Identifying Mental Health Triggers To Reduce Stress

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Your skin is breaking out and you can’t get rid of the pesky headaches that keep popping up every week.

You’re always tired, but can’t seem to fall or stay asleep at night.

Your stomach is constantly messed-up, even when you haven’t eaten much that day.

One minute you’re scarfing down food and the next you’re barely eating a thing.

Plus, you just can’t stop sweating.

Your nerves are frazzled.

And, sex?

Well, your sex drive has gone on a vacation.

What is wrong with you?

You’ve been feeling this way for a while, but still can’t put your finger on why. You are definitely stressed out and anxious, but what is triggering it?


Your stress level is off the charts, but why?

When you become overwhelmed, anxious, or “pressured,” your body increases its production of cortisol, the “stress hormone.” It is important to understand that stress isn’t always bad, dangerous, or unhealthy. Sometimes, stress is needed to let you know something is wrong or there is impending danger. In these cases, stress prompts you to do something. It’s only when the stress impacts your life that it becomes a serious problem.

When your mental and physical health begins to suffer because of stress, it’s time to see a mental health specialist.

Chronic stress can spark friendship problems, family conflict, and issues with your partner. It can also cause your work performance to decline and your self-esteem to drop, especially if it is left unchecked for long periods. 

And, when you’re already stressed, it doesn’t take much to make you even more stressed, anxious, depressed, and/or upset. For example, say you have a presentation due at work, but instead of working on it in advance, you put it off until the day before it’s due. You naturally become stressed because you’re ill-prepared and now, you have limited time to pull it all together. You stay up all night trying to “catch up,” but it feels hopeless.

Even More Stress

The closer it gets to “showtime,” the more stressed you feel. You can’t sleep, eat, or relax. Also, you’re perspiring profusely. You finally finish your presentation with only a couple of hours to spare. You realize that it’s not your best work, but it’s all you got. On your way to work, you question your effort. Maybe, you’re not as good at your job as you originally thought. Perhaps, you aren’t right for the job. This is your stress talking – not you.

But, your self-confidence has still taken a nasty hit. Right before it’s time to give your presentation your stomach balls up in knots. You give your presentation and once finished you exhale – deeply. It’s over and your stress begins to ease up. You can breathe again and now you realize just how hungry and tired you are. This is what stress looks like in everyday life.

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Longer Version

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According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stress is up in 2020. In fact, the coronavirus has caused adults to experience high levels of stress. 78% of American adults report that COVID-19 concerns and restrictions have significantly increased their stress levels. While nearly 60% of American adults report that general stress has negatively affected their quality of life. These percentages are up from 2019.

Moreover, approximately 34% of Gen Z adults, 19% of Millennials, and 21% of Generation Xers have reported that their mental health in 2020 (COVID) is worse than it was in 2019 (pre-COVID). Gen Z adults are more likely to experience stress-related depression with 73% of them experiencing inattention or an inability to focus or concentrate, 73% feeling lonely or isolated, 75% feel extremely fatigued or lethargic, 74% feeling on edge, and 71% feeling unhappy or dissatisfied.  

How does stress affect your mind and body?

When you become stressed, your adrenal glands, the walnut-shaped glands that can be found on both sides of your kidneys, respond to it by increasing the amount of cortisol in your body. It’s your body’s natural reaction to stress. However, when cortisol is released in the body in large amounts, it triggers inflammation in the body, leading to headaches, depression, fatigue, a low immune system, etc. In other words, it wears your body down.

And, when you don’t feel good, you’re more likely to be irritable. And, when you’re irritable, you’re more likely to experience higher levels of stress. This can cause conflicts with friends and loved ones which is why it is so important to identify your mental health triggers if you’re experiencing stress. If you don’t understand them, you can’t reduce or eliminate them.

Mental health triggers that could be causing your stress


Current studies indicate that technology could have a more profound impact on our brains than originally thought. In fact, researchers have concluded that blue light from digital screens can interrupt your sleep and boost your stress level. Thus, study results suggest that staring at a screen for too long can lead to chronic stress. This stress can trigger headaches, vision problems, lethargy, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

According to researchers, our brains are not designed to process and store a large amount of information – information most of us glean from smartphones, tablets, game systems, and computers daily.

