Stress affects mental health and physical health in a variety of ways. And sometimes, stress isn’t something that we always know how to handle.
Through challenging times, we all find ways to cope. The types of stress that we have in our life is important to understand. Stress can be classified through a number of ways.
All the factors that contribute to stress are typically foundational in our life.
Stress can affect mental health in ways that we may not always see. Our body can be affected from the waves of stress–all presenting in different ways.
From stress impacting physical and mental health, there’s a deeper meaning involved. Understanding your own stress level is key in living a healthy life.
The long term effects of stress can be detrimental to our mental and overall health. Through mitigation techniques, we can learn how to manage our stress. Meditation and boundaries are helpful ways to allow for you to get a release from stress. Setting boundaries is crucial to maintain a healthy work life or even stress life balance.
Understanding what stress is and the different types of stress can help you identify and cope with the stressors in your life.
What is Stress?
Everyone deals with stress every day; it is a foundational part of our life that we all wish didn’t exist. While everyone experiences stress, it isn’t something that we all know how to handle.
Stress is a change that causes any physical, emotional, or psychological burden. Stress can come from many different sources, like work, school, personal relationships–and much more.
There are three different types of stress that we may all experience at multiple points throughout our life.
This is the most common and least damaging type of stress. Acute stress is something that happens and goes away quickly.
Examples: A parking ticket, an important meeting with your boss, or a small disagreement with a friend or partner that gets resolved quickly
Episodic Acute Stress
It has been found that episodic acute stress often causes people to try to set unrealistic goals, causing unreasonable demands that will ultimately lead to failure. Episodic acute stress is a type of acute stress that will return periodically but will not always be present.
Examples: Traffic on a daily route, consistent tight deadlines at work, constant fighting or disagreements with your partner
This type of stress is consistent stress that causes a lot of unnecessary pressure and can be overwhelming for an extended period.
Examples: A car accident that leaves you with chronic pain, a career that you are deeply dissatisfied with, a divorce
Stress has varying levels of severity, meaning stress can be mild or severe. Mild stress can be as big as a final exam or as small as your alarm clock ringing in the morning. However,money problems, recurring marriage issues, and continuing work problems are examples of long-term stressors that build over time.
Mental Health and stress are linked more than you may think.
Stress Can Impact Mental Health Issues
Stress can cause many problems throughout the body–including our mental health. In fact, stress is a common trigger for anxiety for many people.
But the stressors in your life won’t stop simply because you’re stressed. Instead, stress will build and cause a more significant burden. Stressful times can cause sleep disturbances, leading to increased mental health issues.
If you ever feel like life is too much or need someone to talk to, utilize the following resources.
Call ‘988’ (if in the U.S) for 24/7 crisis support
Check the International Suicide Hotlines for your country
In fact, prolonged stress can increase the risk of anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and substance use problems. Our mental health can be easily affected by the circumstances in our life–whether they are within our control or not.
Especially in today’s hustle culture, you may be driven to overextend yourself because that’s what we feel it takes to become successful. Overextending yourself could look like a poor work-life balance, not taking time for yourself, etc.
Overextending yourself and having poor boundaries can lead you to decreased self care activities. The constant strain from work, school, and personal relationships can damage your life. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think the stress isn’t affecting you–it is!
The effect of stress on the body is one that is overlooked, and diminished.
What Does Cortisol Have to Do With Stress?
Stress disturbs many different parts of the body.
During stress events, our body increases cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. The release of cortisol affects nearly every organ and tissue within the body.
Cortisol is produced by our adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located in the kidneys and are responsible for producing and controlling cortisol levels in the body.
Although cortisol is a stress hormone, it’s still essential to our daily survival. Cortisol doesn’t just appear in our bodies when we experience stress.
Cortisol production will increase in our body when we experience a threat or danger, activating our fight or flight response. In fact, cortisol is vital for helping regulate our blood pressure, blood sugar, metabolism, and sleep-wake cycle.
But over time, elevated stress levels come with higher cortisol levels in our body.The long-term effects of elevated cortisol levels (or low levels) can harm your health. In fact, persistent stress levels can cause long-term issues for your heart and blood vessels, including elevated stress hormones and blood pressure.
With constant stress comes consistently elevated production of cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to hyperglycemia (or high blood sugar) that can potentially cause type 2 diabetes.
Understanding your stress level is important–do you know yours?
Determining Your Own Stress Level
Stress affects mental health in a variety of ways.
Recognizing your stress is the first step to adapting and adjusting. But sometimes, stress isn’t always that easy to see. Taking a step back and seeing your stressors from a different point of view can be beneficial to understanding your stress.
