Reading time: 2 minutesPublished: August 18, 2018
Is stress overloading your mental health? Although stress is unpleasant, it is not an illness. There are connections between stress and mental health conditions which include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychosis.
Stress manifests in various ways. It causes physical changes in the body. Heart rate and breathing increase and the muscles tense. Short-term memory becomes more effective as it becomes more focused. This stress response has evolved to keep us safe, as it prepares the body for ‘fight or flight’ when we sense danger. Research has also shown that thinking skills improve as stress increases. So in short bursts, stress can be a good thing. It can help us prepare for a sports event, job interview or exam. We can focus better and it may explain why some of us claim to function better when we are stressed. Our bodies return to normal once the stress has passed.
However, long term stress (known as chronic stress) is quite different to short term stress. Many situations can cause a stress response in the body. Changes at work, illness, accidents, problems with relationships, family and money issues are all stressful. What links all these situations is that we’re unable to predict and control what is happening to us, so our body goes into a state of increased alertness. And these events can happen all the time - triggering the body’s stress response over and over again.
When the stress response becomes prolonged (chronic), it has a very different effect to the short bursts that enhance the body’s abilities. In many cases, the system controlling the stress response is no longer able to return to its normal state. Attention, memory, and the way we deal with emotions are negatively impacted.
Some of the emotional and behavioural symptoms of stress overlap with those of mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. This can make it hard to distinguish where one begins and the other ends, or which came first. Someone who is stressed may feel worried, down, unable to concentrate or make decisions. They may even be angry and irritable.
Stress also impacts the immune system in a negative way. It is chronic stress and prolonged activation of the immune system which negatively affect how the brain functions.
It is interesting to note that prolonged activation of the immune system is linked to depression. It is now thought that about 30% of people with depression have increased immune activity in the body.
If you are feeling stressed the first thing to do is to try and identify the cause of the stress and tackle it. There are so many sources of stress and it can be difficult to find time to relax and disengage. This is why stress is one of the biggest health problems facing people today.
Sometimes, it isn’t possible to simply change a situation and prevent the stress. You can help control to it with stress management which may be effective in improving health.Tips and pointers can be found on the NHS website.
There you will find advice on different ways to beat stress, from exercise, to mindfulness and breathing exercises - all of which have been shown to help. Visit their site for more information. Keep on top of your stress levels and make sure that stress is not overloading your mental health.
Written by: Mimi