Stress The Point: Stress vs Mental Illness

April is Stress Awareness Month, so to be aware of, honor, and treat stress appropriately, it is important to be clear about the distinction that stress is not a mental health condition, although it may be the cause. and the symptom of one.

Perhaps in society we confuse “stress” with a mental illness, partly a hangover from the time when doctors could fire people from work with “stress” rather than “an undiagnosed or untreated mental health condition.” . Perhaps it is also due in part to the widespread epidemic of post-traumatic stress that veterans lived with for years after several wars in the last century. We will return to these vital differences between stress and mental health conditions in a few paragraphs.

What is stress and long-term stress?

Stress is the body’s nervous system’s natural response to a threat. Our bodies become stressed to prepare for an attack. It could be a physical threat, an emotional threat, an imagined threat, or a threat that we experienced a long time ago and have not yet fully processed.

Occasional stress is part of life. Problems and even illnesses, both physical and mental, occur when we experience chronic or prolonged stress.

In today’s world, we face different types of stress: the stress of reading the news, the stress of screen time, the stress of technology, the stress of the cost of living crisis, let alone the stress of relationships and relationships. workloads.

Our bodies can experience these external situations as a threat to our survival in one way or another. If it is ongoing and widespread, it can often be difficult to notice the impact these stresses have on us until it becomes difficult to live with the symptoms. And that is why it is vital to understand stress a little better.

This is, in part, why challenging the stigma of “keeping going” and “trying hard” is not sustainable. If we bury, deny, or ignore our body’s response to stress, we can’t run away from it. Our bodies store it.

If we ignore stress in the long term, it can become a mental health condition. Many are familiar with the term post-traumatic stress disorder and many are now becoming familiar with it. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Both are mental health conditions with symptoms that can disrupt daily life due to traumatic events our minds and bodies have gone through. The difference between the two was summarized to me when I was in the early stages of my CPTSD diagnosis as follows:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder It primarily occurs in adults who have experienced a traumatic event and can be developed by anyone, even someone who has never had a history of trauma, mental health problems, or other risk factors for mental illness.
  • CPTSDAs the name suggests, it is more complex and may be the result of ongoing trauma, abuse, or adverse childhood experiences.

For example, a soldier knows that he is a soldier, he knows that there is a war, he knows what he is experiencing. After experiencing traumatic events, they may develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. But if a child in their formative years, while their brain and sense of self are developing, experiences ongoing and widespread traumatic events, then the trauma influences brain structure, thought patterns, beliefs, and more. It is common for a person with CPTSD to be diagnosed with 10 to 15 different mental illnesses before finally receiving this diagnosis.

Ignoring stress can lead to mental health problems and physical health problems. Therefore, stress in itself is not a mental illness. But it can cause them and it can be a symptom of them.

Why is stress not a mental illness?

Stress and mental illness are two concepts that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. While stress is a normal response to challenging situations, mental illness is a serious condition that requires medical attention.

Stress It is a natural response to situations, environments and relationships that challenge us. Stress can be physical stress on our body, an intense and generalized cognitive load (stress on our mental capacity) and an increase in emotional loads. Stress is a normal part of life because life itself is challenging and, in small amounts, it can be beneficial. Stress can help us stay alert and focused. However, when stress becomes chronic or overwhelming, it can have negative effects on our physical and mental health.

Chronic stress can even lead to the development of mental health and physical health conditions. Therefore, it is vital that we learn to manage stress to prevent other longer-term conditions from arising.

Mental illness is a diagnosis of one of many serious conditions that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Mental illness can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, and life experiences.

Another difference is that mental illness is not a choice, but rather a medical condition that requires treatment. Stress is not always an option, but sometimes we can find ourselves addicted to stress hormones and therefore begin looking for stressful situations to get that familiar “high” and a familiar response.

The differences are clear if we take the time to pay attention to our bodies, minds, thought patterns, behavior patterns, and feelings. Whether you are experiencing symptoms of stress or mental illness, it is important to seek help. Neither stress nor mental illness is a character flaw, but with the right knowledge, support and guidance we can learn to manage and treat both.

Cope with stress

Uncontrolled stress can lead us to develop coping mechanisms, which are often not consciously healthy. Our minds want us to survive and, therefore, if stress is not controlled, our energy reserves can manage our nervous system for us: we can develop anxiety disorder or other anxiety-related disorders, such as OCD, to manage our generalized stress levels, we can become so stressed that our nervous system goes into a “freeze” or “shut down” response. causing depression and along with these responses our bodies can develop physical illnesses due to stress.

Some people might want to banish stress from our lives and profess that a stress-free life is happier. But an under-recognized truth is that we all need some stress in our lives. First of all, while it may seem wonderful to lie on the beach relaxing for the rest of our lives, our bodies adapt faster than we think and our minds tend to find new sources of stress. It is a survival instinct to perceive potential threats. So while we can relax for a short time in these quick-fix scenarios, making them the norm doesn’t necessarily adjust our ability to manage stress. It is more sustainable if we adjust our daily routines to involve Regular habits to control stress levels.

Not only can we not sit in bubble baths all day or meditate at all hours because our society is not made for us to do so. Plus, our skin would wrinkle from the foam! If we have too little stress we can experience a lack of motivation and disinterest, which may even lead to closure. If we experience too much stress, it can lead to agitation, overwhelm, and exhaustion. There is an optimal level of stress on this bell curve and it is where we are interested, excited, motivated, engaged in life and have purpose.

In this stress awareness month, we can also be aware of positive stress and how it differs from negative stress. Is negative stress exhaustion, missing deadlines, arguments with loved ones, the pressures of negative self-talk, exasperation at the news, the inability to disconnect, in short? Stress is the demands of modern life.

Positive stress could be learning some new skill, positively stressing our body with exercise, positively stressing our mind with new experiences, positively emphasizing our relationship skills by meeting new people, trying new things, pushing ourselves gently and with enthusiasm, compassion and curiosity outside. of our comfort zones.

Learn how to recognize and reduce stress in this article.

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