Questionnaires that measure stress levels have been designed, developed, and tested. Through the years, the Perceived Stress Scale has been used to help gauge someone’s perceived stress.
The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) is a measure that assesses stress levels for anyone over the age of 12. The questions within the PSS are designed to assess how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloaded you may feel in your life.
A modified version of the PSS is available and easy to use; click here if you’d like to go to the questionnaire**
**This is not a diagnostic tool
The PSS measures your stress in various aspects of your life that are seen as stressful. At the end of the questionnaire, you get a score indicating your stress level. The number you receive will fall into the mild, moderate, or severe category.
The long-term effects of sustained stress can be life altering.
Long Term Effects of Stress
Our entire body can be affected by stress.
We all experience stress at numerous points in our life. The stress we encounter can cause our body to react by elevating our heart rate. But once that stress is over, like finishing a final exam, our elevated heart rate, cortisol, and adrenaline levels should return to normal.
But that doesn’t always happen with stress. If you deal with chronic stress, you may experience more health issues long term.
The long-term effects of stress can impact your body over time–in ways you don’t always see. The long-term effects of stress can cause a host of health issues, such as:
- Digestive problems
- Muscle tension and pain
- Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Source: Stress Management, Mayo Clinic
As time passes, we get accustomed to the stress our body and mind are enduring. No longer responding to stress is a reaction to being desensitized. Even though it doesn’t affect you, it still is–in many ways, that catches up with you.
That’s why knowing the signs of stress is crucial in understanding your stress level and how to manage it.
Through time, stress can cause hair loss, lack of sleep, and anxiety–including worsening mental health symptoms.
Stress is a joy killer that ruins everything, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many options and ways to work through the stress in your life.
Stress isn’t something that we can always control, but there are ways that we can manage stress.
How to Mitigate Stress
We all have our own way of easing our stress.
Stress can be mitigated in a variety of ways. From our social network to meditation practices, there are endless options when learning how to lower our stress level.
Sometimes, you are all you really have. So learning to take care of yourself is essential. We can take small steps to better conquer the stresses we face.
Caring for ourselves involves learning to unwind and return to a relaxed state during stressful times. But sometimes, it can be easier said than done.
Meditation is one great way to lower your stress level. With all meditation practices, starting by setting your intention or goal for a meditation session is essential. There are 5 steps to goal setting for meditation:
- Set your intention
- Focus only on what you can control
- Be consistent
- Allow room for bumps and setbacks
- Revise and repeat
Breathing techniques can be a helpful way to practice meditation. Getting in tune with our breath can help us settle into our bodies more. Focusing on our breathing can help evoke a relaxation response.
The box breathing method is a well-used and well-known meditation method. It’s simple, doesn’t take too long.
- 4 second inhale
- 4-second hold
- 4-second release
- 4-second rest
Repeat for 4 more times or as long as you’d like
Using breathing techniques can help you to gain control over your mind and body. Taking time outside of our everyday life routine is essential to maintaining our mental well-being.
But let’s be honest, that isn’t always something we can guarantee every day. Stress causes chaos and unpredictability, making it harder to carve out that much-needed time for yourself.
Setting limits or boundaries with anything and anyone in life can be important.
Boundaries are an essential key to helping manage stress. There are limits to everything, even when it comes to our stressors. Boundaries set limits or rules that helps someone protect their security, safety, and well-being with others.
Boundaries can look like not answering the work calls or emails past your contracted hours. While boundaries can also look like uninterrupted alone time, to protect your mental health.
When those boundaries are broken, stress can infringe on your time.
Boundaries are important because they set expectations for how people should treat you and what others can expect from you. We teach people how to treat us, including friends, coworkers, bosses, teachers, etc.
Boundaries are crucial in understanding your limits–what you are comfortable with.
Boundaries come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from one person to the next. People can’t automatically know what you need–you must tell them.
Boundaries can come in 5 different types:
Setting up those boundaries and saying no when necessary is an important skill. Stress affects mental health, affecting your body in ways we don’t always see. Setting boundaries around work/life balance is essential.
Stress leaves numerous impacts on the body.
With the extra release of cortisol in the body can cause profound impact over time.
Stress can come in many different ways and from a variety of sources that we can’t always see coming.
Understanding the impact that stress has on the brain is important when navigating through life. Stress doesn’t just impact us in the moment, the effects are long term.
The effects of stress on the body can be life-altering if not managed. The stress level you have can be detrimental to your health. While, the long term effects of stress may have devastating results later in life.
Finding ways to cope with stress that are healthy and beneficial are important. Managing stress is a helpful way to mitigate the effects of stress. Setting boundaries can help you maintain a proper balance in your life between you and (most) stressors.
In the end, learning to manage our stress and take care of ourselves daily is so important.