The Effects of Stress on Mental Health with Mood, Thoughts and Behavior…

How can stress affect my mental health with mood, thinking and body?

Stress is a natural reaction to challenges that may be taking place in your life. When people feel stress, the body and mind respond with production of hormones in the brain that speed up heart rate, makes you breathe faster, and/or give you a burst of energy. If the stress decreases quickly and your body goes back to normal there is no harm done. However, if stress happens often and lasts for long period of time, you may experience side-effects of stress with change in mood and behaviors.

There are both negative and positive stressors that may cause a reaction in how you feel, think and express yourself. For example, preparing for an interview or a life event such as marriage may be stressful but is considered a positive stressor. However, loss of employment, relationship, poor health, or unexpected event is considered negative stress.

It’s important to begin to recognize the symptoms of stress you may be experiencing to become more aware of the onset of stressors. Some people may go throughout their lifetime with ongoing stress without recognizing that they are under ongoing stress as they maladaptive to the symptoms and overlook the possible effects that stress may be causing on their life. For example, when under stress, you may experience some of these common symptoms but this is not an exclusive list.

Your body may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Physical tension
  • Back, neck and shoulder aches
  • Headaches
  • Chest tightness
  • Upset stomach
  • Constipation
  • Chest tightness

You may experience change in behavior:

  • Appetite changes (excessive eating or reduced appetite)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Grinding teeth
  • Unsafe driving
  • Unable to complete tasks
  • Over indulgence (excessive shopping, increased alcohol or other substance use, etc.)

Your feelings may change by becoming:

  • Irritable
  • Impatient
  • Overwhelmed
  • Anger
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness depression

You may experience having difficulty with thought changes of:

  • Excessive worry
  • Unable to make a decision
  • Racing thoughts
  • Loss of usual creativity
  • Forgetfulness
  • Uncertainty

Learning how to manage stress is possible…

Over time, you can learn to control your responses to any stressful event. By learning different tools and strategies through awareness will assist in better coping with stress until change can occur to decrease the stressful situation occurring in your life.

Here are some tips that may be useful to you…

  1. Notice what is really happening by identifying how you react to stress through your body, thoughts, behaviors, and thinking.
    a.Is it a specific situation, person, or place causing stress?
    b.Is it a specific time of year that stress may occur.
  2. Attempt to remove yourself for the situation mentally (what advice would you give a friendin the same situation).
  3. Attempt to look at the outcome of the situation.
    a. Are there any positives to the stressful event?
    b.Can this situation be resolved with some changes that are needed?
  4. Use positive self-talk to assist remaining focused on the future and what you can do even if in small steps to make the changes needed to reduce the stress.
  5. Accept what you cannot change and work around the situation as some things are out of our control.
  6. Develop a support system that will be helpful, honest and available to problem solve options to decrease the stressors.
    *This could be a clinician, mentor, friend, family member, etc.
  7. Develop healthy habits such as taking time out for yourself, relax, exercise, and/or healthy eating habits.
  8. Find activities that you enjoy to help release the stress and tension such as creative hobby, walking, gardening, laughter, etc.
  9. Set realistic goals for you that are short-term and long-term based. The short-term goals should lead you to the long-term goals.
    a.Time management is also a tool that will help with accomplishing tasks and assisting to decrease the feeling of being overwhelmed.
    b. Avoiding the ongoing, running to-do-list. Be realistic what you can get done and only pick top five things to work on. Do not make a new top 5 to-do-list until items are complete.
  10. Develop a work-life balance by leaving work at work and focusing on personal life at home.
    * It is important to take time out for fun, relaxation and social interactions.
    * Set boundaries and learn how to say ‘No’

Some Relaxation Techniques that may be helpful are:

  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Soft lighting
  • Soothing music
  • Bubble bath
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Walking
  • Reading

Davis, M., Robbins-Eschelman, E. & McKay, M. (2008). The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Smith, M., & Segal, R. (2013). Stress Management: How to reduce, prevent and cope with stress. Retrieved from:

Sobel, D. & Ornstein, R. (1996). Mind and Body Health Handbook. Los Altos, CA: DRx Publishers.