We have all felt stress in our lives, but rarely do we try to define stress. Understanding what stress is leads to the discovery of the various types of stress. Knowing the type of stress you face can help you determine if it’s having a serious, negative effect on you and your health.
Stress can come from so many issues, including daily chaos, symptoms of anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, work, dysfunctional families, being in a miserable situation, difficult interpersonal relationships, workplace stress, and other mental health problems.
No matter what type of stress you encounter, either in the short term or long term, it’s important to have a toolbox of tips to cope with what comes your way.
What Is Stress?
You know what stress feels like, but what is it? Stress is the emotional response or physical tension you feel when you encounter an event that makes you feel frustrated, nervous, fearful, or angry. Stress is your body’s call to action to deal with a perceived threat.
When you feel threatened, your body responds by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to prepare you to respond. This response is called “fight or flight”. You will either face the threat and deal with it, or you will flee from the threat in avoidance. Whatever you decide to do, the body is ready thanks to the stress response.
During the stress response, your body experiences some or all of these symptoms:
- Rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Tightened muscles
- Faster breathing
- Increased blood pressure
- Sharpened senses
- Increased focus
- Tension headaches
- Sweaty palms
- Diarrhea, constipation, or irritable bowel syndrome
The aforementioned symptoms can also be symptoms of chronic stress. Stress can come in various types, and you are not limited in the types of stress you can experience simultaneously. As you may have experienced, sometimes with stress, when it rains, it pours.
Even when it’s stress from happy occasions, it can seemingly compound all at once. You may be thrilled to have a new job and be buying your first home, but when the stress of the two events converges, it can be overwhelming.
So, what are the types of stress?
Types of Stress
There are three main types of stress. The first one is acute stress.
Acute stress is the most common form of stress. In fact, you probably have frequent episodes of acute stress. It can be helpful in small doses, and you may be so accustomed to it that you barely register its useful presence.
Acute stress is your body’s response to a recent or anticipated challenging event. Your morning commute to navigate through various traffic jams is a good example of acute stress.
Acute stress is hallmarked by:
- Emotional distress
- Tension in the muscles
- Aches and pains in the head, back, or jaw
- Upset stomach
- Quickened heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure; you may feel hot
Acute stress tends to match the severity of the stressor. For example, it’s hardly noticeable with standard stressors that you encounter regularly, but it can be more severe if you witness something horrific like a crime or traumatic events (which can also result in PTSD or traumatic stress disorder).
Acute stress that occurs occasionally typically does not lead to any mental health issues, and it is accepted as a natural part of everyday life.
The next type of stress is episodic acute stress.
Episodic Acute Stress
Episodic acute stress is when acute stress happens more often than just occasionally. When a person experiences acute stress frequently, it becomes less easy to manage than classic acute stress.
When you experience episodic acute stress, the effects of the stress seem to compound. It can become easy to feel as if you’re always under pressure or that things go wrong constantly. This frequent and heightened state of acute stress can be taxing on the mind and the body. It’s easy to feel mentally and emotionally exhausted by this.
Episodic acute stress can impact the way you behave towards others. For example, someone experiencing untreated episodic acute stress may exhibit:
- Unintentional hostility
- Problems in their relationships with others
- Stressed adrenal glands and excess stress hormones (such as cortisol)
People suffering from episodic acute stress may need to make changes to their lifestyle and reexamine the demands on themselves from within and from others. It may be necessary to seek out ways to cope outside yourself or talk with your doctor.
The third type of stress is chronic stress.
Chronic stress is the result of ongoing stress from long-term emotional pressure. For example, a person might have a stressful job, be a permanent caregiver, have an unhappy family situation, or experience financial struggles or poverty. Sometimes these situations can continue for years. You become accustomed to a heightened fight or flight response.
When you experience the fight or flight response too frequently, you can struggle to recover between each episode. This consistent arousal of your nervous system can have negative effects on your overall health, both mentally and physically.
If chronic stress is left untreated and unmanaged, your stress can manifest itself in physical health problems. Research links chronic stress to multiple health concerns like heart issues and immune system problems.
Some signs that chronic stress is negatively impacting your health may include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Increased insecurities
- Avoidance of other people
- Low energy
- Digestive distress
- Lowered immune defenses
- Constant worrying
- Increased forgetfulness
- Lowered ability to focus
- Impaired judgment
- Inability to see the bright side or be optimistic
- Unexpected changes in weight
Due to the nature of chronic stress, it may not be possible to change the situation that causes your chronic stress because of your personal situation. However, it’s possible to learn better ways to manage stress and reduce its negative impact on your health.
Healthy Coping Tips
There are several healthy coping tips for anyone struggling with stress in their life. Whether you need to recover from an off week of stress, learn to manage acute stress that seems to happen too often to be called occasional, or find ways to manage the stress effects of a chronic situation, it is possible to have a better relationship with the stress in your life.
1. Relax Your Muscles
Muscle tension is a common symptom of stress. Sometimes the tension in our muscles can be so distracting that it becomes impossible to relax our minds. Try gently stretching your tense muscles with a series of soothing yoga moves, or apply a topical treatment like Radical Relief Gel Roll-On to help relieve the stiffness that comes from too much muscle tension.
2. Take a Break
Even when your personal situation won’t allow you to eliminate the stressors that are causing you chronic stress, you can and should still make time to take a break from your stress. Give yourself permission to close your eyes, breathe, and experience a treat. Even something as small as taking one Complete Calm De-Stress Gummy can help you feel an almost immediate calming sensation in your body. You can also try relaxation techniques such as meditation.
Consistently making time to take a break can help you deal with the constant pressures of chronic stress. After a few weeks of consistency, you may be surprised to find that you feel more zen and more optimistic.
3. Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Choosing to prioritize your health can and will help you manage your stress. Some common healthy lifestyle choices that can slip through the cracks during stressful times are:
- Eating a healthy diet. Remember that a diet rich in nutrients will help your body handle the pressures that come with stress.
- Regular exercise. During times of stress, it’s not necessary to overdo it, but daily exercise can help you work through stress and release soothing chemicals into your brain that will relieve stress.
- Get adequate amounts of rest. It’s important to make time for sleep. Your mind and your body recover while you sleep, so be sure you prioritize your sleep.
4. Make Time for Yourself
When you’re dealing with stress, it can be easy to let your struggles consume all of your time and energy. However, making time for yourself can save you from the negative effects on your health.
Just taking time to participate in the hobbies you enjoy or taking a quiet moment to focus on yourself can help you recenter before you have to get back to reality. Slowing down and focusing on your interests can also help remind you that there’s more to life than your stressors and help reshape the way you look at your problems.
5. Talk It Out
Talking about what’s stressing you can really help you process the emotional effects of stress. Even jotting down your problems in a journal can help you work through your stress and release some of the tension that builds in the body during periods of stress.
Talking about your problems may also help you identify your stressors, your triggers, and even what you could do to manage them better.
There are several types of stress and many ways to help you cope with stress. It’s important to realize that stress is a natural part of life, but it’s also okay to admit when it gets to be a bit too much.
It’s possible that you need to take a step back from your problems, prioritize yourself a little more, and find ways like talking that can help you process through all that you may be going through.
If your life doesn’t show any signs of stopping the stress mess in the near future, make sure you take charge of the things you can do something about like your own health and well-being.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Former Olympic Athlete, Founder, B2ten Foundation (coach to multiple Olympic Champions)
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