The effects of Stress on Mental Health
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week as Mental Health Charities focus on the effects of stress on mental health.

The word “mental” is often assumed to relate to illness, but the truth is that we all have mental health as well as physical health.   Anyone can be affected by physical and/or mental illness at any time no matter what their age or background.   

In this article, we shine the light on “stress” and the effects stress has on us both physically and mentally.  The Mental Health Foundation defines stress as “the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable”.  The way we deal with stress can vary hugely from one person to another.  In certain situations stress can be beneficial to help us to meet challenges, to remain alert, focused and energetic, for example when studying for exams, giving a presentation at work or in emergency situations stress can provide the extra strength required to protect ourselves to avoid an accident.   When stress is excessive and the pressure becomes overwhelming, it can have a negative effect on both our physical and mental health. 

There are many things in life that can lead to stress, such as the death of a close relative or friend, divorce/separation, losing a job, money problems, health problems, moving house, preparing for holiday, as well as everyday things such as getting ready for work, getting the children to school on time, meeting deadlines at work and at home, the limitations of technology and the modern world, etc.  We all deal with stress in different ways, for example, one person may find their journey to work on the train stressful, whereas another may see it as “me” time to relax and have a coffee, read a book/newspaper, listen to music or take a nap.  Some people may get on the train to work in the morning and feel stressed as there is standing room only, whereas another person will just take it in their stride and continue to read their newspaper whilst standing despite being jostled by other passengers at different stages throughout their journey.    

Being stressed can make you feel anxious, frustrated, angry and sad.  Stress can also cause physical symptoms of headaches, nausea, chest pain, palpitations and perspiration.  When the negative feelings of stress are short-lived people can generally return to normal without any lasting effects, but when these feelings become more frequent and overwhelming they can start to affect your mental and physical health.   “Vulnerability to mental health problems can be the result of negative or stressful life experiences such as poverty, unemployment, physical illness, disability, social isolation, relationship breakdown or childhood abuse or neglect (Cleaver, 2011).” – NSPCC.

The problem with stress is that it can all too easily creep up on you and become normalised and feelings of anxiety and depression can soon become embedded.  Steps can be taken to try and minimalise the effects of stress by becoming aware and recognising the symptoms of stress on our own minds and bodies.  Suggested ways to manage stress in our everyday lives may be:-
  1. Exercise – eg walking, gym, exercise class, swimming
  2. Spend time outdoors
  3. Listen to music.
  4. Take up a new hobby
  5. Practice Yoga.
  6. Relax and/or meditate.
  7. Share your worries with a trusted friend or family member.
  8. Write down your worries and emotions to prevent them being bottled up as anger or negative feelings.
  9. Think positively
  10. Turn off your phone and computer.
  11. Keep things in perspective and try not tobe too hard on yourself
  12. Eat healthily
  13. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption
  14. Get some restful sleep.
  15. Be kind to yourself.
  16. Make time for yourself, ie. Diarise 10-15 minutes a day for “me” time.
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By Amanda Barnett