Who Answers?

Stress and Mental Health

855 339 1112

How Does Stress Affect Mental Health?

Stress affects many different aspects of your life, but what are its causes? Stress can result from a wide range of factors.

Navigation: Common Causes of Stress, What Are the Different Types of Stress?, Impact of Stress on Mental Health, Anxiety Disorders, Depression, PTSD, Mood Swings, Sleep Problems, Cognitive Impairments, Physical Health Problems, Substance Abuse, Suicidal Ideation, Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


It’s normal to feel stressed every now and then. Stress is a natural and adaptive response that your body experiences when you perceive a threat, challenge, or demand. But when you experience a lot of challenges in your everyday life, chronic stress may overwhelm you to the point of contributing to the development of mental health problems. It is therefore important to understand how the stress response works and its relationship with mental illness.

Stress is often referred to as the body’s “fight or flight” response because it prepares you to either confront or escape from a perceived danger. It can be triggered by various situations, both real and perceived, and it can manifest in physical, emotional, and psychological ways.

When you encounter a stressor, your body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase your heart rate, elevate your blood pressure, and sharpen your senses, preparing you to react quickly to the perceived threat. Let’s take a closer look.


Common Causes of Stress

Stress affects many different aspects of your life, but what are its causes? Stress can result from a wide range of factors. It’s worth noting that what one person finds stressful, another may not. Even the severity of the stressors will vary from one person to another.

That said, there are plenty of events and challenges that most people find stressful. For example, heavy workloads, tight deadlines, job insecurity, long commutes, and workplace conflicts are some of the most common work-related stressors.

Work-related stress is also usually connected to financial stressors like debt, unemployment, underemployment, financial uncertainty, and unexpected expenses. Unexpected events can cause a lot of stress because you are not prepared to respond or handle it properly. This is why health-related stressors like chronic illnesses and medical emergencies, as well as environmental stressors like natural calamities, physical trauma, and accidents are often devastating.

Some stressors are personal while others have something to do with your relationships with other people. For example, personal stressors include low self-esteem, perfectionism, negative thinking patterns, overworking, lack of organizational skills, and lack of time management. Students may be exposed to academic stress including exam pressure, academic performance expectations, and the struggle to balance academics with other responsibilities.

On the other hand, relationship stressors include marital problems, family conflicts, divorce, grief, and social isolation. Sometimes losing these relationships can prove stressful. In fact, a lot of life transitions are often considered stressful: moving to a new city, changing jobs, getting married, or becoming a parent can all lead to some degree of stress even when the change is positive in the long run.

Other stressors can make life more difficult or uncomfortable just by being present: pollution, noise, racism, discrimination, uncomfortable living conditions, social or political unrest, pandemics, economic disparities, and other global crises.

Some level of stress can be motivating. But excessive stress and chronic stress can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. Effective stress management is important so that you don’t get overwhelmed by life’s challenges. Understanding and addressing the sources of stress in your life can contribute to better emotional and physical health.


What Are the Different Types of Stress?

Stress can be categorized into different types: acute stress, episodic acute stress, chronic stress, and traumatic stress.

Acute stress refers to short-term stress that occurs in response to immediate challenges or situations. Some people experience acute stress frequently, leading to episodic acute stress. They tend to be constantly worried or anxious about various aspects of their lives.

Chronic stress is also called long-term stress because it persists over an extended period of time. It can result from ongoing issues like work pressure, financial problems, or relationship difficulties.

Finally, traumatic stress is the result of exposure to a traumatic event like an accident, violence, or a natural disaster. Take note that these traumatic events don’t have to happen directly to the individual. Even just witnessing these things can be traumatic.

Stress can affect your emotions, leading to feelings of anxiety, irritability, frustration, or sadness. It can also impact your cognitive abilities, making it difficult to concentrate or make decisions.

But stress does not just cause psychological and emotional symptoms, but also physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, digestive problems, and sleep disturbances. Even chronic stress has been linked to conditions such as cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety disorders, and weakened immune function.

Unfortunately, the way people respond to stress may cause even bigger problems. They may cope with stress in various ways, some of which can be unhealthy, such as overeating, smoking, or excessive alcohol consumption.

People have different thresholds for stress, and what one person finds stressful, another may not. Factors like genetics, upbringing, and past experiences can influence how individuals respond to stress.

It is essential to learn healthy coping mechanisms, like exercise, relaxation techniques, and seeking support from your peers. Effective stress management can go a long way.

Impact of Stress on Mental Health

Stress can have a significant impact on mental health, and the relationship between stress and mental health is complex.

While some stress can help individuals perform better in certain situations (known as “eustress”), chronic or excessive stress can severely affect your mental well-being. It can lead to mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as other issues like mood swings and sleep disturbances.

As we mentioned earlier, stress can also cause various physical health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal issues. These physical health problems can, in turn, impact mental health as they contribute to overall discomfort, creating an undesirable cycle.

In severe cases, chronic stress can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing such thoughts, it is crucial to seek help from a mental health professional immediately.

Seeking support from mental health professionals and practicing stress management techniques can help mitigate the negative effects of stress on mental health. But before we talk about stress management, let’s take a closer look at the various effects of stress on mental health.

Anxiety Disorders

Persistent stress can trigger or exacerbate anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Individuals with anxiety may experience excessive worry, fear, and nervousness, making it challenging to cope with everyday situations.

Anxiety disorders are complex and often result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Stress is one of those environmental factors. It can trigger or contribute to the development of anxiety disorders in susceptible individuals, although it is not the sole cause.

When you experience stress, your body’s “fight or flight” response is activated. This response involves the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While this response is essential for dealing with immediate threats, chronic stress can lead to the continuous activation of these systems. This heightened physiological arousal can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.

Chronic stress can also affect the structure and function of the brain, particularly in areas associated with emotional regulation and fear responses. The amygdala, for example, becomes more sensitive to potential threats in individuals under chronic stress, which can lead to increased anxiety.

Anxiety is further exacerbated by the fact that people under stress may develop maladaptive coping mechanisms such as avoidance and substance abuse. Over time, this can lead to or exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

We need to take note that not everyone who experiences stress will develop an anxiety disorder, and not all anxiety disorders are solely caused by stress.

Managing and reducing stress through healthy coping strategies, such as mindfulness, relaxation techniques, exercise, and seeking support from mental health professionals, can be essential in preventing or managing anxiety disorders.


Stress is known to be a significant factor in the development of depression, but just like anxiety disorder, depression is a complex condition with multiple contributing factors. The relationship between stress and depression is not fully understood, but there are several ways in which chronic or excessive stress can contribute to the onset or exacerbation of depression.

For example, chronic stress can lead to changes in the brain’s chemistry, including alterations in the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in regulating mood, and imbalances can contribute to depressive symptoms.

Stress can also trigger an inflammatory response in the body, and there is growing evidence linking chronic inflammation to depression. Inflammation can affect brain function and may contribute to the development of depressive symptoms.

When a person is constantly exposed to stress, they may develop negative thought patterns, pessimism, and cognitive distortions. With high levels of stress, people may neglect self-care which can make a person even more depressed. They may stop exercising, eating healthy foods, and getting adequate sleep. These lifestyle factors can make it harder for them to cope with their stress, pushing them further into a depressive hole.

They may even start isolating themselves, withdrawing from their social circles and reducing social support systems that are essential for maintaining mental health.

Chronic stress can overwhelm a person’s coping mechanisms, making it more difficult to adapt to and manage stressors effectively. This can lead to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, which are common features of depression.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression related to stress, it’s essential to seek help from a mental health professional. Depression is a treatable condition, and therapy, medication, or a combination of both can be effective in managing and alleviating symptoms.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Traumatic events can include things like combat exposure, sexual assault, natural disasters, accidents, or any situation where a person feels intense fear, helplessness, or horror. PTSD can affect people of all ages and backgrounds.

The effects of PTSD can be profound and wide-ranging. They can involve vivid flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares that make them feel as though they are reliving the traumatic event. These flashbacks are commonly associated with distressing memories.

Individuals with PTSD may avoid people, places, or situations that remind them of the traumatic event. They may become emotionally distant, detached, or experience a reduced interest in activities they once enjoyed.

They might also avoid talking about or thinking about the traumatic event altogether.

Those with PTSD may become easily irritated or angered, and they may have difficulty controlling their temper. Another symptom of PTSD is hypervigilance: constantly being on high alert and scanning the environment for potential threats.

These symptoms can vary in intensity and may persist for months or even years after the traumatic event. In severe cases, PTSD can significantly impact a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. It can also co-occur with other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Mood Swings

The following effects are not exactly mental health conditions, but they are still noteworthy effects of stress. For example, mood swings are commonly associated with chronic stress. This is because stress can lead to irritability and emotional instability. Individuals under stress may have difficulty regulating their emotions because they are frustrated with their current situation.

Mood swings refer to rapid and intense fluctuations in a person’s emotional state, often shifting from one extreme to another.

Stress, whether acute or chronic, can trigger mood swings by activating the body’s “fight or flight” response. Over time, elevated cortisol levels can disrupt the balance of other hormones in the body, including those that regulate mood, such as serotonin and dopamine. This hormonal imbalance can contribute to mood swings.

