11 Types of Stress and How They Affect You
The term “stress” was first used in a medical setting by Hans Selye in the early 1900s. He took the name from physical stress; the pressure exerted on a physical body. The term then went on to be normalized and recognized as an issue affecting both the psychological and physiological.
Stress has such a profound impact on our bodies, but it affects us all differently. Over time, many people have sought to understand and classify stress.
Listed below are the ways we currently classify stress.
The American Psychological Association (APA) divides stress into three types:
- Acute Stress
- Episodic Acute Stress
- Chronic Stress
Acute stress is the most common type of stress. We see and experience examples of this in everyday life.
Perhaps you almost trip when walking down the stairs. Instantly, your heart skips a beat. You experience a burst of adrenaline. In a more extreme example, you may get a call that a loved one is in the hospital. Your mind becomes a mess, running through all the possibilities of what could’ve happened.
Acute stress involves negative thought loops, replaying the same situation again and again in your head and wondering what you could’ve done. Luckily, this type of stress is usually short-lived.
Episodic acute stress is more serious. This is when you experience acute stress frequently, and day-by-day occurrences wear you down. When acute stress turns episodic, long-term adverse effects on your mind and body start to crop up.
For example, you may have recently gotten a new job that’s stressing you out. Maybe you’re more prone to angry outbursts and irritability. Maybe you’re eating a lot more than usual. Maybe you’re feeling a bit blue. Every single time your boss adds more things to your workload, it gets worse. Deadlines become harder to meet. There are many days when everything goes smoothly, but the problematic days are getting under your skin.
Episodic acute stress is damaging, but with small, steady steps, you can overcome it. Time management, exercise, and healthy eating are some methods of coping. A therapist may help you reframe your thinking towards the stress as well.
Chronic stress is the type of stress that arises from high-pressure situations over a long period — the most dangerous type of stress. People in domestic abuse situations, extreme poverty, war-ridden countries, and other perpetually stressful situations get the brunt of the negative effects.
This arises when you don’t see a way to escape the situation causing your stress. Hopelessness arises, and solutions seem futile. Perpetual anxiety colors your life. Chronic stress also occurs when an individual has a traumatic childhood, as even when they are physically free of their childhood, their mind is still using it as a lens to shift their perception of the world. Left untreated, chronic stress leads to disastrous effects on the mind and body. While episodic acute stress may be dealt with without professional help, people with chronic stress often require extended medical and psychological treatment.
Unfortunately, sufferers of chronic stress often ignore the symptoms because they’ve normalized their stress responses. If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic stress, it may help to start talking about it. Effective communication can help release a lot of tension and is the first step in taking back control over your life.
Dr. Will Joel Friedman
This doctor divides stress into four categories:
- Physical Stress
- Psychological Stress
- Psychosocial Stress
- Psychospiritual Stress
Physical stress is stress on the body. This can be caused by injury, illness, musculoskeletal misalignments/imbalances, intense physical labour and over-exertion, dehydration, disproportionate diet, fatigue, hormonal and biochemical imbalances, insufficient oxygen supply, or environmental pollution (heavy metals, lack of light, radiation, noise, electromagnetic fields, toxins, herbicides, pesticides).
Psychological stress is stress on the mind. This can be emotional, cognitive, and perceptual stress. Emotional stress includes grief/bereavement, sadness, anger, fears, frustration, resentments, guilt, shame, envy/jealousy, worry/anxiety, and panic attacks. Cognitive stress includes information overload, unworkable perfectionism, self-criticism, self-loathing, accelerated sense of time, not feeling like things are real, not feeling like yourself, and a sense of being out of control/not in control. Perceptual stress includes beliefs, stories, worldviews, attitudes, and stories that affect how you view the stressful situation.
Psychosocial stress is stress on your relationships with others and society. With relationships, this could be personal (spouse, children, parents, and siblings) or professional (employer, co-workers, customers). With society, there are many ways this can manifest. Inadequate or absence of social support, lack of resources for adequate survival, loss of employment, investments, and savings, bankruptcy, home foreclosure, eviction, and social isolation, just to name a few.
Psychospiritual stress is when a person’s actions do not align with their values and beliefs. It is a predicament in which an individual is held back from working towards a goal that they find meaningful, productive, and fulfilling. This can cause feelings of emptiness, longing, and dissatisfaction with one’s life.
Dr. Karl Albrecht
- Time Stress
- Anticipatory Stress
- Situational Stress
- Encounter Stress
Time stress is caused by an impending sense that time is running out. Worry that there is not enough time to complete a large volume of tasks or do them well creates this sensation. Whether it’s a deadline you’re not sure you can meet or a family gathering you think you might miss out on, this type of stress is derived from our perception of time.
Anticipatory stress is fear and uncertainty about future events. The individual suffering from this type of stress focuses on the specific event they are insecure about (e.g. a large social gathering, the first day at a new job, an upcoming presentation) and may ignore more pressing matters. Although anticipatory stress could result from a new, potentially embarrassing, or dangerous situation, it can also be just a vague sense of dread.
Situational stress is a more abrupt kind of stress than the last two. This is when you are thrown into a situation that you did not anticipate. Typically, this arises during an emergency, a conflict, or a loss of acceptance or status in a group. The situation can make you feel threatened or belittled, triggering the stress. For example, during an unforeseen argument with friends, you may feel as if you are being personally attacked or threatened.
Encounter stress is stress from other people. This is when interactions between a particular person or group of people become harrowing, or there are too many interactions with others to handle. Perhaps you dislike the person you are conversing with. Maybe you’re nervous because they hold a higher position than you in life. Maybe they’re unpredictable or they’re in distress. This kind of stress can chafe on personal and professional relationships in your life.
Out of these approaches to classifying stress, the APA’s is the most widely recognized. Although the other two are less common, they offer a unique perspective into what stress is and how we can approach it. Stress can come in so many different forms and affect us in so many different ways. It’s important to acknowledge these differences so we can offer adequate aid to those in need.