It’s not uncommon to hear ‘remove the cause of stress and our mental health worries will go away’.
I’m not sure whether this is entirely correct, however stress does play a very big role in the effectiveness of managing our own wellbeing. It’s important to outline that stress itself is not a mental health illness, however the reaction our body has to stress can develop into a mental health difficulty.
Our reaction to stress is our bodies’ way of preparing us for survival in order to keep us safe. This is known as the fight or flight response (also recognised as fight, flight, or freeze). This response can be useful to us when we need to respond in an emergency situation, our brain basically shuts off any unnecessary functions. This allows our body to concentrate on powering the functions we do need; the brain tends to flood our blood with cortisol and glucose to enable us to harvest a big power surge in the wake of a fight or flight response.
The issue with this is when our amygdala, the part of the brain which controls this response, recognises things in our life as a big threat. So, for example, someone with social anxiety may recognise social situations as an emergency situation and therefore the brain triggers the fight or flight response. The results of this are the same as some symptoms of social anxiety, for example heart palpitations, sweating, quickened breathing, tunnel vision. In an emergency situation these reactions would be useful in helping us challenge or flee from the scenario. However, these aren’t useful reactions when we are placed into a social situation.
The issue is that our body cannot distinguish the difference in these ‘threats’. The logical part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, cannot rein in the amygdala; it cannot communicate that what is perceived as a threat actually isn’t. This is how anxiety can build into a mental health condition.
If we as a society stopped causing ourselves more stresses, then it seems like our anxieties would lessen and we wouldn’t be creating and developing these extra stresses for our brains to get confused with.