Stress often triggers negative thought patterns, rumination, and worries about future stressors. These cognitive processes can amplify negative emotions and contribute to mood swings. Chronic stress can also deplete a person’s emotional and psychological resources, making it more challenging to cope with daily challenges and emotional fluctuations.

This effect on a person’s mood can strain relationships and lead to conflicts with family, friends, or coworkers. This also creates a negative cycle as social strain can also contribute to mood swings.

Managing stress through healthy coping strategies, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, therapy, and social support, can help mitigate its impact on the person’s mood.

Sleep Problems

Another effect of stress that is often overlooked but actually contributes to a lot of different problems is its impact on sleep.

Stress can significantly contribute to sleep problems in various ways. Poor sleep can worsen stress, and stress can lead to sleep disturbances.

As we mentioned earlier, stress activates the body’s fight or flight response, leading to increased levels of stress hormones. This heightened state of arousal can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep. Your mind may race with anxious thoughts, making it challenging to unwind.

Even if you manage to fall asleep, stress can cause more frequent awakenings during the night. You might wake up with racing thoughts, nightmares, or a general sense of unease, which can disrupt your sleep cycle.

Stress can lead to shallower, less restorative sleep. This means you may spend more time in lighter sleep stages and less time in the deeper, restorative stages of sleep. Consequently, you may wake up feeling less refreshed and more fatigued.

Chronic stress can even contribute to the development or exacerbation of sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome.

To manage stress-related sleep problems, it’s essential to address the underlying sources of stress. Relaxation techniques, stress management strategies, and cognitive-behavioral therapy can help. Additionally, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and practicing good sleep hygiene can improve sleep quality.

If sleep problems persist, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional or sleep specialist for further evaluation and guidance.

Cognitive Impairments

Before we move on to the physical effects of stress, let’s take a look at its impact on cognitive function. Stress can lead to various cognitive impairments, affecting memory and concentration, among other things.

Stress can impair both short-term and long-term memory. It can make it difficult to concentrate and encode new information effectively. This can result in forgetfulness and difficulty in retaining new information.

Aside from memory problems, it can also lead to heightened vigilance, making it challenging to focus on tasks. People experiencing stress may find it harder to concentrate, maintain attention, and complete tasks efficiently.

Chronic stress can also affect problem-solving and decision-making abilities. People under stress may become more impulsive and have difficulty evaluating risks and benefits, which can lead to poor decision-making. They may also get stuck in repetitive thought patterns, preventing them from coming up with creative solutions to their problems.

Stress can even affect verbal fluency and communication skills. It may lead to difficulties in finding the right words, articulating thoughts, or comprehending language effectively. Overall, it can slow down your cognitive processing speed, making it much more difficult to complete your tasks.

Physical Health Problems

As you know, stress can impact your physical health just as much as your mental health. In fact, it has been linked to a wide range of health problems. Chronic stress, in particular, can take a toll on the body over time.

Here are some physical health problems that can be caused or exacerbated by stress:

Cardiovascular Issues: Stress can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure, which, over time, can contribute to the development of cardiovascular problems such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and stroke.

Gastrointestinal Problems: Stress can affect the digestive system, leading to issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), indigestion, stomach ulcers, and exacerbation of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Immune System Suppression: Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

Muscle Tension and Pain: Stress often leads to muscle tension, which can result in headaches, migraines, neck and back pain, and other musculoskeletal issues.

Weight Gain or Loss: Some people respond to stress by overeating (often unhealthy foods) and gaining weight, while others may lose their appetite and lose weight. Both can have negative consequences on health.

Skin Problems: Stress can exacerbate skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema. It can also contribute to premature aging of the skin.

Respiratory Problems: Stress may worsen conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), making it more difficult to breathe.

Reproductive Issues: Stress can affect both male and female reproductive health. In women, it can lead to irregular menstrual cycles and fertility problems. In men, it may reduce sperm quality.

Weakened Bones: Long-term stress can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, potentially leading to weakened bones and an increased risk of osteoporosis.

Diabetes: There is evidence to suggest that chronic stress can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes or worsen blood sugar control in people with the condition.

Compromised Dental Health: Stress can lead to teeth grinding (bruxism) and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), causing dental problems and jaw pain.

It’s important to note that individuals may respond to stress differently, and not everyone will experience all of these health problems.

If you’re experiencing chronic stress and physical health issues, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional for guidance and treatment.

Substance Abuse

Stress can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, including drug and alcohol abuse. Substance use disorder (SUD) can be caused or exacerbated by stress.

