A variety of factors, including chronic stress, can have an impact on mental health. Everyone is affected by stress at some point in their lives, and if it is not handled properly, it can cause severe mental health issues, according to various studies.
Stress is the body's natural reaction to situations and changes that we perceive to be threatening. It is a defense mechanism used by our ancestors to protect themselves from dangers like wild predators. Stress activates our body's naturally inbuilt stress response known as 'fight or flight', which helps us process stressors in our lives.
During stressful episodes, the body responds physically to stress in the form of hormone production, increased blood pressure, involuntary perspiration, muscle stiffness, and heightened cognitive alertness.
An increase in irritability, cognitive problems, persistent sadness, insomnia, and physical pain are just a few physical symptoms that can be brought on by chronic stress, which is a type of stress that lasts for a long time.
Chronic stress can also lead to a variety of mental health issues and illnesses, including depression, anxiety, burnout, sadness, panic attacks, sleep disorders, substance abuse disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Practicing self care and 4 other steps which will help lower stress and improve mental health
Fortunately, for those suffering from stress which is impacting their mental health, there is good news. There are practical steps that people can implement in their lives that will help reduce the stress they feel and better process some of the stressors they encounter.
1) Physical movement and following a nutritious diet
Regular exercise and movement have been shown to improve a person's mental health and well-being. According to research, following a workout routine and regularly completing physical tasks have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Walking, jogging, running, dancing, yoga, swimming, and weight lifting are all good ways to improve your mental health through physical activity.
The importance of consuming a good nutritious diet filled with protein, fiber, Omega 3 acids, magnesium, zinc, and Vitamin B is equally crucial for good mental health. The consumption of ultra-processed and highly palatable foods on a regular basis can result in worsening mental well-being.
2) Practise mindfulness and express gratitude
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment. This practice has a number of mental health benefits, including improved mood and a decrease in feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. According to a study, mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways, including in the form of meditation, deep breathing, journaling, reading a book, and yoga.
Practicing and expressing gratitude can help individuals recognize the positive aspects of their lives and their ability to cope with the stressors that life can throw at them. A gratitude journal is a great way to practice gratitude on a regular basis.
3) Spend time with loved ones and physical contact
Social support from friends and family is a great way to deal with stressors and improve mental health. Positive social interactions have been shown to help people get through difficult times and cope with stress, according to a study.
Human touch and contact have been shown to have a calming effect that helps people deal with stress. Positive physical contact, like hugging and cuddling loved ones and pets, can help people deal with stressful situations. S*xual activity also releases hormones in the body which help improve mood and the ability to process stress.
4) Practice self care
Setting aside time to practice self-care has been shown to improve quality of life and result in lower levels of stress, according to research. While going on vacation halfway around the world to receive massages and have a spa day is not a possibility for most people, there are other practical ways to practice self-care that aren't complicated or elaborate for their mental health benefits.
This includes going for a walk, exercising, reading a book, practicing a hobby, doing yoga, and preparing a meal. Practicing self-care can also mean avoiding activities that harm mental health, like doomscrolling, excessive use of social media, and substance abuse.
5) Therapy and therapeutic approaches
One of the best ways to improve mental health and learn how to deal with stressors is by enlisting the services of a professional. The therapist is trained to help people deal with stress in a positive and healthy manner. There are different management therapeutic approaches that help people deal with and manage stress.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps people identify negative thinking patterns that cause stress, anxiety, and depression. This approach allows individuals to learn and implement new and helpful thought patterns that improve psychological well-being and lower stress.
A positive psychological approach allows people to develop characteristics that will help them thrive and reduce stress. This approach allows individuals to focus on what they can control instead of things beyond their control.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, art therapy, music therapy, biofeedback approach, and acceptance and commitment therapy are all varied therapeutic approaches that work to reduce stress.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life that can cause various health issues, be it mental or physical. There are different things that a person can do in order to improve their ability to deal with stressors in their lives.
Steve George Verghese is a trained psychologist with an MSc in Counseling Psychology from the Indian Institute of Psychology and Research.