Understanding Your Stress Type & How to Manage It

We’ve all know by now that stress is just a part of life. As true as this may be, not all stress is created equal. Slamming on your breaks when a child suddenly runs out into the street is one kind of stress, which is healthy and helpful; having heart palpitations from a never-ending to-do list is another kind of stress entirely.

Many people may be unaware that there are different kinds, but experts have categorized stress into three types: acute, episodic acute, and chronic. And if you’re feeling stressed, it can be helpful to know which type you’re dealing with.

Acute Stress

A close call on the road, or having to speak in front of a large crowd are the kinds of situations that might trigger acute stress. The symptoms are physical, emotional, and/or behavioral, but are typically short-lived.

Symptoms of acute stress may include:

  1. Emotional issues like irritability, anger, or sadness
  2. Muscular issues like tightness, tension headaches, or jaw pain
  3. Gastrointestinal problems like heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, or diarrhea
  4. Rapid heartbeat
  5. Sweaty palms
  6. Dizziness
  7. Shortness of breath

Some of the symptoms of acute stress can present themselves before a stressful event, and can linger after. The good news is that these symptoms don’t stick around long enough to cause long-term damage to your health. There are even simple tricks you can do to help alleviate stress in the moment.

Episodic Acute Stress

Episodic acute stress occurs when someone gets frequent bouts of acute stress. People with this kind of stress will oftentimes take on more responsibilities and projects than they can handle. They may seem like they’re constantly in a rush, always running late, and are disorganized. People with episodic acute stress can also be hostile towards others and have strained relationships.

Often found in people with Type A personalities, some physical symptoms of episodic acute stress are:

  1. Tension headaches
  2. Migraines
  3. Hypertension
  4. Heart disease

Treating Episodic Acute Stress

Treatment for episodic acute stress is available both through lifestyle changes and professional help. But many people with this kind of stress don’t see anything wrong with their lives, so they may not feel the need for treatment.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress occurs when someone feels trapped in a bad situation. Whether it be an over-demanding job, an unhappy marriage, or a desperate financial situation, this is the kind of stress that starts to significantly wear down a person’s physical and mental health.

The exposure to stress hormones over a long period of time is what’s thought to be the culprit for the health issues linked to chronic stress.

Symptoms of chronic stress may include:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Depression
  3. Heart disease
  4. Weight gain
  5. Stroke
  6. Sleep issues
  7. Memory and concentration issues

Tips for Managing Chronic Stress

It’s not uncommon that people with chronic stress feel as if there’s no way to change their situation, and they frequently lose hope. But there are steps that can be taken to help manage and cope with all kinds of stress.

Start by identifying if the stress is coming from an internal or external source. An internal source would be something like fear – worrying about the results of a test or having to give a big presentation. External stress comes from major life changes, like divorce or the death of a loved one.

Being able to identify the source of your stress should help you gain more of a sense of control over the situation. From there, you can start to take steps towards managing your stress.

These steps could include:

  1. Eat a balanced diet
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Make getting better sleep a priority
  4. Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation – yoga is a great way to blend exercise with deep breathing.
  5. Find a hobby and make time to enjoy it
  6. Spend time with people who make you happy
  7. Have a “laugh folder” on your computer full of things that make you smile
  8. Volunteer
  9. Talk to a doctor, friend, or counselor about your stress

Remember that it’s normal to feel stressed from time to time, but when your stress begins to affect your quality of life, it might be time to seek help. Stress is a manageable condition with many different treatment options, so it’s just a matter of finding the option that will work best for you.

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Dr. Kelly and Associates. (2014, January 29). “Coping with different kinds of Stress.” Retrieved from http://drkellys.co.uk/dealing-with-stress/

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, April 21). “Chronic stress puts your health at risk.” Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037?pg=1

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