Can Stress Affect Mental Health?
Stress is your body’s response to any stressor or demand. Stressors can be as simple as traffic, or a dog barking at your when you’re on a walk, or as complicated as relationships or finances. When you undergo a stressful situation or are confronted with a stressor, your body responds by releasing hormones. The chemicals released when your body sends the “stress alert” include adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals do not only affect your physical stress response. There are also many effects of stress on mental health.
Adrenaline raises your heart rate, elevating your blood pressure and boosting energy. Cortisol increases sugars in the bloodstream. Cortisol also stops functions that are not essential in a “fight or flight” situation like the immune system, the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes.
When the things causing you stress go away, these hormones decrease and your system returns to normal. However, when the things that cause you stress are daily events or situations, it can affect your health in many ways. Some of the physical effects of prolonged stress include increased risk of digestive issues, heart disease, sleeping problems, and weight gain.
Stress doesn’t only cause physical symptoms. There are also some psychological and mental stress symptoms that you may be able to identify. If you have any of the following mental stress symptoms, it may be an indicator of something more serious than just daily stress. If you are experiencing these effects of stress on mental health, you may want to discuss them with your health care provider. These symptoms include:
- Difficulty managing anger or your temper – if your stress is making you unable to control or manage your feelings, it is probably affecting your relationships. One of the most important ways to relieve or manage stress is by being supported by family, friends, and colleagues. If you’re finding it difficult to control negative feelings, it may help to seek counseling.
- Obsessive or compulsive behaviors – if you notice that you have developed rituals or feel the need to do something a very specific way or else it will cause you anxiety you may have too much stress in your life to handle alone. These rituals, which are behaviors your mind has composed to help alleviate anxiety and stress, can do the opposite by creating more stress. They can become a burden of energy and time.
- Chronic fatigue or lack of energy – when your system is in “fight or flight” mode all the time, and your heart is beating rapidly, you’re bound to feel exhausted. This exhaustion can contribute to feeling uninterested in things you used to enjoy, and lack of patience with others, affecting your personal relationships.
- Lack of sexual desire – losing the desire to have sex or being unable to feel excitement and pleasure in the sexual act can point to being over-stressed. While it could be a stressor within the relationship that causes this lack of desire, it is also possible it could be caused by another thing that’s stressing you out altogether.
- Mood swings – if your close friends and family have told you that your recent behaviors are inappropriate, out of character, or erratic, something may be wrong. Even while you may not have noticed, listen to those around you who you trust. Mental stress may be coming out in ways you didn’t even realize.