Types of Stress

We all deal with it at some point in our lives: stress. It is a something we can feel in a wide variety of situations. It can come from being stuck in traffic, a long day at work, or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Stress can trigger a physiological response from the body when it’s “normal state” is threatened.

Stress can alter drastically alter our behavior, mood, health and over-all well being. While some stress can be motivating, for example the stress of an upcoming deadline to finish a task, stressors can also be extremely detrimental to health.

Individuals can better combat stress, like any other disease, by identifying the type of stress affecting their lives.

Acute Stress

Psychologist consider acute stress to be an episode of stress lasting three months or less (1) , which can feel like a lifetime in the midst of it. This is by far the most common type of stress according to the American Psychological Association. Sources of acute stress include:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Loss of a job
  • Any major life changes, such as moving, aging, divorce, receiving a life-changing diagnosis, ect.
  • Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event

Untreated acute stress can snowball into chronic stress and other serious psychological conditions.

Chronic Stress

When a person experiences stress, the brain releases hormones to adapt to the situation. This is also known as the fight or flight response (2).

Those who experience chronic stress experience symptoms of the fight or flight response for months to years at a time which can be detrimental on the body’s overall health and well-being.

Chronic stress is defined by the American Psychological Association as unending feelings of despair/hopelessness as a result of factors such as poverty, family dysfunction, feelings of helplessness and/or traumatic early childhood experience (3).

Symptoms of Chronic stress are similar to symptoms of acute stress, however chronic stress lasts at least 3-6 months and often times longer.

Physical Stress

Physical stress has a broad definition and has a myriad of ways in which it can present itself. Physical stress can appear as any type of illness, disorder, trauma, discomfort, or disease in the body. It has a variety of causes ranging from uncomfortably hot/cold temperatures to an infection in the body.

It has a different behavioral and chemical response in the body than emotional or psychosocial stress (4), but it can actually cause emotional stress in some situations. For example, chronic back pain or illness can cause emotional stress because of activity restrictions, trouble finding employment, feelings of helplessness, ect.

Emotional Stress

There are several categories of emotional stress. It can be equally as debilitating as physical stress and can trigger serious mental illness. Triggers of emotional stress include:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Loss of a job
  • Any major life changes, such as moving, aging, divorce, receiving a life-changing diagnosis, ect.
  • Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event
  • Feeling helpless or despair because of a physical disorder

What Causes Stress?

According to a study released by the American Psychological Association, around 77% of people experience physical symptoms caused by stress. These are the top causes of stress in the United States in order:

  1. Job Pressure
  2. Money
  3. Health
  4. Relationships
  5. Poor Nutrition
  6. Media Overload
  7. Sleep Deprivation

What are the symptoms associated with stress?

Symptoms of stress can look different from person to person. These symptoms can be brief or long-lasting. These include:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Stomach upset
  • High blood pressure
  • Lower libido
  • Slower metabolism
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Tremors
  • Aches and pains

They can also include mood changes or emotional reactions including:

  • Anger
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Outbursts
  • Insecurity or low self-esteem
  • restlessness

A Final Word

Stress inevitably effects everyone at some point in their life. It is important to manage the root of the stress before it spirals out of control and impacts your overall health.
Information about stress management is available online, in books and through your healthcare provider.

Read more about managing your stress

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