Stress and pressure can have serious effects on mental health. While everyone experiences some stress in the ordinary course of their lives, overwhelming stress can precipitate and complicate anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), among other conditions. Dr. Clarence Clottey, a public health specialist and primary care doctor, describes the ways in which stress can damage your mental health in the long term and provides some suggestions for ways to relieve this condition.
Stress Happens Every Day
Everyday events can be stressful. Even positive events, like having a new baby or getting married, can place a person under stress. It is likely that these daily sources of stress are not damaging to your mental health, but they can make your day challenging. Try to do relaxation exercises, breathing exercises or meditation if you feel yourself experiencing stress.
Physical Effects of Stress
Stress causes the human body to respond in different ways. Perhaps the most noticeable sign of stress is a rapid heartbeat. The entire circulatory system speeds up. This is known as a “fight or flight” reflex, where the body is gearing up to meet a physical challenge by confronting it or by running away. Since the stresses of modern life may not by themselves require directly fighting or running away, our bodies still react in that way, and still put us in a dilemma.
Other effects of stress on the body include sweating, a flushed face, high blood pressure, stomach problems like nausea, and shaking. People under stress may even have the symptoms of an anxiety attack or a panic attack. When these symptoms happen for extended periods of time, patients may experience lasting effects on their health.
Mental Impact of Stress
When a person is constantly under stress, they enter a state where they are constantly bracing themselves for the next negative event. This can cause people to become unhappy very easily. People who are under constant stress can develop and worsen conditions like anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
Anxiety is defined as mental worry that interferes with a person’s daily activities. Panic attacks are an even more severe form of anxiety, with patients complaining of a racing heartbeat, rapid breath, chest pain, and a feeling of being out of control.
Stress can also exacerbate existing depression. When a person cannot relax and enjoy themselves, they are more likely to experience a loss in pleasure responses and a deluge of unpleasant symptoms like restlessness, crying, a feeling of hopelessness, and sadness.
Stressed people can lose the coping mechanisms that may help them to deal with the challenges of daily life. This can make existing conditions worse or even cause new mental health conditions.
Ways to Deal with Stress
Fortunately, there are several techniques that can help people reduce the amount of stress they feel in their lives. One way to do this is to review your daily activities. It is important to scale back daily activities that are not truly necessary and that add to the workload and pressure a person is experiencing.
Cutting back on busywork can help to relieve stress. It is also important to focus more on those tasks that you have control over, and worry less about the things you don’t have control over and that you are powerless to change.
If you live far from work and are stressed by your commute, consider working from home or moving closer to your office, if that is practical. If you are stressed at work, it might be harder to control for this problem. Try to negotiate more to help make your tasks more manageable. Delegate or share responsibilities if appropriate. Avoid taking on more responsibilities than you can handle. Make sure that you are prioritizing your day so that you can handle the most important tasks first.
Dealing with family stress can also be difficult. The different needs of family members and the amount of time that it takes to care for a family, especially with children, can cause stress. At home, make sure that your daily tasks are allocated as fairly as possible. If one partner constantly feels as if he or she is doing all the work, they will naturally feel stressed. Negotiating and communicating are necessary for coping with such stresses.
Exercise Is a Natural Remedy
The best natural remedy is exercise as regular exercise creates endorphins, which help people to feel better. It does not really matter what sort of exercise you do, so long as it is done on a regular basis. Exercising 3-4 times a week has been shown to significantly reduce stress levels (see Exercise reduces stress, improves cellular health in family caregivers, 2018).
If you are not used to exercising then we suggest you follow our weekly fitness plan – it sets out a series of bodyweight exercises that can be done anywhere – no equipment is needed. Also, taking long walks, jogging or playing sports are all great ways to reduce stress. Sport does not need to be competitive or extremely energetic – a gentle game of badminton or round of golf will do wonders for your stress levels.
If exercise does not interest you, then meditation, yoga, and guided relaxation are also great options for natural stress relief. Aromatherapy oils like lavender can create a relaxing atmosphere at home and at work. For many people, relaxing in a hot bath with bubbles and candles is enough to totally unwind!
Combat Stress for a Healthier Life
When you follow these tips, you will find it easier to deal with the stress and pressure of daily life. Dr. Clarence Clottey encourages reducing stress as much as possible to preserve and improve health.