3 Types of Stress: How to Manage

Understanding what type of stress you are facing can help you manage, deal with, and minimize your symptoms.

Man showing episodic acute stress at work

Episodic acute stress is one time of stress that occurs when people take on too much, and are constantly bombarded with acute stress.

Photo: © Victoria Gnatiuk | iStock/Getty Images Plus

Stress affects us all, regardless of race, gender or income level. However, the length and severity of stress varies enormously from person to person. According to the American Psychological Association, there are three main types of stress:
• Acute (short term)
• Episodic (more constant acute stress)
• Chronic (long term)

Determining which type of stress you’re experiencing can help you manage, deal with, and minimize your symptoms.

Acute Stress

The most common form of stress is known as acute stress, which can last anywhere from mere minutes to hours, and is often beneficial to our health and productivity.

Acute stress can feel exciting, even thrilling; picture yourself 6 feet off the ground after leaving a ski jump. It can help save your life, releasing the adrenaline you need to brake quickly to avoid a collision. Or it can improve your job performance by keeping you focused, alert, and energetic, giving you the boost you need to finish a report before the deadline.

Sure, acute stress can be annoying, but in general, as soon as the stress resolves, so too do its symptoms. However, in more severe cases (e.g., a significant trauma), acute stress can lead to more serious mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Short-term stress activates our body’s defenses even before there is an injury or infection, says Firdaus Dhabhar, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Stanford University. This allows our immune systems to temporarily abandon other regions to protect the area in greatest need—for instance, the site of asurgery, vaccination, or cancer therapy.
Within minutes of encountering a threat, our immune cells leave what Dhabhar terms their “barracks” (the spleen) and enter the “boulevards” (blood vessels) in their journey to the potential “battlefield” (the skin), as noted in the September 2012 issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Episodic Acute Stress

Episodic acute stress is frequently experienced by people who take on too much and struggle with organization. These “over-committers” are constantly bombarded with acute stress. They’re always in a hurry and worry constantly.

Ever heard of the Type A personality? Identified in the 1950s by cardiologists Meyer Friedman and R. H. Rosenman,

Type As are typically workaholics. They are competitive perfectionists who are quick to anger, often hostile, and unable to share their emotions.

Type As also are prone to episodic acute stress. They can become angry and irritable and often allow negative thoughts to take over their minds. The result? Highly stressed individuals who find it difficult to relax.

Chronic Stress

This long-term condition impacts both physical and psychological health. For some, the source is a life filled with constant stressors. For others, enduring stress may stem from a traumatic event in childhood; still more may be triggered by a person’s overall view of the world as a stressful place, or his inability to deal with the pressures he faces each day. And some people deal with chronic stress that comes from difficult situations, whether it’s parents of autistic children or a veteran dealing with the after-effects of war experience.

Chronic stress becomes a familiar feeling to many who suffer from it. For some, the added pressure even may begin to feel normal. In time, though, this type of stress can leave lasting negative consequences such as, anxiety, depression, heart attack, autoimmune diseases, upper respiratory infections, stroke, suicide, and cancer.

For more information about managing stress, purchase Managing Stress and Anxiety at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Shandley McMurray

Shandley McMurray has written several of Belvoir’s special health reports on topics including stress & anxiety, coronary artery disease, healthy eyes and pain management. Shandley also has authored numerous articles … Read More

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