How to Stop Stress From Impacting Your Mental Health

Block letters that spell out -ess show how stress or wellness can impact mental health

Stress is a leading cause of illness for both mental and physical health. Here are some ways stress can impact your mental health – and what to do about it!

Key takeaways:

  • Stress is a normal response to the demands of life.

  • Our bodies may perceive high levels of stress as threatening or dangerous, even if we’re physically safe and everything is fine.

  • Good stress, or eustress, can be helpful.

  • Long-term chronic stress can be harmful. It can cause mental and physical health problems.

  • Stress can affect us mentally, physically, and behaviorally.

  • It can come from any area of your life, including home, work, school, or your social life.

  • Some risk factors cause your stress to seem unmanageable.

  • There are many ways to manage stress, but if you feel that you’re unable to proactively do so, therapy can help.

Stress is a natural, normal response to the demands of life. Good stress, or eustress, can help you meet deadlines or arrive on time for events. Long-term chronic stress, however, can be harmful. When stress becomes overwhelming and chronic, the likelihood of mental and physical health problems increases.

Our bodies are amazing, and they can do a lot to keep us alive, safe, and well. When we experience high levels of stress, however, our bodies perceive the situation as threatening or dangerous – even if we’re safe and everything’s fine.

When we are stressed, our brains make chemicals called hormones. These hormones are supposed to help you run away or fight in a life-threatening situation. This response is called the “fight or flight” response, and it activates itself to protect you.

When your “fight or flight” response is chronically activated, it can lead to issues such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, substance use, and even medical problems like difficulty conceiving, cardiovascular disease, immune system issues, gastrointestinal problems, and more. How does bad stress impact mental health and how can you combat it? We explain.

Common symptoms of stress

Stress can impact your health, both mentally and physically, in a variety of ways. It can also impact your behavior. Here are some of the signs and symptoms to watch out for.

Impact on your body: Stress can cause things like muscle tensions and pain, headaches, chest pain, problems sleeping, stomach upset, or changes in your sex drive.

Impact on your mind: Stress may cause feelings of sadness/depression, anxiety, restlessness, feelings of overwhelm, irritability, or anger, or a lack of motivation and focus.

Impact on your behavior: Stress can cause changes to your eating habits (overeating or undereating), drug or alcohol use, angry outbursts, exercising less often, increased isolation, or tobacco use.

Recognizing the many ways that it can bring negative changes to your life is necessary if you want to develop healthy ways to beat it. Failing to manage your stress can contribute to health problems, including issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. The good news is that it’s very manageable and can be reduced at any time.

Causes of stress

Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. It’s a typical response to the demands and pressures of everyday life. Unfortunately, sometimes people find that they don’t have enough resources to cope with the demands being placed on them. Here are some common sources of stress:

  • Your physical environment

  • Your relationships

  • Situations at work

  • Life situations, such as financial difficulties or illness

  • Major life changes, such as the loss of a recent relationship, a death, a job change, or a move

As with anything, it’s not always the event itself that’s important, but how you react to or cope with it, which leads us to our next point.

Risk factors that can make stress worse

Some situations, although positive – such as getting married or buying a house – can still generate stress. How long the stress lasts or how intense it is will be different for each person. Some risk factors can make experiencing stress worse, such as:

  • Having limited or no social support

  • Having multiple stressors

  • Emotional dysregulation

  • Difficulty coping with demands

  • Lacking self-confidence in your ability to cope

  • Feeling powerless or overwhelmed when confronted with stressors

If you have any of these risk factors, it may be time to consider coming up with a coping skills plan. Coping skills will help you manage your stress when things get overwhelming. And, you won’t have to worry about finding solutions as you’ll already have a plan laid out on how to immediately cope.

Ways to manage your stress

If you’ve noticed that you’re experiencing stress, taking action to