How Does Stress Affect Your Mental Health?

May 01, 2023
How Does Stress Affect Your Mental Health?
Stress can cause all kinds of physical feelings, from rapid heartbeat to shortness of breath. But it can also contribute to mental health conditions. Here’s how you can protect your mental health from stress.

You know how it feels to be stressed. Your body may feel tense or tight. You may experience symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal changes, or shifts in your breathing. 

Emotionally, you may feel worried, upset, anxious, or irritable. Your thoughts may race, and you may feel like a hamster on a wheel.

Those are some of your body’s acute reactions to stress. But over time, chronic stress can affect you in other ways as well. When you feel stressed on a regular basis, it may start to affect your mental health.

Are your stress levels bringing down your mental health? If so, what can you do about it?

Your first step is to recognize that you’re not alone. The mental health providers at LocalMD, in Queens, New York, can help you with a full range of mental health issues, including those triggered or worsened by chronic stress. In this blog, we explain how stress may affect your mental health and what you can do to better manage stress and to address mental health concerns.

Note: If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis and need to talk with someone right away, or if you’re thinking about self-harm or suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for confidential, 24/7 support.

Stress strains your mental health

The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as “a physical or mental response to an external cause.” For example, you may feel a stress reaction such as shortness of breath and rapid breathing when you have an important work presentation.

When you feel stressed, your body responds by releasing chemicals known as stress hormones. You also experience a range of other responses, including increased heartbeat, tensing muscles, and higher blood pressure.

Over time, the many physiological responses to stress can affect your mental health, too. Chronic stress can lead to various reactions linked to mental health, including:

  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • A sense that you’re not in control of your life
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Sadness

The emotional strains of chronic stress may lead to or contribute to depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, or other mental health conditions.

Getting control of chronic stress

There are many steps you can take to manage your stress. You can start by looking at your stressors and identifying ways you can reduce them. For example, if driving to work in terrible traffic is a big stressor for you, perhaps you can take the train or work from home instead.

Unfortunately, many stressors can’t be reduced. Perhaps working remotely isn’t an option for you. That’s where stress-management tools come in. They help you cope with stress and feel less affected by your stressors by addressing your body’s physiological response to stress.

So, for example, if you practice deep breathing while you drive your stressful route to work, you can change how your body and mind react to the stress of the drive, even though you still have to make the drive.

In addition to deep breathing, other effective stress-management strategies include:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Exercise
  • Doing activities you enjoy
  • Social support
  • Eating a healthy diet

When stress affects your mental health, working with a mental health care provider can give you a personalized approach to finding relief.

Addressing the mental health impacts of stress

When you meet with one of our mental health providers, they assess your situation and recommend an individualized treatment plan, which may include lifestyle changes, stress-management techniques tailored to your own personal stressors, talk therapy (psychotherapy), or medication management.

The mental health care providers at LocalMD provide a full range of care, including psychiatry services. We offer in-person counseling and virtual therapy.

Don’t let stress control your life. To schedule an appointment, call our office or book an appointment online.