Stress is something which affects everyone. No matter how stress-free your life may seem, stress factors are likely to have played a part in the background long before you notice them. Whether you’re having problems at work or you’ve got something big happening in your life like moving house, stress can come from all sorts of places. Let’s take a look at what stress does to mental health and how it can affect you long term if stress levels get too high for one reason or another.
1) Stress hormones raise anxiety
Stress hormones are the ones that trigger an ‘alarm’ when you become stressed – they increase heart rate, circulate blood faster and make breathing faster via increased oxygen intake. These stress hormones are called cortisol (in humans), corticosterone (in rodents like rats or mice). Both stress hormones are known to rise anxiety levels, so stress affects mental health far beyond the stress period.
2) Stress reduces mood-boosting chemicals
Stress releases stress hormones that makes your body feel like it’s in danger – stress hormones block brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) like serotonin and dopamine, making you feel less happy than normal. This is one of the reasons why stress can cause depression or make it worse.
3) Stress changes neural connections
Stress has an impact on short term memory loss, but also on long term one – stress changes neuroplasticity (the ability for neurons to rewire themselves via forming new connections), which means that stress makes learning difficult. If you’re struggling to intake new information at work or home, or struggling with memory, it can be because your stress levels are too high.
4) Stress makes you more likely to become ill and also impacts on healing
Stress lowers the immune system, which means your body isn’t as prepared to fight off germs when stress hits. The same goes for when stress can impact wound-healing – stress has negative effects on skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne rosacea.
5) Stress can lead to insomnia or disturb sleep quality
Depending on your stress levels, it might be hard for you to fall asleep in the first place – but stress can also cause night terrors and nightmares too. When we’re stressed, it’s easy for our minds to drift into thinking about stressful events and our bodies start producing stress-related hormones like cortisol. You can improve this by using mindfulness apps which are designed to help you drift off.
6) It encourages smoking, drinking and drug use
Anxiety, stress and stress hormones are basically the perfect mixture for encouraging bad habits. Those who are stressed are more likely to drink more frequently but in greater quantities. Smoking is another vice which people with stress are more likely to partake of – stress makes you crave nicotine because of cortisol-related impulsive behaviours. Finally drug use can rise because stress has a negative effect on our immune system making it harder for us to fight illnesses – anything that might give us temporary relief from feeling ill seems like a good idea at the time especially if stress levels continue to increase!
7) Stress can cause mood swings
When under stress, it’s common for people to experience emotional outbursts or appear short tempered. Sometimes stress-related emotions can appear quite unexpectedly and cause stress to escalate. This is why we stress about stress so much – it’s hard to predict the way we will react to stressors and this unpredictability of stress makes us feel as though we are losing control.
8) Stress makes us more vulnerable to more stress
Those who tend to be stress-adverse are those who have a greater risk of developing stress disorders. This could be due to the fact that stress-averse people tend to be more sensitive and therefore perceive stressful situations as a threat, whereas stress-tolerant people often see stress as an opportunity for growth and development.
9) Stress can kill
Stress has been linked with many health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. In addition, stress slows down the process of wound healing. Once again this may be because stress causes us to secrete cortisol which has been shown to slow down cell growth – any open wounds or injuries can therefore take much longer to heal.
10) Stress can make you put on weight
The stress hormone cortisol plays a part in fat storage. Cortisol triggers the release of substances called lipids, which are broken down by cells to produce energy or stored as body fat. This stress-induced weight gain often occurs around the abdomen and is associated with higher stress levels and anxiety. Stress also depresses our appetite; this could be why stress-induced overeating is so common!
In conclusion, stress is not just an everyday part of life that we have to deal with. In fact, it affects us all on a daily basis. There are ways to reduce stress but stress is unavoidable in most societies. It’s important to be aware of the impact stress has on mental health and act accordingly.