The stress of modern life can wreak havoc on both the body and the mind. People may encounter work stress, money troubles, health issues, relationship problems, and any number of other situations that must be managed. Long-term, chronic stress takes a toll on inner peace, frequently leading to anxiety and depression. Many of the issues leading to stress fall outside of our control, exacerbating effects even more. All this tension affects mental health in many ways, both biological and emotional.
Ongoing stress changes the very makeup of the brain and disrupts delicate chemical balances, potentially leading to mental health problems.
While the brain is comprised of both gray matter and white matter, people who experience chronic stress tend to have more white matter, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found. This white matter is coated by a fatty substance called myelin that researchers believe impedes communication between brain cells and increases the likelihood that a person will develop anxiety or a mood disorder.
Chronic stress also increases the body’s levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and lowers levels of key mood regulators including serotonin and dopamine. These changes can lead to depression. Researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine found chemicals related to stress inhibit functioning of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, making people more reactive and possibly resulting in anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Meanwhile, the link between stress and depression transcends biology.
People under stress are less likely to practice the very self-care activities that support happiness.
Stressed out people are less likely to exercise and sleep well, and more likely to smoke or drink. Although these behaviors may temporarily help a person feel better, they do little to manage stress or benefit health. If a person feels stress as a result of an unhappy event—a job loss, death in the family, or illness—that further increases the likelihood that a person will experience depression or other mental health issues.
Anxiety, a feeling of fear or worry characterized by an increased or irregular heartbeat, rapid breathing, sweating, or dizziness, is also closely linked to stress. Stress results from situations or problems that cause worry, and anxiety is unfortunately likely to follow. People who suffer from anxiety may worry excessively and find that angst difficult to control. In the worst-case scenarios, this can result in a full-blown panic attack, which is an intense bout of heightened anxiety.
How does stress impact your mental well-being?
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