Social media

Social media channels can be mental health triggers, as spending inordinate amounts of time on social media can worsen stress. Platforms like Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and even the increasingly popular TikTok are extremely popular with the 20-something crowd. 

And, although these sites, along with dating sites, are good ways to connect with others, they can also stress you out. Internet trolls and unscrupulous catfishes can harass, stalk, or bully you if you make them mad or if they simply decide not to like you.

You can also fall prey to frauds, cheaters, predators, and good old-fashioned mean-spirited people who enjoy getting into “virtual fights” with others for no real reason at all. Social media sites definitely aren’t for the weak of heart. So, although social media can be fun, entertaining, and exciting, it can also be highly stressful and anxiety-provoking.

Foods as mental health triggers

The foods you eat could also be the mental health triggers sparking your stress. Food sensitivities, intolerances, and/or allergies can cause bodily stress. An inability to properly digest and absorb certain nutrients and foods can also tax your body, leading to horrible stress.

The most common culprits of this form of stress come from junk foods, processed foods, and foods laden with lots of salt, sugar, and fat. Stress can also stem from dehydration. How? Well, the human body contains between 50-60 percent water, depending on your gender. So, when your body doesn’t get enough fluid, it becomes stressed.

Your environment

If you live in a particularly noisy environment, you are bound to experience stress from time to time. Most scientists characterize noise as an “environmental pollutant.” Pollutants like noise, air, water, and light are considered “stressors,” especially if you are sensitive to loud sounds.

Even if you don’t have a hypersensitivity to certain sounds, there’s only so much noise you can withstand before it causes your stress level to skyrocket. Constant exposure to extreme climates and temps (extremely cold, hot, dry, or wet) can also stress your body, especially if the temperature fluctuates between these extremes regularly.

Poor work/life balance 

As a young adult who is just starting his or her career, finding that right work/life balance can be difficult. When you’re trying to establish yourself in your field, you may be required to work overtime and long shifts, be offered little-to-no benefits (i.e. medical and dental insurance, time-off, gym memberships, etc.), and low pay.

You may also experience issues with your boss or co-workers that drift into your relationships, and/or cause family conflicts – all of which can cause a tremendous amount of stress. Working too many hours or dealing with workplace stress can also lead to insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, or a sleep disorder – or vice versa.

A traumatic experience

A traumatic event can cause significant stress. It doesn’t matter if the event occurred during childhood or adulthood, it can cause chronic stress if it isn’t properly addressed. This is especially true if the trauma is ongoing or reoccurring. In some cases, a traumatic event can lead to anxiety disorders like social anxiety, PTSD, or panic attacks. If you have one of these conditions, you may need help from a mental health specialist to manage it. 

An addiction

Addictions can really stress you out, especially if you can’t get your “fix.” People with addictions tend to stress out when their “highs” start to wear off. Once the threat of withdrawal symptoms loom on the horizon, an addict’s mind turns to how to replenish the “vice” he or she is addicted to. This not only stresses his or her mind but also his or her body. The stress stems from a fear of not having what one thinks he or she needs to function and survive.

Too much exercise

Did you know that exercising too much can stress you out? It’s true. It is possible to overwork your body to the point that it stresses your vital organs and blood vessels. When your organs and blood vessels become overtaxed, it puts you at risk of having a heart attack, passing out, becoming stiff and sore, or developing hypertension.  

Your genetic makeup

Does stress run in your family? If so, that may be why you’re experiencing constant or a high level of stress. According to researchers, stress may run in families, so if you have relatives, who stress out easily, then you’re probably prone to stressing out, as well. Studies indicate that gene expression regulation is responsible for how quickly your cells react to various situations.

Your perception

The way you perceive (or view) certain experiences and emotions can affect your stress level. If you view the situation or person as “upsetting,” “negative,” or “traumatic,” then you’re more likely to feel stress. However, if you view the situation or person as “uplifting,” “encouraging,” or “positive,” you are less likely to experience stress. 

