Wrestling With The Monster: The Psychological Impact of Stress
It’s another day in your life. You’ve started at a dead run, maybe skipped breakfast, juggled getting the kids up and out of the house, and battled traffic and work demands. You’ve been racing from event to event and now your pulse is racing, too.
Welcome to stress on a daily basis.
Part three in our series on stress focuses on how stress affects your psychological health. We learned that stress can have debilitating effects on the body but the ramifications of stress on your brain can be just as incapacitating.
Take a look at this list of symptoms and see if any look familiar in your life:
- Constant worry
- Trouble Concentrating
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Lack of Clarity
- Loss of Sense of Humor
Everyone experiences some of these states at some point but when the symptoms persist, you’re probably dealing with a stressed out brain that is losing cognitive function and brain cells.
Unfortunately, your brain doesn’t always do a good job of differentiating daily stresses from momentary fight or flight stressors. So a fight with a loved one or pressure from work can elicit the same response in your brain as being chased by an angry German Shepherd.
A sudden onset of episodic acute stress such as a car accident or seeing a police car with red lights flashing in your rear view mirror kicks your adrenaline into high gear to handle the situation. Once the episode is resolved those stress hormones leave your body.
However chronic stress creates a different more dangerous state. Repeated exposure to stressors causes your body to produce cortisol which is one of your brain’s biggest enemies if exposed too often. Unlike that adrenaline which occurs in bursts from the fight or flight reflex, cortisol can stay in your system longer.
In addition to troublesome physical effects such as high blood pressure, obesity, cancer, heart disease and hormone imbalances, overexposure to cortisol creates free radicals which erode your brain cells, like rust erodes metal.
Over time you may find yourself eating too much, drinking too much and losing sleep – all which decrease your brain’s ability to relieve stress.
It may seem like you are fighting a losing battle if your life is filled with stressors and you suffer from the effects of psychological stress, but there are things you can do to improve your capacity for dealing with it:
Take stress seriously. Stress exacerbates psychological and physical weaknesses. For example, if you are at risk for depression, you should stay vigilant for ways that reduce your stress reactions. The longer a body and brain are subjected to chronic stress, the higher the chance that your body’s systems are losing the ability to regulate themselves.
You may not be able to diminish the outside circumstances that cause you stress but you can put practices into place that help you turn away from the negative focus on these situations.
Understand how you respond to stress. Everyone responds to stress differently. Take a few moments of quiet time to identify patterns in your behavior and moods when stress hits. Do you ramp up and stay at a high level of distress? Do you live with a slow burn of anxiety?
Realizing how you uniquely react to stressors can help you engage in positive self-talk. You can remind yourself you’ve felt this way before and you have control over how long you let stress dictate your psychological and emotional responses.
Be proactive in caring for yourself. If your child is stressed you will do anything to help them feel better. You should take the same approach for yourself. Don’t just suffer with stress and try to push your reactions aside. You can find immediate ways to reduce that hormonal infusion and bring relief to your brain.
One of the most effective ways to reduce psychological stress reactions is to participate in social engagement. Because your brain is connected by the vagus nerve to sensory receptors in the eye, ear, face and heart, interacting with another person – listening, making eye contact and feeling connected can relax your mood as your brain calms itself.
There are many ways to decrease stress symptoms. Exercising, listening to quiet music, meditating, taking a few minutes off to just breathe deeply are just a few ways you can provide stress triage.
If you are looking for a training program to boost your mood and relieve stress, there’s no better kickstart program than the 8-week warrior challenge. Working towards your health and fitness goals with like-minded people can put your life on a positive new path!