The Different Kinds Of Stress

By Debra Kelly on Tuesday, January 14, 2014
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“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. ‘Blorft’ is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.” —Tina Fey, Bossypants

In A Nutshell

Stress can seem as ever-present as it is terrible; what you might not know is that you’re constantly being subjected to different types of stress, and learning to recognize them is the first step in successfully coping. Acute stress is the type that’s brought on by an immediate threat. Chronic stress happens when a person is exposed to the same stressful situation over a long period of time, and episodic stress happens when a person’s actions bring the stress upon themselves.

The Whole Bushel

Stress is something we all suffer through; it’s a part of life. But there are different kinds of stress, and learning the difference between the three major types can help you learn to manage—if not avoid—the pitfalls and traps of stressful situations.

Acute stress is the kind that happens to most of us most of the time. It’s the type of stress that’s triggered by an immediate threat or source of pressure in daily life. This can be anything from a test you didn’t prepare for or a phone call you weren’t ready for to a deadline that’s approaching way too fast. This type of stress tends to be intense but short-lived.

The symptoms of acute stress can range from headache and stomachache to dizziness, migraines, or difficulty breathing and chest pains. This is both the most common and least dangerous type of stress, as the stressor can usually be managed very quickly.

Chronic stress comes from constant, daily exposure to a stressful situation. It’s long-term and it’s vengeful, and wears a person down over weeks, months, and years. It’s the stress of a bad relationship you can’t get out of, of a job you can’t quit, of the long illness of parents. On a global scale, it’s the stress of one country occupying another, it’s the stress of the exploitation of a race, it’s long-standing religious tensions. This kind of stress creates a long-lasting situation in which escape seems hopeless, and is ultimately the most dangerous kind of stress.

In a single person, chronic stress can lead to a host of health problems from stroke and heart disease to an increased susceptibility to other diseases like cancer. Suicide can become more likely. And some of the effects of chronic stress aren’t even noticeable—like the formation of unreasonable or irrational beliefs. Chronic stress that involves nations and races can lead to riots and wars.

And episodic stress is the kind that a person brings upon themselves. It’s the stress that someone feels when they constantly wake up late, and need to rush to work. It’s the stress of scheduling too many meetings, the stress of an inability to organize their own lives. It also happens when a person is overcome with worry; they see cause to worry and stress around every corner, whether it’s real or imagined. When acute stress becomes a repetitive, never-ending cycle, it becomes episodic.

Episodic stress can be the type that sufferers might not even be able to recognize. A combination of years of habits and personality traits can make episodic stress just another part of a person’s lifestyle. The symptoms of acute stress—especially headaches and migraines—become chronic, and just another part of life. Getting rid of this type of stress might involve therapy, counseling, and a reassessment of dealing with daily life.

People who are naturally pessimistic can also bring episodic stress upon themselves. When pessimism becomes a way of life, it impacts how a person deals with the world around them and whether or not they make decisions that will help make life easier—or if they are just accustomed to the difficulties and become content with them.

Show Me The Proof

American Psychological Association: Stress
Purdue: Different Kinds of Stress