What Are the Psychological Effects of Stress?

In today’s society, stress is an integral part of everyday living. Learning to cope with stress is an essential skill that modern human should master. Stress has a major impact on our psychological health. Acute short term stress is normal and all of us face it occasionally in our lives. However, if the stress is chronic and it occurs repeatedly it causes psychological and other health problems.

Harmful Psychological Effects of Stress

The first symptoms of depression usually occur in people after they encounter a major traumatic event in their lives. A study in Denmark shows that most people who were admitted into psychiatric facilities for the first time to get treated for depression, had faced traumatic events like fatal disease, unemployment, divorce, etc.

Stress causes depression

When you are under stress, the stress hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol in moderation causes bursts of energy and it is meant to help in survival during stressful conditions. However, prolonged production of cortisol due to chronic stress has an adverse effect, as it causes low energy levels and induces depression. It is normal to face stress and low moods occasionally. But if you experience prolonged periods of depression it can interfere with your professional and personal life.

Intense depression that extends for long periods is called major depression. Some of the symptoms of major depression are fatigue, sleep disorders, appetite changes, feelings of low self esteem, guilt, irritability, agitation, loss of concentration and focus, decrease in decision making abilities, refraining from activities that once caused pleasure and suicidal tendencies.  One of the major psychological effects of stress is depression.

Stress causes anxiety disorder

Anxiety usually precedes development of depression. People who are experiencing mild feelings of anxiety show signs like fidgeting. However in case of people experiencing chronic and intense anxiety, symptoms can be more severe such as fast heart beat, nausea and sweaty palms. They also experience feelings of helplessness and they are very apprehensive about life. Post traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder are the most common anxiety disorders apart from generalized anxiety disorder. Prolonged anxiety can interfere with one’s performance with everyday tasks.

Stress affects brain function

Chronic stress and constant secretion of stress hormones leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain. Chronic stress causes decrease in the functioning of the brain cells in the hippocampus (responsible for long term memory) and frontal lobe (responsible for attention and judgment). If you are under constant stress the changes in your brain will lead to confusion, difficulties in decision making, learning, focusing and concentrating.

Stress causes personality changes

A personality of a person is determined by genetics and their environment. Every person has a unique way of dealing with stress and stress causes changes in a person’s personality. If you are under stress you will experience increased irritability, aggressive feelings, frustration, anger, decreased interest in pleasurable activities, not paying attention to appearance, problems with focusing, social withdrawal, cynicism, low self worth, helplessness and reduced productivity.

Other effects of stress

  • People who live in a society that has high number of stressful triggers (increased divorce rates and low economic status) have a higher number of smokers and therefore increased mortality due to lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. A study on seamen in a naval training center showed that the seamen smoked more on high stress days compared to low stress days.
  • Stress also increases alcohol consumption. In a prospective study, it was found that adolescents and young adults resorted to substance abuse and have higher probability of developing substance dependence due to anxiety disorders.
  • Stressful environments also lead to sleeping disorders and eating disorders such as bulimia.

Psychological effects of stress on children

Stress in children and adolescents can be due to exposure to violence, sexual and emotional abuse, and conflicts between parents in the family leading to divorce. Stress in children leads to intimacy issues and they develop distrust in relationships. Sexual abuse in children leads to personality disorders. Childhood abuse leads to poor performance at school and they develop a negative attitude towards learning. Children from divorced homes have a higher probability of getting involved in anti-social behavior and suffer from depression and anxiety. Children who have been exposed to war have been reported to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome that lasts for at least 10 years after they were exposed to the stress.

Exposure to chronic stress during developmental years in children and adolescents leads to problems in adult life such as increased risk of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, structural changes in the brain and even early death. 

 Ways to Handle Stress

Stress should be handled efficiently to prevent it from causing serious psychological and health disorders. Below are some of the ways to reduce the psychological effects of stress:

  1. Identify the cause of your stress.
  2. Try to avoid the stressful situation and if you cannot avoid it take a short term break from the source of stress. When you get back from taking a break your mind thinks with more clarity and you can handle the situation better.
  3. Get physically active as exercise increases your serotonin levels which help beat depression.
  4. Interact with your social network. Finding the right person to share your problems will reduce your stress.
  5. Meditate and do relaxation techniques such as yoga and breathing exercises which will relieve stress.
  6. Organize and plan your day before you start your day. This will prevent anxiety while handling your workload for the day.
  7. Take time over the weekend for recreational activities.
  8. If you have a heavy workload at home or at work, try to delegate the work to reduce stress.
  9. Stop craving for extreme perfection at the cost of your mental peace.
  10. Take one day at a time and stop yourself from being overwhelmed.
  11. Understand that you cannot control all the outcomes in your life sometimes it is wise to adapt to situations that you cannot change.
  12. Follow a healthy diet and eating habits.
  13. Avoid alcohol and smoking.
  14. Sleep well, eat well and exercise well to handle stress effectively.
 
 
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