It's no secret that stress levels are high these days. Whether it's work, family, money, or health concerns, it seems like there's always something to worry about. And while occasional stress is normal and can even be motivating, when it becomes chronic stress, it can take a serious toll on our mental and physical health.
So How Does Stress Affect Your Mental Health
A major study published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences in 2016 explored stress's impact on the brain. What they found was a strong link between chronic stress and psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression. During a stressful life event, a neurological process is triggered, allowing you to react in a quick and efficient way. However, if you are experiencing prolonged and excessive stress, it may lead to maladaptive changes in your brain structure, increasing the possibility of you developing pathological conditions like anxiety and mood disorders. You may also find yourself struggling to remember things or complete your daily tasks as there is evidence that stress shrinks the prefrontal cortex-the part of your brain responsible for higher-order tasks.
So, why does stress cause mental health issues? The researchers suggest that it could be due to the immune system becoming hyper-sensitized to stressors.
So How Does Stress Affect Your Physical Health
Stress has a serious impact on our bodies in many ways. When stress becomes chronic it can actually lead to conditions like coronary artery disease, diabetes, and depression. According to the American Psychology Association, stress can impact your physical well-being in various ways. Chronic stress can lead to the development or worsening of the disease and higher susceptibility to frequent illnesses. For example, stress has been linked to an increased risk of coronary disease, obesity, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. You may also experience changes in your body due to overeating, smoking, and other bad habits people tend to use in an attempt to cope with the stress.
Stress is also linked to mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and increased anger. These issues can also increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and even pre
mature death. In a nutshell, chronic stress may actually shorten your life.
These are just some of the ways stress can affect your physical and mental health, but there are ways to manage these stressors.
What You Can Do To Reduce Your Stress Levels
The good news is that reducing stress is easier than you might think. You just need to learn how to manage it.
Six ways to reduce your stress levels:
Take a break: When you start to feel overwhelmed, take a few minutes to yourself to regroup. Step away from your work, go for a walk, or take a nap.
Eat healthy: Eating nutritious foods helps your body manage stress better. Make sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet.
Exercise: Exercise releases endorphins, which help improve your mood and relieve stress. A moderate amount of exercise is the key to maintaining your sanity.
Get organized: One of the best ways to reduce stress is to organize your life. Make a list of tasks and priorities, and stick to them.
Take time for yourself: Make sure to schedule some time each day for you to relax and do something you enjoy. This can be anything from reading a book to taking a yoga class.
Seek support: Cognitive Behavior and Solution Focused are two great counseling approaches to help manage stress. Aspen Counseling and Wellness has therapists trained to assist with finding solutions to help you manage stress levels.
Stress is never a good thing, but if we make conscious decisions about how to approach it and what to do when it arises, we can learn to manage our stress in a productive way. Keep your thoughts and actions positive and you will likely get more done and feel better in the long run.
As a therapist, I know life can be stressful and overwhelming at times. Our counselors help individuals problem-solve and focus on what matters most to them. Solving problems and creating lasting change is what we do. That's why we focus on tailoring our approach to your unique needs. Our licensed professional counselors offer personalized services that can work with your life. We help you establish the daily practices that help you achieve peace, strengthen relationships, and build a stronger foundation for a meaningful, purposeful future.
Tafet, G. E., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2016). The links between stress and depression: psychoneuroendocrinological, genetic, and environmental interactions. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 28(2), 77-88.
Gianaros, P. J., & Wager, T. D. (2015). Brain-body pathways linking psychological stress and physical health. Current directions in psychological science, 24(4), 313-321.
Krantz, D.S. & McCeney, M.K. (2002). “Effects of psychological and social factors on organic disease: A critical assessment of research on coronary heart disease.” Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 341–369.
Krantz, D. R., Thorn, B., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2013). How stress affects your health. American Psychological Association.