What is Stress? Types of Stress

Stress is a normal physical response to particular events that make us feel threatened or upset our balance in some way. Stress is the body's way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness. In emergency situations, stress can save our life – giving us extra strength to defend ourselves, for example, or spurring us to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.

Stress causes a surge of hormones in our body. These stress hormones are released to enable us to deal with pressures or threats – the so-called "fight or flight" response. Once the pressure or threat has passed, our stress hormone levels will usually return to normal. However, if we're constantly under stress, these hormones will remain in our body, leading to the symptoms of stress.

Types of stress:
Stress management can be complicated and confusing because there are different types of stress--acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress -- each with its own characteristics, symptoms, duration, and treatment approaches. Let's look at each one.

Acute stress

Acute stress is the most common form of stress. Sometimes stress can be brief, and specific to the demands and pressures of a particular situation, such as a deadline, a performance or facing up to a difficult challenge or traumatic event. This type of stress often gets called acute stress.

The most common symptoms are:
  • Emotional distress--some combination of anger or irritability, anxiety, and depression, the three stress emotions;
  • Muscular problems including tension headache, back pain, jaw pain, and the muscular tensions that lead to pulled muscles and tendon and ligament problems;
  • Stomach, gut and bowel problems such as heartburn, acid stomach, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome;
  • Transient over arousal leads to elevation in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, dizziness, migraine headaches, cold hands or feet, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Acute stress can crop up in anyone's life, and it is highly treatable and manageable.

Episodic acute stress

Some people seem to experience acute stress over and over. This is sometimes referred to as episodic acute stress. These kind of repetitive stress episodes may be due to a series of very real stressful challenges, for example, losing a job, then developing health problems, followed by difficulties for a child in the school setting. For some people, episodic acute stress is a combination of real challenges and a tendency to operate like a ‘stress machine’. Some people tend to worry endlessly about bad things that could happen, are frequently in a rush and impatient with too many demands on their time, which can contribute to episodic acute stress.

The symptoms of episodic acute stress are the symptoms of extended over arousal: persistent tension headaches,
  • Migraines,
  • Hypertension,
  • Chest pain,
  • and Heart disease.
Treating episodic acute stress requires intervention on a number of levels, generally requiring professional help, which may take many months.

Chronic stress
The third type of stress is called chronic stress. This involves ongoing demands, pressures and worries that seem to go on forever, with little hope of letting up. Chronic stress is very harmful to people’s health and happiness. Even though people can sometimes get used to chronic stress, and may feel they do not notice it so much, it continues to wear people down and has a negative effect on their relationships and health.

The symptoms of chronic stress are:
  • Suicide
  • Violence 
  • Heart attack
  • Strok
  • Cancer
People wear down to a final, fatal breakdown. Because physical and mental resources are depleted through long-term attrition, the symptoms of chronic stress are difficult to treat and may require extended medical as well as behavioral treatment and stress management.

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