Stress & Your Mental Health

How Stress Affects Your Mental Health

Stress is a state of mental pressure and tension that you experience in response to challenging life events. Stress and mental health go hand-in-hand in that some stress can be positive, but an abundance of stressful situations can cause negative effects on both your physical and mental health.

Positive stress is what you feel when you study hard for an important exam. If you want to get a good grade, some stress will help you stay alert and focused. The same can be said for the stress you feel about moving to a new city or taking a new job. Stress is a part of exciting and new situations in your life.

Stress becomes a problem when life events become more than we can handle. Stress can come out of nowhere like an unexpected death of a loved one or you may be experiencing long-term stress found in job burnout relationship challenges or financial burdens.

Wherever the sources of your stress, over time, it can take its toll on your happiness and ability to feel like you are thriving in your life.

Stress And Mental Health


Too much stress over an extended period can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, health problems, and negative impacts on your social and family relationships.


Stress And Mental Health
Stress And Mental Health

Stress and Anxiety

People often confuse the terms stress and anxiety. Anxiety is a physical experience in your body that is activated by your central nervous system in response to a perceived threat or danger. Stress is different. Stress is a broader, more encompassing, term that speaks to the interplay between what happens inside of us and what happens outside of us.

For example, you may experience chronic stress at work (pressure from your boss or difficulty connecting with your coworkers) that causes you to feel anxious about being at work or talking with your coworkers.

Internally, you may have negative chatter or self-talk about feeling worried about being fired, or feel uncomfortable in conversations with your peers. In this example, the external factors of your boss’ behavior and your interactions with your coworkers lead to an internal experience of worry and anxiety. This causes your nervous system to vacillate between fight/flight/freeze mode during your time at work, leading to the experience of “feeling stressed out.”

Unfortunately, when you experience too much stress and anxiety over time, your mental health is deeply affected. Your isolated experiences of a “stressful boss” turn into a vicious cycle that accumulates over time often leading to secondary effects such as depression and health problems.

Stress and Depression

Poorly managed stress can also lead to depression. In fact, having symptoms of depression can be an indication that you are not handling stress well.

These symptoms may include low mood, poor sleep, irritability, weight loss, and physical fatigue that can worsen over time. Working with patients over many years, I can tell you confidently that these symptoms should be taken seriously.

When stress and depression are allowed to “linger” you increase the likelihood that clinical depression or other depressive disorders will result. 

Stress and Burnout

It is important to note that both stress and burnout are common terms that we use, but neither is a clinical diagnosis. They just refer to a general state of being. 

Burnout is physical and emotional exhaustion that ensues from too much stress. It typically refers to job burnout. 

All professionals in any type of work can experience burnout. The reasons for burnout can be many. The solutions to burnout can be many from working less to prioritizing the work-life balance.

The solutions are often not so simple. Sometimes situations are such that you are not able to work less or prioritize due to practical life considerations. 

Sometimes the solutions are more complicated than it first might seem. The question could be asked? What hole is this person trying to fill or what is this person avoiding in their life by working so much, putting so much into their job, or being driven in unhealthy ways?

I have worked with many highly successful people who experience burnout in what they do to find that as we work through things their ambition becomes a way to avoid pain. Their work becomes the way they identify themselves. After we go “there” and help them face the feelings they are avoiding, their lives become more peaceful and calm.

Stress And Mental Health

Common signs of burnout include

Stress and relationship conflict

It goes without saying when you are stressed out your relationships can suffer. A stressed parent can yell at their kids unfairly which can invite guilt and only deepen the struggle. A stressed out spouse can be less emotionally available to their partner.

We know that financial stress is one of the leading factors in marital conflict.

Stress and your physical health

I think this is one of those areas that is truly under-appreciated by the general public. We often think that problems such as tension headaches, migraines, diarrhea, IBS, body aches, chronic fatigue, nausea, dizziness can only be caused by a physical/structural medical condition. So we naturally go to the doctor to find out what is wrong and get help.

But did you know that over 50% of doctor visits have no medical cause. These are called psychosomatic symptoms. Psycho means psychological, and soma means somatic the body. The rate for emergency visits is even higher. So stress can have a strong impact on our physical bodies as well as on our minds.

How Psychotherapy Can Help

Psychotherapy is not designed to directly change your life conditions, but it is able to help you increase your resilience and internal resources to better deal with life conditions. 

A skilled psychotherapist can do this in many different ways, from simple techniques that focus on your behaviors and thinking, to approaches that go deeper and help you deal with anxiety, strong emotions, and avoidance behaviors at their root. 

Sometimes we can carry so much and may be prone to keeping it all inside. The ability to simply talk to a caring and trusted professional about what is happening can ease your stress. So just taking that often difficult first step in seeing a professional shows courage and resilience.

 A skilled psychotherapist may even work with you to evaluate distorted thinking that can lead to stress. For example, you may have negative thoughts about yourself that are not consistent with reality which can impact performance at your work.

 A plan can take into account your own strengths and weaknesses and guide you to what works best for you. The most common strategies include exercise, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, deep breathing techniques, guided imagery, relaxation techniques, and evaluating negative and distorted thinking. 

A plan may also include your response to your unique stressors and suggest lifestyle changes such as diet, etching out “me” time, prioritizing activities, and reducing workload or other activities.

How ISTDP Can Help With Stress and Your Mental Health

While solution-focused, cognitive, and behavioral strategies can be helpful, they are often not enough, in and of themselves, to help people overcome stress and its terrible effects. Many people who come to my practice know about coping strategies and the things that trigger the stress response. They may experience stress often when certain stressors are present. They may also have been to many therapists before coming to see me and continue to suffer and struggle.

For these people, simply working with stress triggers and coping strategies does not address the suffering at its root. Their internal resources may be so challenged that helping them with their internal emotional struggles is critical. 

I have come to appreciate that the challenges of overcoming unremitting stress also have something to do with something called “folk psychology”.

Folk psychology is common and simple ideas about human behavior that sound good but rarely do the trick. And they often do little more than ease the anxiety of the person who says them.

These types of suggestions are often not effective as ISTDP

These types of suggestions are often not effective as ISTDP.

When a person cannot do what seems “so simple” to others, it often leaves them feeling diminished and ineffective, often fueling the problem.

In my experience, it takes genuine change in order to overcome long-standing stress at its core and not just strategies to cope with stress.

I have found that the mental health field often equates stress with stressful events and does not give enough emphasis to the internal struggle of the person experiencing stress.

ISTDP therapy addresses the stress response at its core. In ISTDP we go beyond coping strategies and help you identify maladaptive behaviors that block your own strength and natural coping abilities. I help you turn against these maladaptive behaviors to help you connect to important emotions that allow you to thrive in your life.

It could be said that instead of giving you a fish, the work helps you learn how to fish. As one doctor told a patient that he referred to me, Jack will help you help yourself.

Get In Touch With Me

If you’re ready for this kind of support, I would welcome the opportunity to work with you. My services are cash-based and I am accepting clients now.

My office is in Annapolis, MD and you can reach me for a consultation by calling (410) 562-9647 or sending me an email at