Stress: Understanding The Different Types

According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, stress is “a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, relationships, etc.” Even though the word stress can be described as a state of being, stress is experienced differently from individual to individual and is often the result of a person’s perception about their ability, or lack thereof, to cope with specific triggers and situations.  In other words, stress can be thought of as negative emotional and psychological responses as a result of feeling unable to manage the demands being placed on an individual. 

However, what one person finds to be stressful may not be the case for someone else.  Even though stress is not experienced the same by all of us in the same manner, stress does tend to be experienced in some common forms: acute, episodic, and chronic.  Being able to identify the type of stress you are experiencing can be helpful in knowing how to best manage it. 

Acute stress:  This is the most common type of stress and is not necessarily associated with negative triggers.  Acute stress is short in duration and can often be intense.  At times, acute stress can be beneficial to us when it motivates us to take action on something.  However, when acute stress persists, it generally promotes short-term anger, irritability, depression, and anxiety.  An example of acute stress is preparing for a job interview or a work presentation.  Once the event is over, the stress associated usually subsides.

Episodic Acute Stress: This type of stress is associated with individuals who experience acute stress often and regularly.  This type of stress is also associated with chronic worriers and promotes irritability, short-tempers, tension, and anxiety.  Episodic acute stress is correlated with physical symptoms including headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, and heart disease.  Individuals who suffer from episodic acute stress tend to be Type A personalities and worry warts who are always running late and have a tendency to take on too much at one time.  Since this type of stress is often associated with a specific personality, effective management of it can be difficult and is often faced with resistance.

Chronic stress: This type of stress is the most damaging because it is experienced as long-term and never-ending.  Chronic stress is associated with situations in which people believe that there is no end in sight due to ongoing and demanding pressures that are too much to cope with.  Chronic stress can be deadly as a result of the impact it can have physically, emotionally, socially, and psychologically and is associated with severe depression, heart disease, suicide, violence, cancer, and stroke.  Chronic stress depletes an individuals resources and is can be very difficult to treat as a result of the long-term impact it carries.  

Whether you experience stress on a short-term or never-ending basis, being able to identify the triggers to it as well as engage in self-care activities are paramount to getting a handle on it.  Sleeping and eating well, engaging in physical exercise, connecting with friends and family, and participating in enjoyable and pleasurable activities can go a long way with stress management.  Professional help may be indicated, especially in the case of episodic acute and chronic stress.

~Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT