that the way you react to situations plays an essential role in triggering stress. Events or stressors that are stressful for one individual might not be for another, and vice versa.
What Are Stressors?
Stressors are situations or event that causes stress. It could be a biological or environmental condition or anything you as an individual consider challenging, demanding, or threatening. Stressors influence your mood, sense of well-being, health, and behavior. Acute stress responses in a healthy person can be adaptive and will typically not impose a health burden. However, if the stress does not subside, particularly in unhealthy or older persons, the long-term side effects of stressors can cause damage to your health. The relationship between disease and psychosocial stressors is affected by the persistence and type of the stressors as well as by your biological vulnerability (i.e., constitutional, and genetic factors), learned patterns of coping and psychosocial resources. This is why psychosocial interventions like art therapy, group therapy, etc have proven useful in combating stress-related disorders and ultimately influence the course of some chronic diseases (2).
What Are The Common Psychological Effects of Stress?
Chronic stress affect can affect your physiological well-being, causing negative emotional reactions. Reactions to a stressful happening may include:
A feeling of shock, sadness, numbness
Difficulty in sleeping and concentrating
Use of tobacco or hard substances
Physical reactions, such as body pains and headaches
Anxiety and panic attacks
Worsening of previous mental health conditions
Lack of self-confidence
Loss of appetite, energy, or interest
Feeling hopeless and depressed
Worsening chronic health issues
When Does Stress Become a Problem?
A certain amount of stress is part of our daily life. A small amount of stress can help you meet assignment deadlines, be prepared for presentations, arrive on time for important events, and be more productive. These examples of stress are called acute stress. They last for only a short time and are very intense. However, long-term stress can become dangerous. You might experience long-term stress if you’re under pressure continuously. When stress becomes prolonged and draining, the risks for medical problems and mental health issues increase. This stress is called chronic stress, as it lasts for a long period.
Is Stress A Mental Health Issue?
Stress is not considered a mental health issue, but it is associated with your mental health in so many ways. Experiencing a very traumatic event can cause PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Stress can cause changes in your body ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms can be emotional, behavioral, or cognitive. When under stress, your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) takes charge. This system regulates the functions of the internal organs, such as the stomach, heart, and intestines. The ANS when under chronic begins to act oddly, causing metabolic and cardiovascular disorders.
What Are the Causes and Risk Factors Of Stress?
The frequency, intensity, and duration of stress are different for each individual. Various factors can worsen your experience of stress, such as when you
Have difficulty tolerating multiple stressors
Have difficulty tolerating distress
Interpret the stressor negatively, making you feel overwhelmed or helpless.
Have limited social support
Have difficulty balancing your emotions
Do not feel you can cope with the stressor
When Should You Seek Help for Stress?
As I mentioned earlier on, it is normal to undergo stress. It becomes a problem when it is chronic, and you cannot seem to manage it on your own. You should seek medical attention if you notice:
You are starting to have thoughts of suicide
You cannot cope with the demand and pressure of life
Repetitive memories of a traumatic event
When you are abusing drugs or excessive alcohol intake to help you through the day
You have done everything possible to manage your stress, but it persists
You experience shortness of breath, dizziness, or chest pain
When you notice a major decline in school or work
What Are the Physical Effects of Stress?
Many people think stress only affects the mental health of an individual. But in the real sense of it, stress also affects your physical health and contributes to many health problems. Here are some of the physical effects you may experience.
1. Digestive system
Stress increases the production of acid in the stomach, thereby increasing your chances of developing acid reflux disease, stomach ulcers, constipation, and diarrhea. When you’re stressed, your liver provides extra glucose to give you energy. Due to chronic stress, your body may not be able to meet up with the extra glucose surge, increasing your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
2. Immune system
When under stress, your body stimulates the immune system which can be a plus to fight infections. But over time, these stress hormones weaken your immune system leading to less immunity. This exposes your body’s defense system and makes you susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Stress can also increase your recovery time from an injury or illness.
3. Cardiovascular system
When You’re Stressed, your heart begins to beat and pump blood faster to the body. The hormones stress releases constrict the blood vessels to send more oxygen to your muscles for more strength to act. This action also increases your blood pressure. In the long run, your heart works too hard, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
4. Muscular System
The muscles tighten to prevent themselves from injury or impact when you’re stressed. They release again once you relax. But when you’re constantly under stress, you do not get the chance to relax, leading to headaches, shoulder pain, and body aches.
