What is mental stress?

Mental stress  is an emotional tension or mental strain. It is  a natural feeling of not being able to cope with specific demands and events that come from work, relationships, financial pressures, and other situations.

Stress is something everyone experiences. It is part of being human, and it can help motivate you to get things done. Even high stress from serious illness, job loss, a death in the family, or a painful life event can be a natural part of life. 

Stress in itself is not an illness. But there are connections between stress and mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Stress and Mental Health 

Stress isn’t a psychiatric diagnosis, but it’s closely linked to your mental health in two important ways:

 – Stress can cause mental health problems, and make existing problems worse. For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of stress, you might develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression.

 – Mental health problems can cause stress. You might find coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem, as well as potentially needing to manage medication, health care appointments or treatments, can become extra sources of stress.

Stress and Physical Health 

Stress slows down some normal bodily functions, such as those that the digestive and immune systems perform. The body can then concentrate its resources on breathing, blood flow, alertness, and the preparation of the muscles for sudden use.

The body changes in the following ways during a stress reaction:

 – blood pressure and pulse rise

 – breathing speeds up

 – digestive system slows down

 – immune activity decreases

 – muscles become more tense

 – sleepiness decreases due to a heightened state of alertness

When the stress response becomes prolonged (chronic), it has a very different effect to the short bursts that enhance the body’s abilities. In many cases, the system controlling the stress response is no longer able to return to its normal state. Attention, memory, and the way we deal with emotions are negatively impacted. This long-term stress can contribute to both physical and mental illness through effects on the heart, immune and metabolic functions, and hormones acting on the brain.

Some of the emotional and behavioural symptoms of stress overlap with those of mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. This can make it hard to distinguish where one begins and the other ends, or which came first. 

What causes mental stress 

The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.

What leads to chronic stress?

Chronic stress can often be difficult to spot, as it can emerge in the absence of a severe or acute incident. Different factors, such as a disrupted sleep schedule, feeling perpetually undervalued at work, and not having close relationships with friends or family members can all independently contribute to chronic stress. 

People deal with stress in different ways and the ability to deal with stress changes throughout life. Those who have developed effective strategies to deal with day-to-day stressors are less likely to develop physical and psychological symptoms.

Ways to reduce mental stress 

There are many small, and healthy ways we can relieve stress and feel more in control of our emotions, schedule, and demands.

Here are seven ways to healthily relieve feelings of stress:

1. Breathe Deeply 

The way you breathe affects your whole body. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress.

Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.

2. Go for a Walk

When you are stressed, you might have a surge of adrenaline that makes it hard for you to sit still. Going for a walk can help you burn off some of that extra energy and it can also get you away from the immediate situation so you can clear your mind. 

Also, research shows that simply being outside lowers stress levels, even after just five minutes in the open air. Find your nearest green space next time you need to take a break and you’ll immediately feel less anxious and more clear-headed. 

3. Exercise 

Not only will regular exercise relieve stress but it can also improve concentration and mental awareness. Tiring yourself out with exercise will also improve your sleep, which further reduces stress levels. it doesn’t really matter what form of exercise you choose as anything will be beneficial. Getting outside for some cardio would be a great way to boost your mood, but equally a yoga break at home will help relax the body and mind.

4. Keep a Journal

When you have a problem and you’re stressed, keeping a journal can help you identify what’s causing that stress or anxiety. Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress. 

Another way to use journaling to reduce stress is to keep a gratitude journal. Write down one or two things you’re grateful for each day; over time, it can help you have a more positive and calm mindset.

5. Talk it out

Talking out your feelings with a friend or a loved one can also help relieve stress. One reason is that it allows you to say what’s bothering you out loud. Just venting your worries can sometimes make you feel better. Your conversation partner can help by simply listening; let them know if you would rather than just listen instead of offering advice. Of course, if you are looking for advice, be sure to tell them that, too.

6. Meditate

Meditation affects the body in exactly the opposite ways that stress does—by triggering the body’s relaxation response. It restores the body to a calm state, helping the body repair itself and preventing new damage from the physical effects of stress. It can calm your mind and body by quieting the stress-induced thoughts that keep your body’s stress response triggered.

If you haven’t tried mindfulness, meditation or relaxation exercises yet, there’s no better time to start. 

7. Do What You Love

In our culture, we tend to prioritize work and productivity while downplaying leisure activities and play. Doing something just for fun that may not seem “productive’ is often perceived as trivial  or even lazy. However, free time is anything but trivial. In fact, having free time to enjoy leisure activities is crucial to our mental health and well-being. Doing things like playing an instrument, reading a good book, playing sports, or even just drinking coffee, are wonderful ways to nurture our mental health. So don’t feel guilty about taking a little “self-time” to decompress.

Seek help of a professional

If none of the above suggestions help you relieve stress or you are dealing with symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks, then it’s time to seek professional help. 

A therapist or mental health professional can also help you find ways to manage your stress.

If you’re looking for direct advice or help contact us or book a free consultation with one of our qualified therapists.