If you’ve recently endured loss, experienced a significant life-changing event or have simply been overtired and overworked, you may be justly concerned about your overall mental health. How can stress negatively affect your mental health? It turns out, much in the same way it can affect your physical health.
Have you ever looked for an apartment and found one that checked off most things on your list but just felt “off”? Or, on the other hand, entered a building for the first time and, before seeing anyone, immediately felt your spirits lift? According to an article in Neurology Times, these gut reactions of sensing good or bad “vibes” may have a basis in the science of left-behind chemosignals, or chemicals released from a person’s body through secretions such as tears or sweat.
Just as these positive or negative vibes may be communicated through our bodies’ physiological processes, our emotions are inherently linked to our physical forms. To begin to understand how negative emotions affect both your mental and physical health, we must look at what exactly emotions are, how they arise and how they manifest in our thoughts and behavior.
Understanding and Defining Negative Emotions
While there have been significant disputes among experts over exactly how many basic emotions exist, researchers claim in an study published in Current Biology that there are four:
According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, emotions consist of behaviors we have in response to an external event, our subjective experience of that event and our bodies’ automatic physiological response to that event.
If you look at just our physiological responses to events that induce any of these four basic emotions, it seems wrong to judge any emotion as inherently good or bad. After all, if we find ourselves in the path of a giant tornado, fear may be a beneficial response that jolts our muscles into action or causes our eyes to quickly spot the best place to seek shelter. In fact, this fight, flight, or freeze response is our body’s healthy stress response, designed to help us survive.
However, sometimes our bodies and minds have a hard time letting go of these emotions. Ongoing stress may cause the physical effects of emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness to linger far after the event that triggered them has ended. When this happens, what once were natural, healthy emotional responses to a singular event can now have a negative effect on our lives.
How Can Stress Negatively Affect Your Mental Health?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, when stress is ongoing, its effects can differ greatly from short-term, acute stress that occurs in an isolated incident. Chronic stress not only keeps the body from discerning when it’s safe to turn off its physiological responses, but it can keep the mind hooked on certain emotions past their point of welcome.
When chronic stress brings on long-lasting sadness, anger or fear, these emotions can affect our mental health by inducing depression, irritability, anxiety, and substance abuse.
These negative emotions in chronic form can become disorders that:
- Create and encourage a cycle of negative thought patterns
- Can lead a person to isolate, spurring more pervasive feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem and loneliness
Can Negative Emotions Affect Your Physical Health?
Along with our mental health, persistent or overwhelming negative emotions can greatly affect our physical health. Chronic or heightened levels of stress cause our bodies to persistently release the same hormones used to induce our fight, freeze or flight reflexes.
Some of the physiological responses that can save your life include decreased appetite, slowing down of bodily functions, sweating, decreased need for sleep and a faster or slower heart rate. Increased adrenaline and increased sensitivity to stimuli can also lead to anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed and irritability.
The National Institute of Mental Health states that persistent, chronic levels of stress and negative emotions can contribute to:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Compromised immune system
- Digestive issues
Additionally, stress can lead to muscle tension and aches, cause malnutrition from a decreased appetite and make it more difficult for your body to grow and heal from injuries. Not only are these conditions bad for your health, but they can greatly affect your quality of life.
Suggestions for Remedy
Fortunately, once we’re aware of how emotions arise and how closely our bodies’ response is linked to our thoughts and behaviors, we can begin to make conscious changes that can positively affect our overall health.
Changing Your Behavior
Because emotions and our physiological processes and physical health are so intertwined, there are things we can physically do to begin deactivating our body’s stress responses.
Some ways to counteract the effects of negative emotions include prioritizing any one or more of the following:
- Sleep (getting enough and practicing good sleep hygiene)
- Eating well (eating well-balanced meals and consuming the optimum amount of calories to help you reach a healthy weight)
- Drinking enough water
- Connecting with friends or family
- Altering your environment
By focusing on these key physical things, you can greatly improve the way you physically feel. Our mental and emotional health are often heavily influenced, more than we may realize in the moment, by the way we feel physically.
Changing Your Thoughts
Some of these above behaviors are helpful in decreasing the intensity of negative emotions and forming positive ones. This is because behaviors such as socializing with friends or changing your environment can spur you to think new, more positive thoughts. The less you ruminate on negative thoughts such as “I’m useless” or “Things will never work out” and exchange them for thoughts such as “I can do this” or “I’m thankful for my friend,” the better chance you’ll have of lifting your mood.
Reframing negative thoughts into more positive ones is a skill that requires some awareness and practice. Fortunately, resources such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help.
FHE Health Can Help You Overcome Negative Emotions
At FHE Health, our wide range of mental health and addiction rehabilitation and recovery services can help you or a loved one transform negative emotions into positive outcomes in your life. Through our available treatment methods such as individual therapy, group therapy and the holistic approaches of acupuncture and massage, people can develop treatment plans that work best for them.