Quiz results: How much do you know about stress and mental health?
Take a look at the quiz results to learn the science behind the psychological and emotional fallout of stress, plus smart strategies to ease stress or prevent it altogether.
1. When you’re under stress, you might experience which emotion?
Irritability, sadness and anger
All of these are normal emotional responses to stress, says Vanina Popova, M.D., Senior Director, Clinical Leader, Neuroscience TA at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. You might experience one, two or all of them, and how intense they feel varies from person to person. Some people navigate stress with no change in their emotional state, and others are gripped by a roller coaster of powerful feelings.
“When you’re stressed, you might not be able to shrug off things like you normally do,” she says. As a result, you may lash out, get cranky or simply feel blue for no obvious reason. Other emotions include feeling overwhelmed or just more on edge in general.
2. Short-term stress vs. long-term stress: Which is more damaging to your mental health?
This type of stress is more dangerous, no question, says Dr. Popova. While the effects of short-term stress—a looming work deadline, for example, or an upcoming reunion with people you don’t get along with—can be harsh, the pressure lifts once the event passes. As a result, your body slows production of stress-response hormones.
Longer-term or chronic stress that doesn’t have an end date in sight—like caretaking for an ailing family member or a difficult job search—keeps your body’s production of stress hormones high. Consistently elevated stress hormone levels can make a real dent in your mental health. “Chronic and uncontrolled stress increases the risk of disorders that are linked to stress, like anxiety and depression,” explains Dr. Popova.
Long-term stress also affects physical health. Studies show that people who experience chronic stress are more likely to develop headaches and sleep issues. Chronic stress has also been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
3. True or false: Stress can be mentally healthy.
Small bouts of short-term stress—for example, the burst of adrenaline you get when you sit down to power through a work project or cross the finish line of a 10K—can energize you and help you focus, says Dr. Popova. Some stress can help challenge us and improve resilience.
The brain is a unique structure, and you have the opportunity to reverse the effects of stress—you can mold, change and rebuild damaged areas of your brain as you practice new behaviors.
4. How does stress change the way you think?
It causes memory issues, makes it harder to make decisions and impacts your ability to concentrate.
Overall, people with high stress levels are more likely to experience a decline in cognitive function, according to a 2023 study published in JAMA Network Open. The result: poorer memory and focus, plus a decreased ability to learn new things.
But the impact of stress goes beyond learning and memory. “Researchers have found that stress gradually reduces the volume of gray matter in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control,” adds Dr. Popova. Over time, it becomes tougher to process information.
The good news is, these plunges in cognition won’t be permanent, so long as your stress level isn’t either. “The brain is a unique structure, and you have the opportunity to reverse the effects of stress—you can mold, change and rebuild damaged areas of your brain as you practice new behaviors,” explains Dr. Popova. In other words, if you implement healthy stress-relieving techniques now, you can train your brain to handle stress more effectively going forward.
5. How does stress affect sleep?
It causes insomnia and disruptive sleep, which then leads to sleepiness during the day.
Whether you can’t sleep at all or find yourself tossing and turning, “sleeplessness is one of the physical signs of stress,” explains Dr. Popova. That, in turn, contributes to daytime fatigue. Sleep issues also trigger your body’s stress-response system, increasing production of stress hormones and making you feel wired … so you can’t nod off when you want or need to.
It’s a vicious cycle you can break with a few tweaks to your bedroom. First, as you start to wind down before turning in for the night, shut down all your screens: TV, laptop and your phone. Electronics emit blue light, which can keep you up.
Keep the room as dark as possible and lower the temperature; a temperature of about 65 degrees has been found to be optimal for sound sleep.
Another tactic: Cover yourself with a weighted blanket. People who did so were almost 20 times more likely to resolve their insomnia compared to a control group, according to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
6. Who is better at handling stress: optimists or pessimists?
Perhaps not surprisingly, optimists may fare better, according to new research. A tendency to look at the bright side might help you cope in a stressful situation, so you’re less vulnerable to the effects of stress, points out Dr. Popova.
Physical activity increases levels of brain hormones called endorphins, which help reduce stress and improve your mood.
You can turn your thought process around, however: If you find yourself predicting that a job opportunity won’t come through, for example, consciously reframe things so the outcome is more positive. The more you do it, this kind of self-talk will start to become routine.
7. What’s the best way to manage stress so it doesn’t harm your mental health?
Exercise, deep breathing and hanging out with friends.
“Physical activity increases levels of brain hormones called endorphins, which help reduce stress and improve your mood,” says Dr. Popova. Any type of exercise—aerobic, resistance training, even yoga—helps bathe your brain in endorphins, so you’ll feel calmer long after your workout is over.
Deep breathing combats stress by invoking your body’s “relaxation response,” which is the exact opposite of the stress response. Try the 4-7-8 method: Inhale through your nose for four counts, hold your breath for seven counts and exhale through your mouth for eight counts. You’ll feel more chill in the moment, and the effects can spill over longer-term.
Stress also tends to cause people to isolate, but resist the urge: A 2022 study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that social support helps boost your resilience in stressful situations.
As for what not to do: Although a glass of wine may relax you, it doesn’t teach you the coping skills you need to help manage stress, points out Dr. Popova. The effects of alcohol don’t last long, and after a few hours your stress levels will climb back.
While lifestyle changes can help you cope with stress, it’s sometimes not enough, notes Dr. Popova. If feelings of stress persist for more than a couple weeks, and they begin to interfere with your ability to perform day-to-day activities, as well as get rest at night, see your doctor. You may benefit from a course of talk therapy to help you manage stress, or even medication.