The truth regarding stress and mental health triggers

The truth is there is no “miracle cure” or “quick fix” for eliminating stress from your life. Stress is a part of life that only gets worse as you age. Bills, responsibilities, and even love can be mental health triggers. We devote our time and efforts towards finding that perfect balance in life but that can feel impossible. Wouldn’t it be glorious if there was a guide on how to better manage your life and avoid stress? We can dream, can’t we? Until that magical book is created, listed below are ways to reduce your stress so you can relax and enjoy your life.

Actionable Steps


Turn off your device

The best thing you can do for your mental health is turn off your device. Seriously. Log off social media and online dating apps/sites (Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Snapchat, and Twitter – I’m looking at you!) and turn off your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

How does that feel? Wonderful, right? Now, get up and do something productive like completing household tasks, spending time with friends and loved ones, reading a good book, focusing on self-development, working out, etc.


Move your body!

When is the last time you moved your body – and I don’t mean walking to your fridge, the bathroom, or looking for the television remote? Exercise is extremely good for your mind and body. It encourages your body to produce and release those “happy hormones” – endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.

These hormones regulate your mood, lower your risk of depression and anxiety, help you see the positive side of things, foster feelings of love and trust, encourage you to be a better person, and ease your stress, so you feel happier, calmer, and more grounded.

If you’re unable to do the suggestions above, take morning, lunch, or evening strolls to encourage your body to produce extra amounts of those “happy hormones.” Want to add an extra dose of happiness to the mix? Invite your most uplifting, positive friend to join your exercise journey.


Get some fresh air

Sometimes all you need to de-stress is to get some fresh air. Spending quality time in nature can help ease your stress and clear your mind. When you’re calmer, you can think more clearly.

Step outside for 15 minutes each day and immerse yourself in the sunshine. Smell the air, feel the breeze, heat, or coldness (snowflakes) on your face, and take in the sights and sounds of your surroundings. If you have extra time and the ability, go on a hike or nature walk. Try to remove yourself from what is stressing you.

Use any excuse to go outside – i.e. getting mail from your mailbox, taking your dog for a walk, meeting friends at the beach, etc. It all works! For an extra bonus, go somewhere quiet and secluded and practice mindfulness meditation while communing with nature. Once you’re finished you’ll feel like a new person.


Tune-in to real life

The best thing you can do for your mental health is to tune in to real life. It’s very easy to become distracted and neglect loved ones and friends. Life passes you by but you don’t realize it until it’s too late. You no longer know how to interact or relate to others. You lose that special part of you that makes you “human” all because you’ve been consumed with work and/or your devices for most of your life.

So, make time for your friends. Ask them to breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Go on a date with your partner. Take your kids to the park, or catch up with an old friend over tea or coffee. Make time for the people who bring you joy. Put away your devices, log off social media, and just be present.


Change your diet

If a food intolerance, sensitivity, or allergy is stressing your body, change your diet! But, how do you know if a specific food is making you feel stressed? First, purchase a diary and list the foods you eat each day. Document when you start to feel stressed. What did you eat that day?

Flip through your diary or journal in search of a similar feeling in the past when eating those foods. If you can make a connection between food or foods and your stress, start weaning those foods out of your diet. Replace those foods with healthier foods like low-fat dairy and whole grains (if they are not your mental health triggers) and organic lean meats, fruits, and veggies.


Ask for help

If all else fails, ask for help from a qualified mental health specialist (i.e. counselor, therapist, or psychologist).

Sometimes, it is hard to identify your mental health triggers and reduce your stress, especially if you’ve experienced abuse, trauma, a loss, unemployment, health problems, mental illness, domestic violence, or unhealthy family dynamics, etc.

These experiences can consume your mind so it remains focused on what is stressing you. In this situation, it’s almost impossible to ease your stress without help. A mental health specialist can help you see the experience from a different perspective and help it stop controlling your behavior or life.

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About the Author

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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