How Stress Affects Mental Health
Along with physical illness, psychological reactions to stressful events can hinder your ability to think clearly and logically. In a panic, a person might be so caught up in worrying about the repercussions of a negative end result that he or she fails to take the steps needed to cause a positive end result. For example, if a nightclub filled with hundreds of people catches fire and everyone's initial panicked response is to run for the same exit, some people can be trampled on or crushed in the process. Some people worry so much about the possible consequences of a decision that they can't make the decision and it gets made for them. Along with cognitive responses to stress, emotional responses such as anxiety, anger, and depression affect how well you cope with it.
Anxiety is the tense feeling you get when you are worried about bad things that might happen in the future. Anxiety is categorized into two types: objective anxiety and neurotic anxiety. Objective anxiety is what Freud described as a person's realistic approach to the situation causing the anxiety. The person is prompted to act in order to get rid of the anxiety he feels. Neurotic anxiety, on the other hand, is anxiety that Freud believed to be caused by unconscious-driven intentions that the person does not recognize, and therefore is unable to understand or control.
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness. According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), more than 40 million American adults suffer from at least one form of anxiety disorder. Oddly enough, anxiety disorders are the most undertreated, which could prove why many people take treatment into their own hands by turning to drugs and alcohol.
Anxiety is approached in many ways and is believed to appear in many situations. Fear, worry, dread, and a feeling of urgency are all types of anxiety and exist on many levels, some of which can cause serious disorders, which will be discussed in the next chapter. Causes of anxiety are also approached differently. Freud believed that neurotic anxiety is caused by the id's conflict with the ego and superego, and since this conflict exists on an unconscious plane, the person has no control of it, and therefore experiences feelings of helplessness.
Anger is a response to stress that often produces some form of aggressive behavior. The frustration-aggression hypothesis presumes that when something hinders your attempts at getting what you want, you become frustrated, an emotion that causes you to act aggressively by trying to injure the person or thing that is preventing you from getting what you want and causing the frustration. Displaced anger occurs when the anger is directed at someone or something that wasn't involved in causing the frustration. A bad day at work may take the form of a verbal argument with family members, and problems in a marriage may emerge as unusual behavior in social situations such as arguing with casual acquaintances or behaving aggressively with co-workers.
When all sense of hope is lost and the desire to live a full, healthy, goaloriented life has diminished, depression takes over every aspect of the person's being, including disrupting eating and sleeping habits, thought processes, and the ability to form and sustain positive relationships. While signs of depression itself can be identified, what leads up to the depression and who is more apt to become depressed remains yet to be determined. A combination of events as well as a single experience can cause depression, and all personality types are susceptible.
Types of depression include: major depression, a combination of symptoms that interfere with every aspect of a person's life; dysthymia, a less severe form of depression that is not disabling but still produces feelings of despair; and bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, in which a person experiences an emotional series of extreme highs and lows that are often unpredictable in nature.