What Are Some Techniques to Cope With Stress?
These days it’s difficult not to get overwhelmed sometimes. Between juggling school, family, jobs, and other commitments, you can get too busy and feel stressed out. To keep your stress under control, it is important to participate in activities you enjoy or some relaxation techniques that have proven to alleviate stress. Most importantly, it is essential you deal with stress as quickly as possible to prevent it from becoming chronic. Here are some ways to cope with stress.
1. Make Time and Take Care of Yourself
Treat yourself with love and kindness and avoid self-criticism. Take time to explore and enjoy the things you love the most. Eat healthy and balanced meals, avoid excessive alcohol intake, and get enough sleep.
Doing regular exercises is one way to ensure a relaxed body and mind. It helps improve your mood and decreases symptoms of mild anxiety and depression. Being physically active helps your body pump endorphins (feel-good hormones). Exercises such as hiking, swimming, game of tennis, jogging, and biking all provide stress relief for your body. Take deep breaths, meditate, and do yoga.
3. Surround Yourself with Good People
People with a strong support system or social connections are generally healthier and happier than those who do not. Seek out opportunities to meet new people such as a support group, class, church, or a party. Share your problems and how you feel with people whom you trust. Communicating your problems will help you feel less burdened and reduce your stress.
4. Make time to Get Organized
If your outer world is chaotic, it can cause your mind to be in disarray and make you feel more stressed. Tidy and clean up your room and maintain a healthy environment. This brings calmness and gives you a sense of control.
5. Know Your Triggers
Understanding and being able to identify stressors (situations) that makes you feel stressed is important. These are your triggers and avoiding them is best.
6. Turn off your screens.
Spending too much time on your phone does not always help when you feel stressed. Instead, form a habit of turning off your laptop or phone a few hours before going to bed. You can also set limits on certain apps to make sure you do not spend too much time on your screen.
7. Manage and prioritize tasks
To avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed, consider using a system that prioritizes important tasks first and gradually do the less important ones. Writing down your schedule or to-do list will help organize your thoughts and help you work faster without distractions.
8. Use Aromatherapy
Research suggests that scents found in essential oils can reduce the stress levels in our bodies. It could be a diffuser, scented candles, or fresh flowers to calm you when you are stressed.
9. Reduce your caffeine intake
Because individuals that are stressed tend to consume unhealthy food and drinks, drinking a lot of caffeinated drinks is not far-fetched. Coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate contain caffeine. Caffeine causes several side effects like heart palpitations. Reducing your caffeine intake will help you sleep better. You could have a warm milky drink or herbal tea instead.
10. Develop critical thinking skills
It is common to jump to conclusions and perceive the worst about threats. But critical thinking will help you discern these apparent threats to determine if they’re threatening.
Four Benefits of Managing Stress
Learning how to manage stress is important for your long-term well-being. In other to limit the effects of stress on your physical or mental health, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle and if need be, ask for help from a professional. Here are some of the benefits of managing stress.
1. Better Immune system
Stress weakens immunity and makes you prone to diseases. Stress reduction and relaxation help strengthen your body’s natural defense mechanism.
2. A healthy weight
Stress can cause you to binge eat or lose weight due to bulimia and anorexia respectively. These are conditions associated with depression and anxiety. Reducing your stress level can help you have control over your cravings and appetite.
3. Improved mood and relationships
Stress can make you irritable, feeling anxious, and moody. These actions affect the way you relate with people around you and as a result, put a strain on your relationships. By reducing your stress levels, balance is restored
4. Better Sleep Pattern
Lack of sleep can be caused by stress due to excess adrenalin in your bloodstream causing muscle tension. You tend to sleep better when your stress levels are under control.
In summary, however you experience stress, however, it changes you, and you need to remember that you are not alone. Your mental health is important and does not let anyone make you feel less of yourself. We prioritize everyone’s mental health, and we will always be here to give you support.
Brennan, D. (2021). What to Know About Stress and How It Affects Your Mental Health. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-and-how-it-affects-your-mental-health
Felman, A. (2020, March 12). Stress: Why does it happen and how can we manage it? Www.medicalnewstoday.com. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/145855
Hitti, M. (2009, June 19). Causes of Stress. WebMD; WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/causes-of-stress
Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel, S. D. (2015). Stress and health: Psychological, behavioral, and biological determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1(1), 607–628. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141