Here's How Stress Affects Your Mental Health

No matter where you live or what your background, every person on the planet experiences stress in various forms. Financial stress, problems at work or with relationships, changes in status, and even environmental stressors, including noise and pollution, all take their toll. 

Stressful situations are a normal part of life, but if you have too many stressors, experience a severely stressful situation — such as the loss of a job, loved one, or relationship —  or have survived a traumatic event, including abuse or war, stress may affect your physical and mental health. The expert counselors at The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling help children, teens, and adults in New York City learn how to manage and relieve stress. Following are just a few of the ways that unmanaged stress affects your mental health.

Your body is tense or hurting

Stress triggers the fight-or-flight response in your body, which causes you to produce more of the “stress” hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Too much adrenaline and cortisol in your body can cause you to clench your muscles, leading to physical symptoms such as:

Being in a constant state of alert doesn’t allow your mind to relax, increasing your chances for developing anxiety and depression. Chronic stress also raises your risk for other physical problems, such as digestive diseases and diabetes — which can themselves cause more stress and anxiety.

You have trouble sleeping or focusing

When you’re worried or have repetitive thoughts, you may have difficulty sleeping. Insomnia takes many forms, including not being able to fall asleep easily, waking up in the middle of the night, or waking up too early.

If your brain doesn’t get the deep, restorative, and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep it needs each night, it can’t remove toxins, repair cells, or process the day’s events. In the morning, you may have difficulty waking up or feel sleepy throughout the day. At work or school, you might find it challenging to stay focused and alert.

Your brain can’t function optimally when you’re tired, so it’s harder to see solutions when you’re faced with a problem.  Even small challenges may seem insurmountable, leading to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and depression.

You don’t enjoy things the way you once did

When you’re stressed by too many changes or challenges, you may find yourself losing interest in activities that once brought you joy and excitement. Maybe you stay home instead of going out to restaurants with friends, or perhaps you’ve lost interest in sex.

If you’ve stopped participating in life as fully as you once did, you may be experiencing depression. When you’re depressed, you may also lose your appetite or find that food doesn’t taste as good as it once did.

How to manage stress

Once you’ve recognized that you’re having trouble managing stress, you can initiate self-care steps to help you release pent-up worry and energy. Some easy ways of managing stress include:

Deep breathing exercises

When you feel tense, confused, or upset, take the time to sit quietly and breathe deeply for a few moments to calm your nervous system.

Physical exercise

Engaging in physical exercise, such as walking or playing sports, subdues stress hormones and raises the levels of feel-good hormones, such as endorphins. Taking time to exercise every day also works off excess tension, allowing your body to relax and fall asleep at night more easily.

Stretching your muscles

If you don’t have time to go for a jog when you feel stressed, simply doing a few stretching exercises helps your muscles and body relax.

Eating fresh, healthy foods

Comfort foods like junk foods may feel like solace in the moment, but they don’t nourish your body. Add more fresh vegetables and fruits to your diet to combat stress and improve your mental health.

Engaging in mindfulness or prayer

Spending a few minutes each day focusing on gratitude or just watching your breathing can calm your nervous system and give you relief from stress.

Talking it out

Friends and family can be great sounding boards when you’re in stressful situations. Sometimes just being able to express your thoughts is enough to help you put them in perspective. Even if you don’t feel like talking about the issues that worry you, spending time with people you love increases your sense of wellbeing.

Getting help

Everyone needs help sometimes. If you’re having difficulty coping with stress and managing the mental and physical symptoms of being overstressed, such as anxiety and depression, we offer relief. Our counselors are experts in a variety of evidence-based therapies that teach you stress-management techniques and coping mechanisms, so you can navigate your life with more ease.  

To set up an evaluation and consultation, call us today, or use the helpful online contact form.

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