A link between stress and poor mental health?

By Elizabeth S.

Stress itself is not considered a mental health problem, so it can often get overlooked when thinking about contributors to poor mental health.  It’s true, stress is a normal part of everyday life and serves to protect us from danger and even with the right balance can be a good driving force to encourage someone to thrive, however prolonged stress over a long period of time can increase the risk of mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety.  Stress, is, the body’s way of reacting to feeling under pressure.  When stressed, the body can go into what we call the ‘fight or flight’ mode releasing the hormone known as adrenaline and as we all know, this can give us a well needed boost.  However too much can affect our bodies physically, mentally and lead to emotional exhaustion.  There is evidence to suggest that long term chronic stress is a contributing factor to major depressive disorder (MDD) and Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD).  A survey undertaken in 2018 by Mental Health Foundation commissioned by YouGov UK showed the following:

  • 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope
  • 32% of adults said they had experienced suicidal feelings as a result of 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

These are some staggeringly worrying statistics and eliminating stress from our lives is unlikely, however understanding what stress is, how it manifests and ways we can help ourselves to reduce or prevent stress affecting us may keep our mental health on an even keel.



* Loss Interest

* Irritable

* Problems with Sleeping

* Poor Memory

* Negative

* Depressed

* Tense


* Tearful

Above shows some examples of how stress can affect an individual emotionally.  This list is not exhaustive, but it is important to notice the signs in ourselves and our loved ones.  When stress kicks in, it can disrupt a person’s healthy coping strategies by stopping a person from engaging in things they enjoy.  Note Will for example:

Will enjoys playing tennis once a week.  It’s his way of letting off steam but an increased workload has meant that Will needs to stay late at work and doesn’t have time to play tennis. This is OK for a week or two, but over a long period of time can lead to Will feeling irritated or moody, possibly causing problems in his relationship, leaving him feeling isolated and low.

On the flip side, stress may also increase a person’s use of unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive alcohol leading to eventual low mood, problems sleeping and even relationship problems.  Not to mention disruption of usual routines such as healthy eating, exercise and consistent sleep patterns.  These are just a few ways stress can affect our lives and living with these for a lengthy amount of time can affect our mental health and in extreme cases lead to problems such as depression and anxiety.

With an ever changing and relentless pace of life, it seems stress is here to stay.  Luckily there are things we can do to reduce our stress levels, maintain good mental health and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety; each individual is unique but below are just a few examples:

  • Being aware of what your coping strategies are for maintaining your mood
  • Identify early signs of stress and use these as a signal to make some changes. Even small changes, such as reading a book for 15 minutes can have a positive effect
  • Communicate and talk to the people around you about how you are feeling and if possible, ask for help. This can not only relieve stress symptoms, but can strengthen bonds in relationships.
  • Exercise regularly by engaging in even light exercise to release those good-endorphins and increase your well-being
  • Meet with friends and reconnect with the people most important to you

Use relaxing techniques such as mindfulness, meditation or deep breathing

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