Effects of Long-term Stress on Our Mental Health

Stress at work
Stressed out

Stress is an experience quite common to almost everyone these days.

Considering the growing challenges most people face at the workplace, their homes and probably other social gatherings, one would certainly not find this hard to believe.

As a matter of fact, a recently concluded research that was commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and undertaken by YouGov shows that 74% of people living in the UK experience stress so intense that they sometimes feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.

The Mental Health week this year (14-20 May) focuses on stress as a potential cause of both physical and mental problems and how to manage stressful situations

Here is a list of things you should know

Stress distribution

Like said earlier, it’s estimated that 74% of the UK’s adult population has at one time experienced stress that eventually turns out overwhelming.

One area one would surely expect to see the effects of stress is at the workplace. Stats show that well over half a million people living in the UK experience work-related stress.

Studies have shown that stress at the workplace could be as a result of many work-related aspects like an imbalance between effort put into work and the reward thereafter.

The stress distribution according age posits that people 55 years and over experience the least amount of stress with 29% reporting not being stressed at all compared to 7% in young adults, 18 through 24 years of age.

Stressors

There are various things that can act as stressors, whether negative or positive. These are four main sources of stress as pointed out by the Mental Health Foundation;

Long-term Health Conditions

Long-term health conditions in ones life or the life of a loved one is a huge source of stress today.

Statistical data from the foundation’s research posits this stressor to be the major cause of stress, with 36% of people who reported being overwhelmingly stressed citing this as their major stressor.

Further studies show that people suffering from long-term health conditions (eg. cancer) get even more stressed due to an absence of support and advice from health service providers.

Work

A recent poll shows that 38% report work as a major stressor. Stress from work is mainly as a result of failure to balance home and work activities, tedious work demands and others.

Much of this comes from long working hours, staff cuts hence the need to take on more work.

Moreover, in the UK, workers work an average of 7.7 hours of unpaid overtime.

Money

Financial concerns;not having enough money to meet basic needs was one of the top listed sources of stress reported by adults in the foundation’s survey,

with 22% of adults who reported stress in the previous year citing it as a source of stress.

Recent stats have as well shown that although the number of employed people has increased, earnings have not risen much since before the 2008 recession; subsequently in-work poverty has increased and living standards have been falling.

Overall, 14 million people live in poverty in the UK, and this number is beginning to rise.

Technology and social media

Some people would find it hard to believe that social media is a major source of stress.

While technology and social media can have positive effects for many, for some, it can also have negative effects.

Research has clearly shown that while technology and social media can serve as a protective factor for stress, in some ways it may also contribute to it.

More than a tenth (12%) of adults who reported stress say that having that feeling like they need to respond instantly to messages.

This is basically true, considering the speeds and amounts in which feeds keep coming in (the internet is a very big place!)

‘Smartphones have become central to navigating daily life. People are more likely to access the internet via their smartphone, using it for a variety of things.

Becoming over-dependant on a smartphone can be a risk, and some people feel anxious if their phone is not close by, and even more so if it’s lost. This is most marked for people aged 18-34.’

Effects of being stressed

Stress has been proven to have some psychological and physical effects on us which eventually lead to such disorders.

Physical Effects of Stress

Long-term stress quickly leads to behavioural changes. This varies from one individual to another. Some individuals tend to loose sleep and memory.

Some others fall into strange and unhealthy eating habits, high drug intake and smoking. All this and a lot more just so they could get some relief.

From the survey, of adults who reported experiencing stress, 46% reported that they ate too much, or ate unhealthily due to stress.

29% reported that they started drinking or increased their drinking, and 16% reported that they started smoking or increased their smoking.

Long-term stress, and the associated stress response, can also impact on our physical health in other ways.

Specifically speaking, stress can affect our gastrointestinal system as our brain activity and gut are closely inter-connected.

Stomach ulcers are a well known example of the impact of long-term stress as well as the irritable bowel syndrome.

Studies also show a strong connection between stress and cardiovascular diseases and disorders like myocardial infarctions (heart attacks).

It can also affect the immune system, disrupting the body’s immunal responses. This explains why people under a lot of stress tend to go through frequent short illnesses.

Psychological Effects of Stress

Research unsurprisingly suggests that chronic stress, and exposure to stressors, can have a negative impact on mental health.

Stressful life events have been associated with major depression, suicidal thoughts and even self harm.

For people with history of mental illnesses, stress can lead to a relapse. This has been confirmed for mental cases like schizophrenia.

How to Cope With Long-Term Stress

Here is a list of 10 ways to manage stress, recommended by the Mental Health Foundation

1. Realise when it is causing you a problem and identify the problems

Understanding how your body reacts to stress is a good start. Basic signs include;  headaches and tense muscles.

When this happens, examine what activities you’re doing and find a less stressful method to accomplish the task.

2. Review your lifestyle

There could be a couple of things you do everyday that aren’t really relevant and/or should be done by someone else. Such activities should be avoided as much as possible.

It all boils down to the need to prioritise your activities and scheduling them in a way that it’s less stressful to you.

3. Build supportive relationship with others

Having friends is a very effective way to relieve stress.

Peers always add something new to ones life and often have a beneficial impact on your mood.

4. Keep a healthy diet

Studies show that healthy eating habits have a great impact on our mood.

We all get that warm and happy feeling after a good nourishing meal now, don’t we?

5. Watch your smoking, drinking and caffeine intake.

They may seem to have calming effect but they actually increase your anxiety levels. This is the case with caffeine and alcohol.

6. Exercise

This is a very popular method of stress management. It doesn’t really need to be an intense workout session. A 15 minute walk would do.

7. Take a time out

Always make out time to fully relax your mind and body. Its works for me;

whenever I am stressed, I take a short nap. I always wake up a whole lot better afterwards 🙂 .

8. Be Mindful

Mindful meditation not only helps with stress but also increases your concentration and keeps you aware of your immediate environment.

9. Get enough sleep

People suffering from stress usually find it hard to get some restful sleep. Enough sleep will help you relax your body and mind.

10. Take it easy on yourself.

Yes, there is probability a long TO-DO list that needs to be attended to, but your body can only take as much work as it can handle. Pushing it only stresses you out.

By following these 10 methods, stress can surely be mitigated.

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