In order to implement the most effective stress management strategy, it is important to understand the different types of stress, together with the characteristics and attributes of each.
Psychologists define three different types of stress as follows:
(i) Acute stress is the most common form of stress
Acute stress is typically caused by the demands and pressures of individual events in our day-to-day activities, such as running late for a meeting, the nerves of making a speech in front of people, or almost getting into a car accident.
This is the “fight or flight” response we feel when exposed to a stressful situation (or stressor) and is the “good stress” for our bodies, where the stress hormones act to help us perform better is a pressure situation.
Because this acute stress typically occurs only for a short period, it doesn’t have the time to do the damage that is done by long term stress.
Although, if we are exposed to too much acute stress, we can experience symptoms such as:
- Emotional distress, such as anger, irritability, anxiety and periods of depression;
- Physical problems, such as headaches, pain, stomach problems, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, dizziness, and shortness of breath and chest pain.
(ii) Episodic Stress – is what we experience when we suffer acute stress too frequently.
This type of stress is common in people who always seem to be in a rush, taking too much on, while disorganized and unable to deal with the pressures and demands of the self-inflicted, unrealistic and unreasonable demands, that they have brought onto themselves.
It is also common in people we describe as “full-time worriers” – overly concerned and often anxious and worried that something terrible is going to happen.
Sufferers of episodic stress are often described as “Type-A” personalities, and tend to be abrupt, short-tempered, anxious and tense, while being competitive, aggressive and demanding.
The symptoms of this stress include:
- Ongoing physical symptoms similar to that of Acute Stress;
- Heart problems, including coronary heart disease; and
- Anxiety disorders, emotional problems and longer periods of depression;
There is also an emotional reaction to a stress, which can appear as anxiety and aggression.
(iii) Chronic stress – is the result of continued and ongoing exposure to stressors
The long term exposure to stress results in the body being in an almost permanent state of “fight or flight” response.
While acute stress (the short-term, one-off event stresses) can be sometimes “exciting”, chronic stress is the most dangerous and unhealthy form of stress, as it can make many destructive physiological changes to your body and mind and can destroy all enjoyment for life.
It is brought on by ongoing and highly stressful situations such as an unhappy marriage or relationship, long term financial stress, serious chronic illness, early childhood experiences, difficult workplace environments or serious family problems.
The physiological and psychological damage to our body that results from chronic stress can be life threatening, with serious illnesses such as heart attack, stroke and cancer, as well as serious psychological illnesses including clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, all linked in research studies to exposure to chronic stress.