Stress: 10 Fast Facts You Need to Know for Improved Mental Health
Believe it or not, stress (or, more specifically, how we handle stress) is the single most influential factor relating to life happiness, mental health, and our chances for success. People who learn how to effectively appraise and cope with stress live longer, healthier lives when compared to people who struggle managing the stress in their lives, and this has been empirically measured as stress is linked to the top 6 causes of death including heart disease, accidents, and suicide. One big challenge when it comes to stress is that it is impossible to see stress, and stress is defined and addressed uniquely by each individual (i.e. one person may be excited about a job interview while another person terrified by the very same experience). Still, the more you know about stress the better, making it this week’s topic for examination and discussion.
10 things you need to know about stress for improved mental health
- Everyone experiences stress. It is impossible to live a life without experiencing stress, so it behooves you to learn as much as you can about human stress, including safe, healthy, and effective coping.
- Stress can be acute or chronic. Stress in the moment — like when dealing with traffic or trying to find something to eat — is called acute stress. Deeper, longer-lasting stress (i.e. searching for a job or dealing with a challenging class in school) is what we call chronic stress. It is important to distinguish between the two and employ appropriate coping mechanism to each.
- There is an inverse relationship between stress and personal control. Simply put, the more control you feel you have over your life, the less stress you will experience (and the less control you feel you have, the more stress you will experience).
- Humans cope with stress through cognitive and physical means. Psychologists offer a number of ideas to help reduce stress, from cognitive approaches (i.e. minimizing perfectionist thinking) to behavioral ideas (i.e. taking a walk to clear your mind).
- Your appraisal impacts how you deal with stress. Do you size up what’s in front of you today as a healthy challenge, or scary threat? Similar to the old saying one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, only you get to decide how to appraise the situations you face in life.
- There are both good and bad forms of stress. Not all stress is bad, and Hans Seyle’s work understanding human stress has revealed both good stress (called eustress) experienced in life (i.e. planning for a wedding), and bad stress (i.e. dealing with sudden unemployment). It is important for us to distinguish between the two, and appreciate that not all of our stress is necessarily bad.
- Perfectionism leaves people vulnerable for stress. Perfectionist thinking means that anything less than flawless is unacceptable. As you can probably see this mindset leaves people very open and vulnerable for stress — much of it unnecessary.
- Your reaction is what counts. You can’t always control the things you deal with each day, but you can control how you react and respond. Not everything is catastrophic, and often we react in ways that actually make the situation worse.
- Cathartic expression is a great way to cope with stress. Catharsis is getting things off our chest, like when we vent to a friend. Research has shown that when we regularly “lighten our load” by talking to someone — or even writing in a journal that nobody ever reads — we usually feel a lot better after simply getting it out.
- Stress can accumulate and tax the body over time (making us prone to being sick). Stress can exhaust and fatigue us, as our body is forced to fight when we view our lives as overwhelming. When our body remains on overdrive we lose our focus, our energy is reduced, and our body organs work harder than they are designed to work. All of this can lead to poor coping by means of drugs, alcohol, and food, all leading to unnecessary illness and even premature death.
Your life satisfaction and mental health depend largely on how you identify and respond to the stress you experience in life. Stress will always be a part of life, so it makes sense to continue to learn as much as we can about how stress impacts our mental health and wellness. Live longer and healthier by making stress work for you rather than steal from your enthusiasm and optimism toward life.