If you’re a high performer, you’re accustomed to working under stress.
You may have even come to believe that intense pressure is normal. However, according to Beyond Blue, accumulative, ongoing stress can turn into a major problem in terms of mental health.
Neurological insights into how the brain processes stress suggest that it can be a key element in the development of anxiety and depression, says the organisation.
Recent studies have also shown that long-term stress can change the structure of the brain, especially in the areas that involve memory and learning. And that stress can affect both nerve cells and the connections between them.
That may be why, when you’re overwhelmed, recalling even simple things can seem difficult, and trying to focus on mastering new knowledge almost impossible.
It’s easy to see how chronic stress can slowly erode mental health.
The health effects of anxiety
Anxiety, like stress, is a response that is part of our sympathetic nervous system, say psychologists.
In some ways, both are a natural reaction in the body to a perceived threat.
However, increased pressure in our society to achieve more, in less time, has not only ramped up stress levels in general, it has also resulted in an increase in anxiety.
Someone who is stressed can find that they are irritable, or unable to concentrate.
These types of symptoms are also common in people who are struggling with mental health.
However, while it may be possible to rebound from stress, through management techniques such as exercise, relaxation, or even talking out a problem, constant anxiety can be harder to shake.
If it is experienced in a chronic way, it can also result in physical health consequences, such as asthma, eczema, dermatitis, and possibly autoimmune problems.
Stress and depression
Can stress really cause an increase in risk of depression?
While there are other possible causes, including genetics, brain chemicals and life events, chronic stressful situations can increase the risk of developing depression in those who aren’t coping well, according to Mayo Clinic.
And, in a catch-22, because chronic stress can weaken the immune system, it may also be behind depression, as well as health conditions such as fatigue, or high blood pressure.
When to get help
There are a number of common symptoms involved in overstress and mental illness that should prompt you to see your doctor.
These include difficulty in sleeping, constantly worrying, feeling overwhelmed and ruminating, physical effects such as an upset stomach or headaches, a desire to isolate and avoid connection with family and friends, overuse of alcohol and use of drugs and thoughts of suicide.
If you are experiencing any of these, it is best to seek expert advice on where you sit on the scale of mental health and what interventions may be useful to you.
In today’s world, lack of certainty, pressure to achieve, and constantly shifting goal lines mean that anyone can be vulnerable to mental illness.At the same time, there are plenty of effective treatments for returning patients to a state of health.