Stress and Mental Health

WITH the holiday season coming up, I think discussing stress and how to best handle it is vital. While many look forward to the holidays, it does come with many expenses, socializing, alcohol and substance use and many other triggers for mental health issues.

Even though we all experience grave stress, it’s one of those words we use so often but is difficult to define.
Stress is mental, physical or emotional strain resulting from demanding, unwanted or threatening circumstances. It’s our body reacting to things we don’t like or that make us uncomfortable. Think about what physically happens – your nervous system releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, making your heart race, blood pressure rise, our muscles tighten, and breathing becomes difficult. When it comes to our minds, stress is our perception of what’s happening.

Many things cause stress, which are known as ‘stressors.’ These are things such as high-demand jobs, school, relationship problems, major life changes and financial problems. However, are the things that cause stress always negative? No. Weddings or having a baby are positive, but can cause major stress. Therefore, the key to good mental health is not to avoid stress (as that’s impossible) but to figure out how to healthily deal with it.

How do we begin doing this? The key is finding out what exactly is stressful for you. For example, I find traffic highly stressful, even if I am not in a rush to go anywhere. However, I have friends who find that time alone to sit and listen to music is very relaxing. Obviously, those friends hate being in the car with me during rush hour. My point is, not everyone is stressed by the same factors. So, what stresses you out? And why is it important to know this? It’s important as stress can lead to a series of physical and mental issues. Daily stress can disturb every system in your body.

Stress also results in serious behavioural symptoms such as loss of productivity (which makes it hard to remain employed or in school), procrastination, heavy substance use, and isolation. How many of you shut everyone out and just need to be alone after a stressful day?
Emotionally, stress can cause high anxiety, irritability, impatience, overreactions, depression and suicidal thoughts.

There are a few types of stress that we must deal with. There is internal stress, whereby we worry about things that we have zero control over – it almost feels as if we are worrying for no reason. For example, if you have a function to go to and you worry about potentially fighting with your partner at this party. There is environmental stress which is caused by what’s going on around you. For example, I get stressed easily when in crowds and around a lot of noise. Finally, there is fatigue and overwork stress, which is long-term and builds up over time. For example, constantly working without taking any breaks or holidays.

Which kind of stress are you experiencing? Or is it all?
What are some unhealthy ways to deal with stress? Drinking, smoking, overeating, lashing out at other people or maybe isolating ourselves. We are all very aware and have possibly even tried these options? Have they truly worked? My guess would be no.

I hope by now you all know the first step to resolving anything. It is to identify the exact root of the problem. Figure out what causes your stress- is it avoidable? A stress journal helps with this. Write down whenever you feel stressed, the cause, your response to it, etc. This and this alone will help you in finding solutions and alternatives.
If you are stressed because you have a lot to do, make an actual list of these things and tick them off one by one as you are doing them. Visual progression automatically lowers stress and increases productivity.

Physical activity is always a great one- go to the gym -or better yet, pick up a team sport as being around a positive social group naturally decreases stress. Adopt a creative hobby such as painting or dancing. I actually use adult colouring books (yes! Those exist) when I’m stressed; they are very helpful.
Eat well- food has a major effect on our mood.

Work on your sense of control, self-esteem, attitude and overall outlook on life. These are very important in lowering stress. When one is confident, positive and hopeful, challenges, setbacks and disappointments are easier to handle. Know your stuff! People get highly stressed before work presentations/ speeches and exams. Preparation goes a long way in how we feel.
Try relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation or yoga. These are also very effective. Get plenty of sleep- replenish yourself well.

Finally, the best advice I can give is to accept the things you cannot change. This advice is cliché for a reason. There are so many things in life that are beyond our control. What is important however, is how we view the situation and more importantly, how we react to them.

Are you not sure if you’re unhealthily stressed? Take the universal stressed test in the photo!

Interpreting the score:
Add up all the numbers associated with your response. For example, if your answer to question 1 is never, you won’t add any points. If you answers to questions 2 and three are ‘almost never’ and ‘sometimes’, you will add 1 plus 2 and so on for the rest of the questions.

Score Your stress level 0 to 10 Below average. Congratulations, you seem to be handling life’s stressors well at the moment. 11 to 14 Average. Your life is far from stress-free, so now is the time to learn how to reduce your stress to healthier levels. 15 to 18 Medium-High. You may not realize how much stress is already affecting your mood, productivity, and relationships. 19 + High. You’re experiencing high levels of stress. The higher your score, the more damage stress is doing to your mind, body, and behaviour. This questionnaire is not intended to replace professional diagnosis.

Adapted from: Perceived Stress Scale – Sheldon Cohen How stressed are you? If your score was high, I’d hope you all take the necessary steps that I’ve outlined that will help lower your stress.

Thank you for reading and please send in any topics to

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