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What are the Different Types of Stress?

By S. Ashraf
Updated Feb 19, 2024
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Stress is how the human body reacts to the demands placed upon it by both a person’s internal world and the external world that he or she encounters. It is a normal part of life and can be either beneficial for the body or harmful, depending on the types of stress encountered and whether the stress is under control. Generally speaking, mental health professionals have identified three types of stress. People might find themselves confronted by chronic stress, acute stress or episodic acute stress. The types of stress are not mutually exclusive, and it is possible for all three to be present in an individual’s life at the same time.

Human bodies respond differently to each of these types of stress. Acute stress, also known as the fight-or-flight response, is stress that is new and lasts only a short time. It creates a sudden and spontaneous reaction to a scare, shock, challenge or major threat.

Oddly enough, acute stress can be both positive and negative. Eustress, considered good stress, is fun and keeps people vital. It is the type of stress that a person feels during an exciting ski run down a tough slope, when riding a roller coaster or while watching a scary movie. The negative form of acute stress, distress, is one of the intense types of stress and is what a person might feel when trying to meet an important deadline or after a car accident. It is for a short term, so acute stress usually doesn’t cause serious problems for the body, but overdoing short-term stress might bring on a tension headache, an upset stomach or other symptoms.

Episodic acute stress is a form of stress that occurs when acute stress ceases to be a short-term stress and, instead, happens frequently and becomes a way of life. People who are experiencing episodic acute stress often live lives of chaos, crisis and disorganization. Over time, the symptoms of this type of stress can be serious and result in hypertension, migraines and heart disease.

Chronic stress is the most debilitating type of stress because it seemingly has no end; for example, it is the stress of feeling trapped in an unhappy marriage or bad job. The body’s response to chronic stress is not as dramatic as the fight-or-flight response of acute stress, but research suggests that because it lasts longer, it causes more problems. With chronic stress, a person’s mental and physical resources might become depleted to the point of causing a physical or emotional illness such as stroke, heart attack or even suicide.

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Discussion Comments
By OeKc05 — On Apr 11, 2012

I am familiar with acute episodic stress. I am a very sensitive person, and I am prone to anxiety. I have to deal with rushes of stress every day.

Something as simple as going into a store and interacting with a cashier stresses me out. My heart beats faster, and I start to shake and sweat.

Going to get my driver's license renewed really causes stress, and I'm glad it only happens every four years. I get so stressed that I become nauseated.

I wish I could just hide away from the world and do everything online, but some things have to be taken care of in person. So, I am confronted with stressful situations daily.

By StarJo — On Apr 10, 2012

Acute stress is really intense. There have been several times that I almost had a car accident, and each time, I have felt that adrenaline rush and the after affects of it.

I would get a metallic taste in my mouth once the initial rush was gone and my mind perceived that the threat was over. Also, my underarms would ache for a few seconds. I'm not sure what that was about, but maybe some sort of glands under there got activated.

I would shake a lot as the adrenaline faded, too. My whole body was affected by something that occurred in just one or two seconds, and it lingered for five or ten minutes.

By Oceana — On Apr 10, 2012

@kylee07drg - Being tied to a bad job can cause the same kind of stress that being in a bad relationship can bring about. I was in a very one-sided relationship for years, and it took a toll on my mind and body.

I was so in love with this guy, but he would only call me a few times a week. I saw him maybe twice a week, even though he only lived ten minutes away. I was addicted to him, but he could live with or without me.

The stress of always waiting for the phone to ring and never knowing when I would see him again got to me. I would be shaky all the time, and I would start crying for seemingly no reason. Every time I finally worked up the resolve to leave him, I would cave into my addiction.

It took years for me to see the truth and accept that I needed to get out, but after I did, my health began to improve. I will never get into a situation like that again.

By kylee07drg — On Apr 09, 2012

I developed chronic stress after years of working at a job with tight deadlines and a heavy workload. My mind came to realize that it was never going to escape this way of life, and it provided me with panic attacks, high blood pressure, and bitterness.

My boss put more on me than I could handle efficiently, so I ended up working overtime often. I wasn't getting enough sleep, and I barely had time to eat.

After years of living this way, I finally found another job that was so much more relaxed. I didn't think I would ever escape my stressed mental state, but after a few months away from the hustle, I did. It was so nice to feel normal again.

By Mykol — On Apr 09, 2012

There are so many different causes of stress that I don't see how it can be narrowed down to 3 or 4 types of stress.

I like the positive kind of stress I feel when I try something new or put myself outside of my comfort zone.

This is an energizing type of stress that I feel has positive effects. Even though it might be hard to put myself in a different social situation, the results are always worth it.

By LisaLou — On Apr 08, 2012

I find it interesting that what is stress for one person might be relaxing and energizing for someone else.

For example, I don't like to cook or entertain. If I know I am having a group of people over for a meal, I stress out about it for weeks.

I feel like everything has to be perfect and I don't really enjoy it at all. I do enjoy having people there once they arrive, but the stress before hand is a lot for me.

There are many people who love to entertain and handle all the preparations with ease. They are in their element when they are preparing and cooking for a group of people in their home.

I have tried to find ways to decrease some of this stress, but I have never been able to enjoy or look forward to the process.

By myharley — On Apr 08, 2012

@honeybees - I agree that stress management can make a big difference. I work with a lady who seems to live with chronic episodic acute stress.

She could control much of this stress, but it seems like she is in a viscous cycle and doesn't know how to get out of it.

There is always a lot of drama going on in her life and her family. This carries over into her work life and she is very unorganized. She comes in late, flustered, frustrated and runs around accomplishing very little.

I can get stressed just watching her and listening to her! It would be hard for me to live my life this way. I know when I feel like my life is out of control and in chaos, my stress level is really high.

That is when I know it is time to step back, evaluate what I can change and maybe get away by myself for awhile. If I can do this, I always come back refreshed and focused, and am under much less stress.

By honeybees — On Apr 07, 2012

No matter what you do, there is no way to avoid stress in your life. Not all stress is bad, it is just how your body responds to it.

Even though there may only be 3 types of stress, it affects every person in a different way. I personally believe stress plays a huge role in many of the medical problems people face.

It is something that really wears your body down over time and can have a very negative effect on your immune system and how your body functions.

In the last few years I have made a conscious effort to try and avoid those things I know will cause me undue stress. I realize there are many things I don't have control over, but there are also a lot of things I can control.

One of the main ones for me is to avoid spending much time with negative people who complain all the time. For me, this is one type of stress I can control and it makes my life much more pleasant.

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