While it’s common to experience change on a daily basis, stress is always the one thing we can count on to visit us when things begin to feel unstable. As much as we try to avoid or manage it, it’s an inevitable emotion we encounter that, without warning, can affect our whole day — or let’s be real, our whole week.
As much as we believe we have everything under control even when we’re experiencing high amounts of stress, there are subtle ways it can show through our emotions. Sounds like fun, right? Luckily, we connected with a couple of experts to find out how our emotions can cause stress and affect our behavior, so we can be more aware and try to manage it before it leads to even more stress, or worse, burnout.
How can your emotions cause stress in the first place?
While stress can impact your everyday decisions and thought patterns, how you decide to react to these negative situations can influence your reality. That’s why it’s so important to understand what kinds of situations trigger stressful emotions, so you can begin to learn how to manage them to build healthier coping mechanisms.
To begin, it’s important to distinguish between what causes stress (aka a stressor) and what stress is (aka your reaction). While these two things vary from person to person, knowing the difference can provide awareness on what actually causes you to spiral and what doesn’t. “A stressor is a challenge in life. Deadlines, a difficult colleague, finances, and rowdy kids are examples of stressors. Stress is your negative emotional reaction to those stressors. Those stressors do not create your stress. Your negative emotions create stress,” said stress consultant and life coach, Elaine Sanders.
According to Sanders, negative emotions, such as anger, frustration, anxiety, shame, guilt, uncertainty, depression, and resentment, can not only cause stress, but when continuously felt, your brain registers this information as “normal” and can become automatic reactions when triggers (aka stressors) occur. Thankfully, these habits can be broken by practicing mindfulness and going to therapy.
What kind of stress is out there?
While it’s important to minimize stress, you don’t necessarily want to eliminate all of it. There are two forms of stress that you can experience, and one of these types can actually help you make important decisions. “In stress management workshops, I explain that there are two kinds of stress: eustress, which is positive, and distress, which brings us down. Eustress is needed to prep for an important meeting, a presentation, or another nervousness-inducing activity. But the flood of stress hormones during distress creates foggy thinking and behavior that has not been well thought out,” said relationship expert and author of “How to Be a Stress-Free, Worry-Free Woman,” Dr. Gilda Carle.
While eustress can positively impact your life in some form or fashion, we’re going to touch on how distress can negatively alter your emotions and affect your daily routine so it doesn’t immobilize you and your way of thinking.
1. You have a hard time remembering things
When you feel like a chicken with its head cut off, it can be hard to remember… well, anything at all. When you experience high levels of stress, your brain goes into fight-or-flight mode and has a hard time focusing on anything that isn’t the problem at hand. “Cortical inhibition affects memory. Decreased brain function affects comprehension, retention, and recall. In addition, emotional memory, stored within the brain’s amygdala, create false memories. This happens because the amygdala is wired strongly into the thinking centers of the brain. Therefore, emotions influence thoughts more than thoughts influence emotion, and a false memory can be created,” said Sanders.
2. It takes you a long time to make decisions
Your decision-making skills can go out the window the minute your stress levels are through the roof. When this occurs, it can be hard not to overthink every situation and second-guess your every move. “Women become more depressed than men over our worries, and our stressors are usually people-oriented. As a result, our thinking and reasoning become foggy, and our clarity in making wise decisions is marred,” said Carle.
3. You feel angry and irritable
If you find yourself snapping at people and easily getting frustrated with minimal tasks, it could be because your energy has been depleted from experiencing stress. “The energy that stressful emotions drain decreases your inner reserves or resilience. With less gas in the tank, you have less energy to handle stressors and challenges as they arise. Less energy and less resilience mean a thinner skin and a shorter fuse. You can see how a downward spiral can ensue. And when drained, you’re more likely to resort to negative emotions, and so on,” said Sanders.
4. Your feelings of anxiety or depression can be heightened
Not only can your negative emotions cause stress, but mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can feel a lot worse when stress is not properly managed. This can cause an influx of issues that could make you feel helpless.
“A flood of these stress hormones can lead to serious health issues that suppress our immune system, increase our risk for heart attack and stroke, and increase our anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems,” said Carle.
5. Your judgment and impulse control can be affected
As often as we try to manage our emotions, it can be hard to do it when stress is taking the wheel. During this time, you’re more likely to succumb to poor choices and impulsively do things that may go against your own judgment. “Instead of the brain running smoothly and orderly, it is chaotic and incoherent. This affects decision-making, impulse-control, and judgment, making it difficult to self-regulate behavior. This results in doing things that you didn’t mean to do, saying things that you didn’t mean to say,” said Sanders.