How chronic stress affects mental health

How chronic stress affects mental health

There are those who believe that life today is more stressful than in the past, while there are those who believe that life in the past was even more so. There is clearly no simple answer as to which belief is accurate, but one thing is certain: experiencing stress is normal.

Not only is it normal to experience stress, but it is also known to produce some benefits. For one, stress helps you develop an impulse to avoid danger, often characterized by a quickening pulse, heavy breathing, and tense muscles. Stress can also act as a motivator when you’re going through challenging situations such as applying for a job, studying for an exam, or resolving personal conflicts.

However, too much stress can be harmful.

What is chronic stress?

There are times when stress becomes overwhelming and seems insurmountable. In such situations, a person experiences chronic stress, a type of stress that goes on for a prolonged period of time that may be caused by serious life events, including financial troubles, highly demanding jobs, and difficult relationships.

Everyday stresses are to be expected and are relatively easy to manage. But while others are capable of managing their stressors, others struggle to do so. Multiple studies show that personality, genetics, early stressful life experiences, and social factors are reliable indicators of a person’s ability to handle stress.

To avoid chronic stress, it’s crucial to take steps to make lifestyle and behavior changes. Otherwise, you risk suffering from physical and mental harm.

The dangers of chronic stress

A person experiencing chronic stress may resort to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as overeating, which may eventually lead to obesity and other serious medical conditions. Moreover, research shows that people who live in stressful environments (i.e., those with frequent natural disasters, high divorce rates, and business failures) tend to smoke more heavily and suffer higher mortality from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

According to the American Psychological Association’s study, Stress in America, 33% of Americans never discuss their stress management plan with their healthcare provider. As a result, they don’t take steps to manage stress or improve their lifestyle. Unmanaged, chronic stress may result in a weakened immune system, indigestion, insomnia, high blood pressure, and a host of other illnesses.

Studies have shown that the onset of depression may be caused by severe life stressors such as unemployment, the death of a loved one, and divorce. Anxiety disorders are also known to be the result of these stressful life events. Moreover, acute stress and substance abuse are also closely linked.

Ways to manage stress

There are ways to manage stress to regain control of your life.

  • Identity the causes – Whether it’s related to work, school, personal relationships, or the media, knowing what’s causing your stress is an important step to tackling it. You may not be able to identify all causes, but learning what your usual triggers are (e.g., a recurring illness, ongoing work challenges, etc.) can help you address those that cause and exacerbate your stress.
  • Exercise regularly and stay active – Physical activities like brisk walking, running, and playing sports for 30 minutes a day are great ways to reduce stress. When you perform physical activities, your body increases its production of endorphins (also known as feel-good chemicals).
  • Set stress-reduction goals – Trying to please everybody is one of the surefire ways to increase stress. Whether at work or at home, learning to say no and to compromise are some of the steps you can take to regain control of your health.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek help – Stress is an unavoidable fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be your way of life. Reach out to friends and family who can provide emotional support. Do relaxing activities every once in a while. Also, consider consulting a mental health professional who can recommend behavior changes and treat chronic stress via therapy and, under certain circumstances, medications.
  • There’s a certain limit to how much stress the body can take. When that limit is reached, the body suffers from severe physical and mental stress. If you're having difficulties coping with everyday and recurring stressors or are feeling overwhelmed by work and personal troubles, reach out to Meridian Psychiatric Partners LLC to get the help you need.