Stress Awareness Month: Understanding Stress and Its Effects on Mental Health and Recovery

stress and mental health

Stress Awareness Month: Understanding Stress and Its Effects on Mental Health and Recovery

Stress Awareness Month has been nationally recognized each April since 1992.[1] Stress is something everyone experiences, but people experience it in very different ways. Since stress can impact nearly all aspects of your body–inside and out–it’s vital to learn how to cope with stress and find healthy ways to deal with situations that cause you stress. Stress Awareness Month aims to educate people about stress, its effects, and how to cope.

Coping with stress is especially important for people who struggle with mental health or addiction. Substance use, anxiety, and depression can all be made worse by excess stress. As a result, learning how to manage stress effectively can improve your overall well-being and quality of life.

What is Stress?

The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as the physical or mental response to an external cause.[2] Examples of external causes or stressors could be having a lot of homework, falling ill, or struggling to keep up with a heavy workload. These stressors can be one-time occurrences or they can happen repeatedly over an extended period of time.

Long-term stress causes increased levels of a hormone called cortisol in your body. High cortisol levels can weaken the immune system and contribute to symptoms of mental illness.[3] You are most susceptible to stress when you:

  • Aren’t getting enough sleep
  • Don’t have a support network
  • Are going through a major life change
  • Aren’t eating a healthy diet
  • Are in poor physical health

How Stress Affects Mental Health and Addiction Recovery

Stress is normal and everyone experiences it from time to time. However, it becomes unhealthy when it starts to cause anxiety and impact your health. ( Three ways stress can affect mental health and addiction recovery include:

Cause Physical Health Problems

Excess stress and anxiety can keep you awake at night leading to insomnia. You may struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get quality sleep. This can reduce your energy levels throughout the day as well as your productivity.[4]

Stress can also cause problems with your immune, digestive, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems.[2] For example, people who experience stress are less likely to eat healthily, and a poor diet can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression.[5] Dealing with these physical health problems can have a serious toll on your mental health and overall wellbeing.

Contribute to Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Health Issues

Stress can contribute to worsening symptoms of mental health conditions such as

  • Anxiety – Stress leads directly to anxiety and can increase symptoms of anxiety. It can also trigger panic attacks.
  • Depression – Stress can cause feelings of hopelessness, a decline in self-confidence, and a lack of motivation, all of which can lead to depression.
  • Schizophrenia – Stress may encourage hallucinations and delusions in people suffering from schizophrenia.
  • Bipolar disorder – Stress can trigger manic and depressive episodes in people with bipolar disorder.[3]

Stress can also lead to social isolation, frequent mood swings, and restlessness, all of which can impact your mental health.

Increase Drug and Alcohol Relapse Risk

Poor mental health is a major cause of drug and alcohol relapse, but stress can be, too. Studies show that stress can increase the risk for relapse because it makes people in recovery more prone to experiencing cravings for drugs and alcohol.[6]

While drugs and alcohol may temporarily alleviate stress, using substances to cope with stress is never a good idea. There are much healthier ways to cope.

Coping With Stress in a Healthy Way

Stress can be caused by many different things, so it’s important to identify what causes you stress so you can use healthy coping techniques during those times. Here is a list of healthy activities you can use to cope with stress:[2]

  • Avoid drinking excess caffeine
  • Keep a journal
  • Eat healthy balanced meals
  • Stick to a regular sleep routine
  • Make time for things you enjoy
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs
  • Build and reach out to a sober support group
  • Remind yourself that there are some situations that you simply cannot change
  • Focus on changing things you do have control over
  • Speak to a counselor if you feel like you need more help

Engaging in these healthy activities will not only reduce your stress but can also improve your mental health and reduce the risk of addiction relapse.

Learn How to Manage Stress and Improve Your Mental Health at Florida Recovery Group

Life with mental health issues can be overwhelming and affect every part of your life. At Florida Recovery Group, we offer a separate mental health program specifically for adults 18 and older who suffer from emotional and psychiatric health issues. Our team of mental health therapists and medical professionals will evaluate, diagnose and treat the root cause with compassion and empathy.

Our team can help you learn how to manage stress effectively without impacting your mental health or causing addiction relapse. Call now to get started.