THE ADVERSE EFFECT OF STRESS ON MENTAL HEALTH
Stress is normal because it represents the body’s response to adapt to a new or threatening situation. It is considered pathological only when it becomes disproportionate in intensity or duration and generates significant physiological or psychological disturbances.
The word “stress” covers all physiological and psychological reactions that an organism develops in the face of an aggressive situation. However, when the stress is prolonged, its beneficial effect is attenuated to acquire an increasingly harmful dimension, mainly due to the intensive cardiovascular solicitation, which is added a depressing effect of the adrenal hormones on the functioning of the mechanisms. Pathologies may appear as high blood pressure, heart attack, etc.
Stress is a normal and essential phenomenon to ensure survival in a hostile environment. It represents a positive adaptive response to a threatening stimulus in its acute phase. Stress only becomes pathological when it takes on disproportionate dimensions in intensity or duration and results in symptoms of physical or psychological disturbances.
How Does Stress Affect Our Bodies?
According to endocrinologist Hans Selye, stress is a normal adaptation response of the body to the stresses and aggressions it undergoes. It triggers a series of reactions that allow the body to manage the situation and regulate the stress caused by this triggering event.
The Stress Process Includes 2 Stages:
- The alarm phase:
The organism reacts to this “attack” by stimulating the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, and the body can react immediately. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, muscles contract, and glucose are released into the blood.
- The resistance phase:
The body then releases other hormones, including cortisol (a hormone involved in the regulation of blood pressure, cardiovascular function, and immune function), dopamine (pleasure hormone), endorphins (hormones of well-being), and serotonin (hormone of sleep and appeasement).
Once the stressful situation has been appeased and controlled, a relaxation reaction sets in. After a period of rest, the body returns to its natural metabolism.
What Are The Causes Of Stress?
Stress arises in response to a situation; normally, we are not all equal in the face of it; each of us is unique. Nevertheless, it can be said that the main stressors are usually external:
- stress related to work (or studies): related to performance, work atmosphere, management methods, or even boredom (which leads to burn-out, bore-out, or brown-out)
- In personal life: managing children’s difficulties, overwork, financial problems (which can lead to depression or even depression)
- Apprehension of an event: this is “good” stress that, by releasing adrenaline, allows us to increase our physical and mental abilities
- post-traumatic stress: the aftermath of a traumatic event
- relational difficulties: this is stress experienced by people who are shy and uncomfortable with the idea of expressing themselves in public (for example, during speeches, lunches with colleagues, etc.).
The Adverse Effect of Stress on Mental Health
What happens in chronic stress?
Stress, when it becomes chronic, when the state of alert is prolonged, results in putting the psyche in a state of exhaustion, with possible consequences in terms of fatigue, chronic anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, addictions, or disorders of the behaviour.
Stress hormones often produce byproducts acting as sedatives (chemical substances that cause you to become calm or fatigued). When these sedatives occur in large amounts (usually displayed under chronic stress conditions), they may contribute to a lasting feeling of depression. Habitual patterns of thoughts, such as low self-efficacy or a conviction that you are incapable of managing stress, which influence appraisal and increase the likelihood that a person will experience stress as negative, can also increase the likelihood that a person will become depressed.
It is normal to experience a range of mood swings, both high and low, daily. While some depression feelings are a part of life, sometimes, people fall into “down in the dumps” feelings that persist and start controlling their ability to complete daily activities, enjoy successful interpersonal relationships and keep a job. The term Major Depression describes such periods of unremitting, extended, and profound depression. Major Depression may include fatigue; sleep problems; appetite changes; self-hate, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness; agitation, restlessness, and irritability; an inability to concentrate or make decisions; and hopelessness and helplessness. Depression is also associated with increased suicidal thinking and harmful actions and may make a person more vulnerable to developing other mental disorders.
- Anxiety Disorders
When you experience chronic stress, you may likely show mild outward signs of anxiety, such as biting your fingernails, fidgeting, tapping your feet, etc. In some people, chronic activation of stress hormones results in severe anxiety (e.g., racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, nausea, etc.), a sense of impending doom, and feelings of helplessness. Thought patterns that lead to stress and depression can also expose people to intense anxiety feelings.
Sustained anxiety or dread feelings that persist for a long period may be symptoms of one or more Anxiety Disorders, which cause people to have difficulty coping with everyday situations and worry excessively about upcoming situations (or potential situations). Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or Panic Disorder is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders today.
- Cognitive Functioning
The continuous presence of stress hormones could alter the operation and structure of some aspects of the nervous system. Stress hormones may decrease the performance of brain cells in a region of the brain called the hippocampus. (a part of the brain that is important for laying down new long-term memories) It may also affect the functioning of the frontal lobes (the part of the brain that is necessary for paying attention, using judgment to solve problems, and filtering out irrelevant information). As a result, people exposed to chronic stress may experience confusion, trouble learning something new, difficulty concentrating, and problems with decision-making.
Stress is the cause of more than 60% of consultations with the doctor. It reaches a very wide audience, regardless of age and social level. Stress becomes worrying when it persists because it can become dangerous to health.
Beyond the feeling of ill-being that one can feel when one is stressed, the consequences on health are not negligible. Daily stress that lasts over time can lead to heart problems, dermatological problems, or increase the risk of chronic diseases.
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