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This is How Stress Affects Your Emotional and Mental Health

When someone is under chronic stress, it begins to negatively affect his or her physical, emotional, intellectual, and mental health. Many of us encounter stress from multiple sources: work, money, family, health, relationships, and other personal errands.

Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is directly caused by a certain danger.

However, stress can also be a bad thing if it is being created in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength. Let’s discuss different causes of stress, how stress affects you, the difference between ‘good’ or ‘positive’ stress and ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ stress, and some common facts about how stress affects people today.

According to Health.Com, stress is highly personal, with one person’s unpleasant experience being another’s exhilarating adventure. And a little bit of stress is thought to be good for memory and motivation. However, about 70% of doctor visits and 80% of serious illnesses may be exacerbated or linked to stress.

Stress triggers a hormonal fight-or-flight reaction that speeds up the heart and quickens breathing. In small amounts, stress is natural and may even be beneficial. But learning to manage stress is key to preventing health problems such as depression or insomnia.

The American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” report provides a useful table, shown above, indicating the effects of stress on your body, your mood, and your behavior.

Stress and Anxiety Disorders

Some people who are stressed can show relatively mild outward signs of anxiety, such as fidgeting, biting their fingernails, tapping their feet, etc. In other people, chronic activation of stress hormones can contribute to severe feelings of anxiety (e.g. racing heartbeat, nausea, sweaty palms, etc.), feelings of helplessness and a sense of impending doom. Thought patterns that lead to stress can also leave people vulnerable to intense anxiety feelings.

Anxiety or dread feelings that persist for an extended period of time; which cause people to worry excessively about upcoming situations (or potential situations); which lead to avoidance; and cause people to have difficulty coping with everyday situations, may be symptoms of one or more Anxiety Disorders. Anxiety Disorders (such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or Panic Disorder) are one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders today.

The continuous presence of stress hormones in the body may alter the operation and structure of some aspects of the nervous system. More specifically, stress hormones may decrease the functioning of neurons (brain cells) in a region of the brain known as the hippocampus (a part of the brain that is important for laying down new long-term memories) and in the frontal lobes (the part of the brain that is necessary for paying attention, filtering out irrelevant information, and using judgment to solve problems). As a result, people who are chronically stressed, may experience confusion, difficulty concentrating, trouble learning new information, and/or problems with decision-making.

Link between Stress & Mental Health

Although many studies have shown a link between stress and mental health problems, the reason behind this connection has remained unclear. According to a recent research from the University of California, Berkeley, has discovered new insight into why stress can be so detrimental to a person’s psyche.

Previous research has found physical differences in the brains of people with stress disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and those without. One of the main distinctions is that the ratio of the brain’s white matter to gray matter is higher in those with stress-related mental disorders compared to those without.

People who experience chronic stress have a white matter in some areas of the brain. The UC Berkeley study wanted to find out the underlying reason for this alteration in the brain composition.

Stress and Personality Changes

The term personality is used to describe the consistent individual patterns of thoughts, emotion, and behavior that characterizes each person across time and situations. Each individual’s personality is thought to be influenced by both an inherited “genetic” component (usually called temperament) and by their interactions with the environment. Some people experience personality changes in response to stress hormones, which are part of their internal environment.

Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses.

The following changes in personality are not uncommon to observe in people who are stressed:

  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Aggressive feelings and behavior
  • Decreased interest in appearance
  • Decreased concern with punctuality
  • Obsessive/compulsive behavior (trying to cope with unwanted repeated thoughts or obsessions, by engaging in compulsive behavior rituals such as counting, checking, washing, etc.)
  • Reduced work efficiency or productivity
  • Lying or making excuses to cover up poor work
  • Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
  • Problems in communication
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Impulsivity (expressed as impulse buying, gambling, sexual behavior, or any similar activity)

 

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