What is the connection between stress and mental health?

Photo by Shana Fillatrau

There is a correlation between stress and mental health that experts say students should be concerned about. They say while some stress can be good for you, students need to be worried about chronic stress and its effects on their mental health.

Dr. Wendy Stanyon is an associate professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at UOIT. She researches mental health and ways to help people better understand it.

She says stress needs to motivate but not incapacitate.

“When stress gets to an escalated point where it impacts on our lives, or our ability to do our job, to enjoy life, to be with our friends, to have a positive relationship, to perform at work or perform at school – then I think the level of stress has gone beyond helpful,” she says.

A study done by the University of California at Berkeley experimented on adult rats to discover what happens to your brain when it’s under stress.

During the experiments, the rats’ brains produced oligodendrocyte, cells that produce myelin.

The study showed the brain, while under stress, produces more myelin cells and fewer neurons. This causes the brain’s communication to lose its regular timing, which can cause issues.

According to the study, this could cause a stronger connection to the hippocampus (the part of the brain that stores long-term memories) and the amygdala (the part of the brain that controls emotional responses like fear).

This could lead to a problem with chronic stress because the brain will find it difficult to stop feeling stress and will have a quicker response to fear, according to the researchers.

It’s a familiar feeling for many college students.

The transition to college can prove to be difficult for them, causing them stress and anxiety. For this reason,  Durham College provides the Start Strong program. Start Strong is an orientation session for incoming students.

The program tells them about college, and some of the things they will experience. It teaches them about the programs available for students as well as tips and tricks for students new to college.

It is meant to ease the burden of starting something new, and for students to feel less stressed about starting post-secondary.

Durham College also has the Access and Support Centre, as well as the Coaching Centre to support students.

“It’s very individualistic, the work that we do at the coaching centre,” says Melissa Bosomworth, one of the wellness coaches.

Bosomworth says the Coaching Centre helps students understand their stress, and find coping skills that will help them.

With the end of the semester here, Bosomworth says this can be a stressful time.

“This time of the year is the pile up of assignments and deadlines,” she says. “Students are realizing where they’ve been less successful in the semester, so there’s a lot of pressure coming on for wrapping up the semester, and wanting to perhaps improve the grades that they received at midterm evaluations.”

It’s essential for students to balance their academics, as well as the other important things in their life, according to Bosomworth.

It’s also important for students to talk about stress, or else they’ll believe they’re the only ones feeling it, adds Stanyon.

She says it’s important for students to remember, to move past the failures and disappointments in life and the stress that comes along with it.

“Helping students also see failure is not the worst thing that can happen to you in life, and in fact, we learn more from the things we failed at, than we’ve ever learned from things we’re successful at,” says Stanyon.

She says it’s important that people support each other to create a more compassionate world.

“Spread the word, and help people to realize that, I think as human beings, if we were more compassionate, kinder to each other, we listened more than we talked, we reached out when we thought somebody was hurting to see, can we help?”