Not all stress is harmful to mental health. It motivates us and keeps us primed to respond to danger. But too much stress is very damaging to physical and mental well-being. In fact, chronic stress can lead to clinical depression.
Sustained or chronic stress elevates your “stress hormone” cortisol while reducing your levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Improper serotonin and dopamine levels are one of the main causes of depression. When the stress response fails to shut off and reset, it can lead to depression, especially if you have a family history or are especially susceptible. A demanding job, a layoff, a divorce or suffering a major loss can all lead to prolonged periods of stress.
If you’re going through a particularly stressful period in your life, take preventative action by looking into behavioral health services in your area. There are natural ways to reduce stress, such as getting plenty of exercise and sleep and avoiding “rumination” (repeatedly mentally going over your sources of stress and anxiety). But when you’re in the midst of a difficult time or physically exhausted, they might not be enough.