Many individuals turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with stress. These substances can provide temporary relief from the emotional and psychological distress associated with stress. People may use substances to numb their feelings or temporarily escape their problems. However, these substances can cause even more problems down the line.

Chronic stress can weaken a person’s ability to resist the urge to use substances. It can impair decision-making, increase impulsivity, and reduce self-control, making it easier for individuals to give in to their cravings.

Stress can escalate substance use problems over time. As individuals develop a tolerance to drugs or alcohol, they may consume larger amounts to achieve the desired effect, leading to increased risk of addiction and health consequences.

There’s also a social factor at play. Stressful situations can lead people to spend time with peers or in environments where substance use is prevalent. Peer pressure and the availability of drugs or alcohol in these situations can increase the likelihood of substance use.

As for people who are already in recovery from substance use disorder and addiction, stress can serve as a potent trigger for relapse. When facing stressors like financial problems, relationship difficulties, or work-related pressures, individuals may return to substance use as a way to cope.

Self-medication and substance abuse can create a vicious cycle where the person becomes dependent on the substance to manage stress. This can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of increased stress and substance use.

It’s essential to recognize the relationship between stress and substance use problems and seek appropriate help and support when needed.

Treatment options for substance use disorder often include therapy, counseling, support groups, and, in some cases, medication.

Addressing underlying stressors and learning healthier coping mechanisms are crucial aspects of recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use problems, it’s important to seek professional help to address both the addiction and the underlying stressors contributing to the issue so that the individual can achieve long-lasting sobriety.

Suicidal Ideation

One of the most dangerous effects of chronic stress is the potential for suicidal ideation. In severe cases, chronic stress can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

While stress alone may not be the sole cause of suicidal thoughts, it can be a significant trigger or exacerbating factor.

Stress can cause people to withdraw from social connections and support networks, leading to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. Social isolation can exacerbate feelings of despair, which can contribute to suicidal thoughts.

High levels of chronic stress can overwhelm an individual’s coping mechanisms. When a person feels overwhelmed for an extended period, it can lead to a sense of hopelessness, where they believe that their situation will never improve or that they have no control over their circumstances.

The fact that stress impairs cognitive functioning and problem solving skills leads to distorted thinking patterns, making it more likely for someone to entertain thoughts of suicide as a way out of their distress.

It’s important to note that individuals have different levels of resilience and coping mechanisms, so the impact of stress on mental health can vary from person to person.

Additionally, seeking support from mental health professionals, practicing stress-management techniques, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and building a strong social support network can help mitigate the negative effects of stress on mental health.

If you or someone you know is struggling with stress and its impact on mental health, it is advisable to seek professional help to develop effective coping strategies and receive appropriate treatment if necessary.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

Now let’s talk about stress management. Proper stress management is important so you don’t suffer from all the effects that are listed above. Keep in mind that stress is normal and is not always a bad thing. But you need to manage your stress response in order to protect your mental health.

Practicing self-care is one of the best ways to cope with stress, and it’s something people neglect to do when they are overwhelmed with stress. But making time for self-care is necessary and can help you manage stress more effectively.

For example, exercising regularly can help release endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. Whether it’s going for a walk, jogging, practicing yoga, or hitting the gym, regular exercise can help reduce stress. At the same time, you need to get adequate sleep and maintain a healthy diet.

A lack of sleep can increase stress levels so you need to prioritize getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to improve your mental health. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can also provide the nutrients your body needs to manage stress.

Other than that, you should limit your caffeine and alcohol intake because both of these can exacerbate stress and anxiety. Limit your intake, especially if you notice they make your stress worse. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

You can also take it a step further by practicing deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, and other relaxation techniques to calm your mind and reduce stress. Doing things you enjoy, whether it’s reading, painting, gardening, or playing a musical instrument, can also provide a healthy distraction from stress.

Don’t forget to connect with others. Spending time with friends and family, or even seeking support from a therapist or counselor, can provide emotional support and help alleviate stress.

If you want to minimize your stress, try to organize your time effectively. Break your tasks into manageable steps and set achievable goals. This can help prevent feeling overwhelmed. Use tools like to-do lists, calendars, or time management apps to prioritize tasks and reduce stress related to time constraints.

Remember that everyone is different, so it’s important to find coping strategies that work best for you. Combining multiple techniques and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be especially effective in managing stress.

If your stress becomes overwhelming and persistent, consider speaking with a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support. Look for a treatment center near you today to learn more about treatment options for mental health disorders.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



author avatar
Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

Addiction Treatment Centers For
Drugs, Alcohol and Prescription Drug Abuse

Call Now