When you think of stress, it probably makes you think of negative emotions. But some stress is good for you, such as the anticipation you feel when starting a new relationship or a new job. It can fuel excitement and make you want to do and accomplish more. Stress can also help you be prepared for challenges or react to dangerous situations.
The good stress does not stay. It stimulates your mood to meet the moment and then goes away. If you are stressed for long periods of time it can become overwhelming and affect you both physically and emotionally.
“Our stress response works pretty well in the short term, but it doesn’t work very well if you activate it in the long term,” says David Prescott, PhD, associate professor of health administration and public health at the Husson University in Bangor, ME.
“If we remain under chronic stress, our physiological response to stress is called upon beyond what it is designed for, and it begins to alter us.”
The effects of chronic or long-term stress can be harmful on their own, but they can also contribute to depression, a mood disorder that makes you feel sad and loses interest in the things you usually love. Depression can affect your appetite, your sleep patterns, and your ability to concentrate.
And the effects of depression can cause stress.
“The impact of stress on depression, and vice versa, is one of the most important issues of our time,” says Carol Landau, PhD, clinical professor at Brown University.
The stress-depression connection
“We think the causal relationship between stress and depression is what’s called ‘two-way’, says Prescott.“ One can cause the other, and the other can cause the first, and both can s ‘aggravate.”
The ways in which depression can lead to stress are pretty clear.
“Depression disrupts your life, so you are often more isolated,” Prescott says. “Sometimes you reduce your interpersonal network and stop doing a lot of activities, like work or school or things that you love. We know this type of isolation increases your level of perceived stress, so we know that depression can cause stress. “
There is good evidence that the reverse is also true.
“Severe stress, like a divorce or a huge financial change, is a major stressor, and it kind of sends the psyche off balance. If you keep raising stress levels, something is going to happen, and often it’s depression, ”says Landau.
But the reasons why stress contributes to depression are less obvious.
“It’s pretty clear that chronic stress increases the incidence level of depression,” Prescott says. According to the Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Survey Report, levels of depression among Gen Z members increased by about 4% or 5% between the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic period.
“We believe that social isolation, disruption of normal activities, and the general stress of having your college or job disrupted seem to increase levels of depression. But I would say we don’t know, causally, exactly how it happened.
Make lifestyle changes
Sometimes a few small changes can break the stress-depression cycle, starting with a more positive mindset.
“If you’re stressed out and you feel like you’re starting to get depressed, the most important thing is to adopt a slightly more active coping strategy in how you’re going to deal with your stress,” Prescott explains. “Don’t just think you’re going to have to” suck it up and take it. “”
A more active coping strategy can include:
- Exercise. 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week is enough to make a difference. Activities like yoga and tai chi, which slow things down and help you relax, are good for reducing stress.
- Avoid overeating or drinking. These can help you feel better temporarily, but they are not helpful. Besides being physically harmful, they can make you feel guilty and worse about yourself. Alcohol abuse can affect your sleep and make you lazy the next day.
- Limit caffeine. Too much can exhaust you and make the stress even more intense. Try to reduce your intake of coffee, soda, and other caffeinated drinks.
- Stop smoking. The idea that smoking cigarettes can help you deal with stress is a popular myth. Although nicotine helps you relax right away, this feeling is short lived and can create more stress due to cravings or withdrawal.
- Take time for yourself. Do things that you love to do or that make you feel good. Be kind to yourself and focus on the things you do well.
- Avoid stressors. If you know something or someone makes you angry, do what you can to avoid that situation or that person.
- Sleep well. Making sure your mind and body get enough rest can go a long way in reducing stress. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours for adults each night.
“If you’re depressed and trying to minimize the impact of stress on your life, it’s important to overcome this belief that ‘nothing I do will really matter,’ Prescott says. “just isn’t true in most cases. It might not change everything, but it’s a great thing to overcome that kind of hopeless belief.”
Another way to lessen the effects of stress and depression is to not try to manage them on your own. Strong, supportive relationships can make a big difference.
“Depression is a state of disconnection,” says Landau. “So one of the most important things would be to find a way to connect. It’s extremely important to add a few people you’ve known in the past and find a way to connect.
Talking with your friends and family can help you better understand what’s causing your stress, which can be a big step forward.
“If stress and depression play off each other, it can help articulate and identify the stressors in your life that cause the most disability,” Prescott says. “At the end of the day, we all feel like ‘I’m stressed out’ in general, but it’s really helpful to sort of figure out what’s going on with you in particular.
“It helps for someone to say things like, ‘How do you deal with your stress? or “Tell me about your mood? Or “How are your spirits?” So just listen.
“A lot of times what helps people is not a specific tip like ‘Do this or that’, but just a chance to talk about it with someone who is caring. Ask an open-ended question like this, then bite your lower lip and listen for a moment. “
If talking to friends or family isn’t working well enough, you can talk to a professional. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one way to change your perspective and approach.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy is important because we want to be able to take back control,” says Landau. “CBT helps you focus on the little things you can accomplish today, how you can implement them, how you can evaluate them. It is therefore an excellent educational tool as well as a therapeutic tool.
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