Stress can be defined as our body’s natural alarm system that goes off whenever we experience a real or imaginary threat, demand, or danger. We often use the word stress interchangeably with feeling anxious, nervous, confused, overwhelmed, fearful, or panicked.
Stress itself is not bad, rather, it’s designed to protect you by activating your body’s fight-or-flight response that helps you either fight the stressor or run away from it.
While our body has the best intentions of protecting us by activating this response, it cannot differentiate whether the challenging situation we are experiencing is real, imaginary, immediate, or far away.
In this manner, stress may help us increase our performance in some situations, but sometimes it is unnecessary and can be detrimental to our mental health.
Recognizing different types of stress and becoming aware of how your body responds can allow you to manage stress whenever you need it.
Below, we’ll explore the three most common types of stress.
1. Acute Stress
Acute stress is short-term stress that occurs when our negative thoughts preoccupy our minds due to a recent or unexpected challenge or an anticipated event in the immediate future.
For example, if you recently argued with someone, you will experience negative or repetitive thoughts about that. Or if you have a deadline coming that’s putting you under pressure etc.
Acute stress usually subsides on its own a short while after the event.
The common signs of acute stress include:
- Emotional distress
- Muscle tension
- Jaw ache
- Back Pain
- Upset stomach
- Rapid heartbeat or raised blood pressure.
Experiencing acute stress sometimes is completely normal and does not cause any mental health problems.
2. Episodic acute stress
Episodic acute stress is when you experience acute stress more frequently. It happens to people who experience mini-crisis regularly, are always under pressure, feel that their life is chaotic or that things are always working against them.
Experiencing episodic is common among law enforcers and lawyers that are always dealing with challenging situations.
Episodic acute stress can have a toll on your mental and physical health as well as your relationships as it can be very exhausting.
The symptoms of episodic acute stress are similar to acute stress but they occur more often and accumulate over time.
The symptoms of episodic acute stress are:
- Uncontrollable irritability and anger.
- Tightness and pain in the muscles.
- Rapid heartburn
- Digestive problems
- Frequent panic attacks
- Unintentional hostility
- Relationship problems
Experiencing episodic acute stress suggests that you make some life changes such as changing or resolving your career, relationships, or the demands you make of others or others make of you. Such stress can have a bad toll on your overall well-being and can make your relationships difficult too.
Chronic stress results from long-term emotional pressure. During chronic stress, your body experiences the fight or flight response too frequently so much so that your nervous system is constantly aroused.
If you have been through a traumatic experience, a highly stressful job, a damaging relationship, or consistent money problems, you can develop chronic stress.
Chronic stress can lead to the development of anxiety disorders and can have a highly negative impact on your physical health as well.
The signs of chronic stress include:
- Anxiety disorders and frequent panic attacks
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Weakened immune system
- Sleep difficulties
Chronic stress can lead to serious outcomes and you should seek your doctor or therapist to learn how you can manage your symptoms more effectively.
Understanding the stress you experience is the first step towards the solution. Getting insight into the form of stress you frequently experience can not only help you take appropriate measures but can also be the first big step you take towards living a better life.