Chronic stress, which occurs continuously over long periods of time, might result from a difficult job or a health issue, while acute stress happens quickly and can be attributed to a rapid change in someone’s circumstances or a traumatic event like a car accident or death in the family. Both can have lasting effects on the mind. Here are just a few ways stress can affect your mental state.
1. Stress Can Alter Your Brain Connectivity:
Scientists operating on adult rats found that the neural stem cells of the hippocampus, which regulates your memory and emotions, can be altered by stress. Rather than becoming neurons or astrocyte cells, as is expected, these cells instead become oligodendrocyte cells. With fewer neurons to work with, the brain’s connectivity is affected. One possible effect: an increased connection between the emotional hippocampus and the amygdala, which triggers the so-called “fight or flight” response. Severe stress can thus alter the brain so that situations which would normally trigger an emotional response instead cause a reaction that is usually reserved for situations of extreme danger. This could explain why sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder often react to stressful situations like their lives are in danger.
2. Stress Can Lead to Depression:
Some of the hormone byproducts that are produced by stress have a sedative effect, meaning they’re intended to calm us down or make us feel sleepy. While this is useful in the short term to combat the anxiety induced by stress, in the long term these hormone byproducts can create a sustained lack of energy. That means that chronic stress can lead to chronic depression, as people feel weary and dejected by the prolonged difficulty of coping with stress in their lives. People can develop major depressive disorders if they deal with chronic stress long enough with no relief.
3. Stress Can Alter Your Personality:
People who are otherwise pleasant to be around can experience shifts in their personality due to chronic stress. While this very obvious in acutely stressful situations (few people react calmly to a car accident, for example) prolonged stress can bring about irritability, hostility, and anger in people who are calm, peaceful, and relaxed in temperament prior to the prolonged stress. Like depression, this is attributable to the buildup of stress hormone byproducts in the body and brain.
4. Stress Can Bring on Panic Attacks:
People who are susceptible to anxiety attacks are often most likely to suffer these episodes when they are stressed, and chronic stress can make people who have never experienced an anxiety attack start to suffer them. Having your stress hormones activated over and over can lead you to feel on edge, and once you’ve experienced the dread, helplessness, and physical discomfort of a panic attack, the prospect of suffering another one actually contributes to your overall stress level.
Stress affects everyone, although it doesn’t affect us all equally. People vary in their response to pressure from work, school, or romantic relationships. While some people may seem immune to the effects of these stressful situations or occurrences, stress can have major impacts on mental health. Watch for signs of the issues above if you’re dealing with stress.