The effect of stress on mental health

Published: 2023/07/06 Number of words: 1342


Stress is a term used to describe a response to any demand on the body which can have different meaning due to various conditions according to the generic definition proposed by Hans Selye. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named stress as the “health epidemic of the 21st century” which can have a devastating effect on emotional and physical health (Fink, 2009). Stress is known to cause different symptoms which may affect feelings physically, mentally and changes in behaviour. The monitoring of these aspects can help with support provided. The National Health Service (NHS) states that stress is usually a reaction to mental or emotional pressures because of a particular reason which may be related to causes such as work, family, financial issues and health (NHS, 2021). It is often associated with the inability to cope and can become a chronic condition if not managed. Stress is the body’s natural defence against danger and referred to as the mechanism of “fight or flight” indicating a response which can trigger a person’s mental health and become harmful (Felman, 2020). This paper aims to provide an overview of stress on the body and the effects with a focus on the impact on mental health which highlights the importance of correct management.

Impact of stress on the body

Studies have shown that stress can create various actions ranging from alterations to life threatening effects and death. It can also be a triggering or aggravating factor for many diseases. A review conducted showed the major effects on physiological systems in humans. The nervous system was an area of primary research where complications in brain function were noted which brough differences in response to stress, cognition, learning and memory. The relationship between stress and immune function was also highlighted to show how the immune system can be impaired with the occurrence of frequent illness. The association to cardiovascular disease was also indicated through findings verified from studies with common symptoms such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Gastrointestinal complications and issues with the endocrine system were also linked to stress factors including conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammation and peptic ulcers (Yaribeygi et al., 2017).

A different perspective was captured on observations of stress on metabolism and energy balance which creates a response that predisposes individuals to cardiometabolic diseases. The review further described links between stress, food intake and increased body weight which trigger the response that develops promote the activation of mechanisms disrupting energy balance. It was concluded that stressful situations can stimulate all these systems together, and the metabolic result of stress exposure is determined by a range of underlying and external factors (Rabasa and Dickson, 2016).

The research into stress presents challenges as highlighted by an article which analyses the context in terms of how the origins of stress can be located within the environment, in appraisal or response. Secondly coping mechanisms vary as it is a matter between stress and the person affected. Stress is also an occurrence that affects different people at different stages of life. These differences therefore affect the impact of stress and coping. Additionally, stress is dynamic as events change and may come and go. The understanding of stress, coping and how it changes over time in a multidisciplinary framework approach will be a major advancement for research in the area (Segerstrom and O’Connor, 2012).

Effect on mental health

Research from multiple prospective and retrospective studies have demonstrated the link between stress and poor mental health (Wu et al., 2020). Important risk factors for mental health are recognised through daily stressors and it is essential to examine resources and coping mechanisms which may also have a buffering effect. This is due to the point that not all people who experience stress have impaired mental health. However, there is evidence that the effect of daily stressors can be important predictors of emerging symptoms of depression and anxiety. The depth of the correlation between stress and mental state depends on characteristics and strategies that differentiate individuals from one another (Schönfeld et al., 2016). The World Health Organization describes mental health as a state of wellbeing where individuals realise their abilities, can cope with the stresses of life, work productively and make contribution to their community (World Health Organization, 2018).

The charity Mind explains the issues around stress and mental health with a view of the meanings in different contexts. It highlights that identifying the sources and triggers of stress are beneficial in finding ways for effective management. The link between stress and mental health is further analysed by looking at two important ways whereby stress can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and mental health problems can cause stress. This shows that it can become a vicious circle which might be hard to see where stress starts and ends (Mind, 2019).

It has been established that a certain amount is stress forms part of daily life to help with productivity, however long-term stress can be harmful if prolonged and increases the risks of mental health problems. The common problems include anxiety, depression, sleep issues, substance misuse, body pain and muscle tension. The symptoms of stress can also be cognitive in nature with difficulties in concentration, memory loss, lack of confidence, worry and decision making. In other emotional aspects it can reveal symptoms such as moodiness, irritability, hopelessness, helplessness and unhappiness (CAMH, 2018).


There is evidence to support the link between stress and mental health. Identifying the potential stressors that can trigger mental health issues are important in developing strategies for management and control. Stress and mental health issues also varies in people with different perspectives. This is leads to the fact that the tolerance levels of individuals are different dependent on related factors such as support network, attitudes, emotional regulation, self-control and resilience. The way stress influences mental health is through complex processes involving the integration of distinct biological and psychological systems. It is therefore necessary to have the input of multidisciplinary perspectives where the impact of stress and mental health are severe.


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Mind (2019). What is stress? | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2021].

NHS (2021). Get help with stress. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2021].

Rabasa, C. and Dickson, S.L. (2016). Impact of stress on metabolism and energy balance. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, [online] 9, pp.71–77. Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2021].

Schönfeld, P., Brailovskaia, J., Bieda, A., Zhang, X.C. and Margraf, J. (2016). The effects of daily stress on positive and negative mental health: Mediation through self-efficacy. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, [online] 16(1), pp.1–10. Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2021].

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World Health Organization (2018). Mental health: Strengthening Our Response. [online] World Health Organization. Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2021].

Wu, D., Yu, L., Yang, T., Cottrell, R., Peng, S., Guo, W. and Jiang, S. (2020). The Impacts of Uncertainty Stress on Mental Disorders of Chinese College Students: Evidence From a Nationwide Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.

Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T.P. and Sahebkar, A. (2017). The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI journal, [online] 16(1), pp.1057–1072. Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2021].

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