The impact of stress on your mental health

By Vanessa Racine, social medias coordinator

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A young girl looking out a windowIn today’s society, many things can be a source of stress. So how can you limit the impacts of stress on your physical and mental health?
The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health crisis or be diagnosed with a mental illness. By age 40, that ratio increases to every 1 in 2 Canadians.

What is stress?

Stress is a reaction to change or to situations that we perceive to be threatening. It can be associated with positive experiences (marriage, a birth, etc.) or negative experiences (financial worries, job loss, death of a loved one, etc.).
It’s important to recognize that the way you feel about a situation plays an important role in triggering stress. A situation that is stressful for one person might not be for another, and vice versa. The causes and intensity of stress involve some individual variability.

How does stress affect mental health?

Stress has a psychological impact that can manifest as irritability or aggression, a feeling of loss of control, insomnia, fatigue or exhaustion, sadness or tears, concentration or memory problems, or more.
Continued stress can lead to other problems, such as depression, anxiety or burnout. Good stress management improves your quality of life and mental health.

How does stress affect physical health?

Stress not only affects your mental health, but also your physical health. For example, it can cause increased blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease, gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, heartburn, stomach ulcers, etc.), headaches, and back or neck pain. It can also lead to unhealthy behaviours and addictions.

How can I better manage my stress?

The first step in managing stress is finding its cause. Once you have that information in hand, you can look for ways to reduce it. For example, you could end a relationship that brings you more stress than joy, or delegate some tasks to your colleagues.
Since stress is a matter of perception, it can be beneficial to work on the way you view things and learn to downplay various situations. By accepting that it isn’t always possible to control some aspects of these situations, you can focus on taking concrete action. Help from a specialist may be useful to reframe the way you see stressful situations.

What are some effective stress management techniques?

To keep your stress in check, it can also be useful to participate in activities or try relaxation techniques. Here are some examples of activities and techniques that have been proven effective.
Hobbies. Discover a new pastime or take part in an activity that you enjoy.
Physical activity. It has countless benefits for your health and wellbeing that go beyond better stress management.

Yoga, breathing exercises and meditation. All these techniques are highly effective for managing stress.
Visualization. Visualization techniques tap into your ability to form positive mental images.
Massage therapy. Many types of massages exist, and some have a particular focus on relaxation.
Stress is a part of modern life and is a normal reaction to change. To limit the harmful effects of stress on your mental or physical health, it’s important to learn to live a healthy lifestyle, and if needed, to not hesitate to ask loved ones or health professionals for help. Doing so will make you more likely to stay zen!
To learn more about mental health, check out our online psychological first aid courses.
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