The Connection Between Stress and Mental Illness

September 4, 2012 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Stress is connected to mental illness and can worsen the illness. Learn to identify the symptoms of stress so you can recover. Here are some signs of stress.

Mental illness is commonly connected to stress and anxiety. Before a person receives treatment for a mental illness, he often experiences stress due to the uncommon behavior caused by the mental illness symptoms. Symptoms can cause behavior changes that initiate feelings of guilt, shame, and depression. Understanding the connection between stress and mental illness is important but it isn't always easy to separate the symptoms.

Stress Can Cause Mental Illness Relapse

Living with a mental illness can be frightening. It can be hard to differentiate stress from symptoms of mental illness relapse. We all experience stress differently both on a physiological level and a psychological one. Even so, some symptoms of stress are more common than others.

Common symptoms of stress:

  • A feeling of detachment. When your stress level is high your body release chemicals that make you feel detached
  • A mind that races as fast as your heart, trying to make sense of the uncomfortable feeling
  • Panic attacks. These are also a separate disorder, but stress will create the panic sometimes.
  • An unreasonable fear of a situation that was once comfortable
  • A heightened sense of fear leading to uncomfortable physical symptoms
  • Stress can impact appetite. A person often experiences a loss of appetite or an increase in appetite
  • Stress affects our level of energy in a similar way that depression does. We might feel sluggish or out of the loop. It can be difficult to pinpoint our feelings
  • Sleep is often affected by a high level of stress; insomnia or hypersomnia is common

How to Notice the Connection Between Stress and Your Mental Illness Sooner

When you practice self-care regularly, you prevent stress. Self-care also attunes you to your body and mind and how they're reacting to your world. Paying attention to those reactions highlights your stress levels and you can notice even a small increase or decrease. But if you're not engaging in regular self-care, the reactions to stress may increase very dramatically before you do something about it.

Self-care, in the context of mental illness and recovery from it, often involves:

  1. Working to maintain a stable sleep cycle
  2. Forming positive and healthy relationships with people
  3. Educating ourselves on our illness
  4. Accepting help when we need it
  5. Integrating physical activity into our lives on a regular basis

When living with a mental illness, our level of stress is something we need to pay close attention to. When we learn to identify the symptoms of stress, we can use those signs to our advantage by increasing self-care actions, thereby preventing mental illness relapse.

It takes time to learn about our illness and how it relates to the symptoms of stress. But learning self-care, and practicing it, is how we learn to manage our mental health by recognizing how stress impacts our mental illness.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2012, September 4). The Connection Between Stress and Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

September, 4 2012 at 6:30 pm

I was writing a thesis and became so stressed out that I started having panic attacks. Later on those calmed down and I started having heart palpitations, only I didn't connect either with stress at the time. I ended up undergoing a heart stress test and fortunately all was well. I wonder if things would have been different if I had paid attention to my stress symptoms.

randall ross
September, 6 2012 at 9:50 pm

i used to cut my self up untill i was 30 yrs old it semed to releive stress with lots of counsling ive found other ways . now i have scares all over from it sometimes its kindof imbarresing . ilive through the parinoia that peopil are jugeing me . i sure wish i could spell better . it was a hard habit to break .

October, 9 2012 at 5:06 pm

I have always known that depression runs in my family, there is a long history of it on my father's side of he family. 7 years ago, my 13 year old daughter told me she was cutting. She was diagnosed as bipolar which resulted in her commiting suicide 3 yrs ago. Since then and during her treatment. I started having the same depression systems, anxiety and parnoria. I am still dealing with this.

Colleen McMurray
April, 2 2014 at 5:15 am

I never thought stress could actually lead to mental illness but my daughter is proof that it can. She describes the trauma she went through at a school as "strange, weird and scary." She also lost both of her grandparents at the same time the horrific situation at school was at its height. She hasn't spoken since this all happened. Lately, she will answer questions if asked in short 2-3 word responses. She has had a bunch of other physical symptoms. Her eyes started blinking a lot, her eyebrows stayed raised, she developed incontinence and she had a far off look in her eyes. She's seen different counselors and psychiatrists who had different opinions about what she had. Her last counselor says she has been the victim of trauma induced mutism. Sometimes multiple traumatic events cause certain personality types to give way. Every time I read about a disorder it seems like she has that disorder because they share similar symptoms. I don't believe people should be labeled as this or that because I don't believe they always know for certain and just feel pressured to label the patient with some type of diagnosis. Time and patience, a loving household and allowing her to heal slowly has helped, but we don't know if she'll ever fully recover. Don't believe in drugs for her. She doesn't like them and I will not force her to take them.

Kelli Stroop
April, 18 2014 at 5:01 pm

Very stressful. You not only worry about your mental health needs, but you worry about the effect on others.

kisten mweemba
October, 5 2020 at 2:29 pm

interesting for students and for all people around the world

Daniel Taylor
November, 15 2020 at 7:08 pm

I have been into Psychology ever since my first 101 class in college. I got married while in college not having a abnormal class and after marriage my wife had a baby. Three months after her child was born she started displaying some serious psychotic syndromes. This took me by surprise and I threw myself into studying exactly what Schizophrenia is. Ii was told my one of her therapists she was a classic paranoid Schizophrenic. I also was told that she was diagnosed as chronic rather than acute which meant to me wasn't caused by immediate reasons but lasting life long having been caused by life long issues. Her family blamed me saying I was the cause of her illness and having conversed with several doctors discovered this was inaccurate. To beat myself up and blame myself for my wife's illness just isn't accurate. I went on to get my doctorate Ph.D. in Psychology in 2004 and having read over 9,000 pages in Grad school and having experienced mental illness on the gut level living with a ill women , I have thought about how people are made ill from not only mental reason , genetic reasons , situational reasons and have come to the conclusions that we all can be ill after enduring sick feelings combined with extreme stress, faulty living habits and incompatible living situations and combinations of all or several stressors in our lives. Ii continue to learn search and discover new insights into the definition of mental sickness and what is the root cause of it. I guess like all sickness and disease it happens and more studies need to be done to find it's root cause. A doctor in California said that some illness are caused by a flu that interferes with the brains proper development resulting in a deficient development of brain cells in the mother while pregnant. Interesting and I believe that theory about producing dopamine as a by -metabolical abnormality is valid having seen the effects of my mother taking dopamine in many years countering her Parkinson's disease.

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