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The 3 Types of Stress

Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR

Are you experiencing stress? If so, it’s important to know which type of stress you’re dealing with.

The term stress is often used as a catchall phrase for any negative internal response to external stimuli. However, there are different kinds of stress. The APA (American Psychological Association) reports that there are three different types of stress: acute, episodic, and chronic. Each type of stress impacts you in different ways, so it’s important to know which type you’re experiencing. In addition, knowing your type of stress allows you to know how to manage it.

Acute Stress

Acute stress is the most common type of stress, and it’s the easiest to identify. You experience acute stress when you feel the pressure of recent past, present, or upcoming demands. This type of stress can be healthy in small amounts, as some people may feel motivated or even excited by it. The main factor in identifying acute stress is that it’s short term and dissipates once external demands have passed.

Acute Stress can be caused by an upcoming work project, public speaking, a minor car accident, a busy day or week, or a common illness such as the flu, to name a few examples. The APA reports that acute stress can cause a variety of emotional and physical symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, depression, muscle tension, headaches, stomach issues, back pain, and jaw pain.

Everyone experiences acute stress at some point in their life. It’s important to implement coping skills to manage acute stress. Some people are able to manage acute stress on their own, while others may need to seek professional help.

Episodic Stress

If you experience acute stress constantly over a period of time it can become episodic stress. Episodic stress occurs when your daily life has constant demands, when you experience never ending obstacles, or when you constantly worry about something. People with episodic stress might report feeling overwhelmed, always on edge, or that suffering from stress is a part of their personality and lifestyle. Unlike acute stress, episode stress is not short term. It doesn’t go away when the external demands decrease or cease altogether.

Episodic stress can lead to severe anxiety – including panic attacks, irritability, and persistent depressive symptoms if it’s not addressed. Episodic stress causes excessive arousal in the body, which can cause migraines, chest pain, tension headaches and hypertension. These issues can cause lasting damage to the body if the stress persists.

Episodic stress is difficult to manage on your own, and you’ll likely need the help of a professional. There are many types of treatments that can help you successfully manage episodic stress.

Chronic Stress

Out of the three types of stress, chronic stress is the most harmful as it takes a devastating toll on the mind and body over a long period of time. People with chronic stress may report that their stress feels like it’s never-ending and might have difficulty imagining a life without it. The APA reports that sometimes people do not realize that they experience chronic stress because it’s been a part of their lives for so long that it’s become their normalcy.

Chronic stress can be caused by external situations that impact a person long-term such as childhood trauma, abuse, exposure to war, being stuck in an unhappy relationship or job, and poverty. Out of all the types of stress, chronic stress causes the most harm to the mind and body and it’s more likely to lead to death. People who experience chronic stress may commit suicide, engage in violence, and have heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.

Those who experience chronic stress require professional treatment. This treatment may include a holistic approach consisting of medical care, case management, mental health therapy, and other services. If you or someone you know experiences chronic stress it is important to seek treatment.

Do you experience acute, episodic or chronic stress? If so, you might benefit from participating in therapy. Symmetry Counseling provides individual, couples, and EMDR therapy, to name a few. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to schedule an appointment.

American Psychological Association. (2019). Stress: The different kinds of stress [Webpage] Retrieved from

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