For most people, stress is a part of everyday life. They live and cope with it. But there are times when long-term stress or acute stress responses can become too much to handle. How do you know when things have gotten this far? What are the key signs of stress affecting mental health?

It stands to reason that if you don’t know when levels of stress from your personal life or work have gotten to a head, you can’t take the steps needed to relieve the short and long-term effects that this condition comes with.

So here, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the major symptoms of stress overload that you should watch out for today.

Stress – What to Know

Stress levels typically rise when your body feels like your quality of life is being threatened or negatively impacted in some way. In the presence of activators like job stress, marital stress, or psychosocial stressors, the body triggers a flight-or-flight response as a way to cope with those stressful life events.

At low-stress levels (or when stress management is properly employed), your mind and body can function well, remain alert, and give optimal responses to different situations. However, beyond a certain point, you start to lose these “good” benefits of stress.

This has a higher chance of happening if you remain under physical or emotional pressure for a protracted period. At such times, chronic stress develops.

Knowing the common warning signs to watch for can help you nip the problem in the bud and avoid the more damaging effects of constant exposure to chronic stressors. Along these lines, you must know the types of stress. 

The Stress Spectrum

Stressful work

To fully understand the answer to the question, what are the key signs of stress affecting mental health and keep stress in check, it helps to know the dimensions that this phenomenon presents itself.

Considered a spectrum, the response of the human body to stress can be broadly broken down into eustress and distress.

Eustress – What to Know

Levels of stress that don’t necessarily take you out of your comfort zone fall in this category. Eustress is a light and manageable health burden as it’s usually triggered by minor challenges in your home school or work environment.

Not to be confused with acute stress, eustress is essentially an emotional stress level that comes about when you’re broadening your horizons, learning new skills, or pushing yourself to realize your potential.

In short, this is the light side of the stress spectrum.

Distress – What to Know

On the opposite end of the stress spectrum is distress. Distress is usually triggered in the face of stressful life events. The effect that distress can have on you is significantly more profound as it can trigger an anger issue or episode, cause sleep disorders and even change your outlook on things.

As distress kicks in when you feel like you’re currently juggling more than you can handle, you can be easily left feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

It’s worth mentioning that a big determinant of whether you experience eustress or distress is your perception of the constitutional factors of the stressful situation.

Typically, you’re more likely to experience eustress if you’re excited about learning a new skill, even though the process might be taxing. In the same vein, you could find yourself in distress if the thought of meeting a deadline at work makes you pensive.

What are the Key Signs of Stress Affecting Mental Health?

Mental stress women

When stress has exceeded reasonable levels and cognitive-behavioral stress management measures aren’t taken in a timely fashion, several common signs begin to surface. The most prominent ones include:

Poor or Faulty Memory

Chronic stress has been shown to have a significant effect on memory in humans. This condition can influence the operation of the brain by triggering the HPA axis. This in turn releases cortisol into the blood system.

Aptly nicknamed the “stress hormone”, excess levels of cortisol can actively inhibit the encoding, consolidation, and retrieval of memory. While it’s been suggested that, in the short-term, acute stress can help these activities along, there’s evidence that it’s debilitating to long-term memory health.

So, if you’re having trouble committing things to memory or can’t seem to recall things that you know, there’s a chance that your stress levels are getting out of hand.

Difficulty Concentrating

As we mentioned earlier, at low levels, stress can help the mind stay sharp and focused. This is because one of the hormones the body is flooded with during this time is adrenaline. The presence of adrenaline in the blood system heightens the senses and aids better concentration.

However, this effect is always short-lived.

This is primarily because the longer your body stays in this condition, the more difficult the health burden becomes for it to bear. The struggle will continue until your body can’t cope anymore and you simply give in to distractions.

Persistent Headaches

Severe headaches are yet another clear signal that you may be battling chronic stress. When the muscles of your head and neck tense up, this can result in persistent headaches. There is an established association between stress and muscle tension.

As the physical or emotional stress becomes more pronounced, pain can start to radiate from the top of the head outward. Interestingly, most people react to this symptom by getting even more stressed out.

In extreme cases, stress has been known to induce migraines. If behavioral stress management intervention measures are not introduced, the migraines can come with waves of nausea, bouts of vomiting, and even dotted vision.

Poor Judgment

In the face of chronic stressors, many people opt to put off making the decision(s) causing them discomfort for as long as possible. However, because they realize that they’ll eventually have to choose in the end, this puts them under more pressure, worsening their stress levels.

To escape the building levels of stress, some people turn to vices like gambling and drinking. As they come to depend more on these channels for release, gambling and/or drinking eventually becomes an addiction that they find almost impossible to break away from.

Loss of Sleep

Another notable stress response in the face of chronic stressors is poor sleep quality or outright loss of sleep. Even after a long day at work and in the face of incredible fatigue, different chronic and psychosocial stressors can make it difficult to achieve a good night’s sleep.

Some people who eventually manage to fall asleep may become plagued by nightmares directly or indirectly tied to their stressor(s).

Stress can also trigger depressive symptoms, negative self-talk, and bouts of acute or severe anxiety. Other symptoms of stress include constant worrying, loneliness, and a host of other negative short and long-term effects.

Conclusion

So, what are the key signs of stress affecting mental health?

The key signs of stress impairing mental health range from memory problems to difficulty concentrating, headaches, loss of sleep, and poor judgment. It can also trigger loneliness, isolation, and depressive episodes.

Thankfully, there are several ways you can combat the negative short and long-term effects of stress. From talking to a therapist or your loved one about it to engaging in physical activity and learning breathing exercises, all is far from lost.

See here to take the first steps towards a stress-free life!

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Clare