What is Stress?

We generally use the word “stress” when we feel that everything seems to have become too much – we are overloaded and wonder whether we really can cope with the pressures placed upon us.

Stress: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and More

Anything that poses a challenge or a threat to our well-being is a stress. Some stresses get you going and they are good for you – without any stress at all many say our lives would be boring and would probably feel pointless. However, when the stresses undermine both our mental and physical health they are bad.

Types of Stress

There are Three types of stress, including:

Acute stress

Acute stress disorder (ASD) occurs in people who have recently experienced some traumatic event. It can occur within a month of the event. After something really bad happens, they can have a strong and terrible reaction for a little while. This reaction is called Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). It is a bit similar to PTSD, but ASD goes away quicker. The symptoms of ASD include the following:

  • Intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of things that remind the person of the event
  • Negative changes in mood or cognition
  • Hyperarousal or increased anxiety
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Irritability or anger outbursts
  • Excessive attention to the possibility of danger (hypervigilance)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • An exaggerated response to loud noises, sudden movements, or other stimuli (startle reflex)

ASD can happen to people who’ve been through something really scary. It can be something they went through themselves or saw it happening to someone else. If they were right there when something bad happened, that’s called direct exposure. If they heard about it happening to someone close, like family or friends, that’s indirect exposure.

Episodic acute stress

Episodic acute stress is a type of stress that occurs when a person experiences acute stress frequently. It is often seen in people who make unrealistic or unreasonable demands of themselves. This can cause them stress in attempting to achieve their goals. 

The indicator of episodic acute stress include intense stress and life-or-death feelings in response to relatively mundane stressors. The emotions are intense and not chronic, but the triggers are different from acute stress disorder.

Symptoms of episodic acute stress:

  • Intrusive thoughts or memories of the stressful event
  • Avoidance of reminders of the event
  • Negative changes in mood or cognition
  • Increased anxiety or hyperarousal
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Irritability or anger outbursts
  • Excessive attention to potential threats (hypervigilance)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Exaggerated response to loud noises, sudden movements, or stimuli (startle reflex).

Type A personalities are often characterized as being overly competitive, aggressive, and impatient, and they have an excessive drive to achieve their goals. People with episodic acute stress often live a life of chaos and crisis. They are always feeling rushed and worried about what can go wrong. They take on many responsibilities and therefore couldn’t keep up with other timely demands.

Chronic stress:

Chronic stress is a long-term feeling of being under pressure or overwhelmed. It is different from acute stress as here the person is not reacting to one situation. People suffering from chronic stress can be stressed out due to various factors. This includes financial problems, a dysfunctional marriage or family, or a deeply dissatisfying job.

Stress and Health

In today’s hectic society, there are many possible sources of chronic stress. Long-lasting stress can slowly make a person feel tired inside and harm their brains and bodies.

The symptoms of chronic stress can be emotional, physical, and behavioral. Not all these symptoms are necessarily going to show up in one person. But if someone has three to five of these symptoms for more than several weeks, they might be suffering from chronic stress. 

Chronic stress has three different types of symptoms:

Physical Symptoms: Chronic stress can lead to physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, appetite changes, muscle tension, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and sleep issues due to prolonged stress. This high-level secretion of stress hormones can disrupt normal bodily functions.

Emotional Symptoms:
Emotionally and mentally, chronic stress leaves people feeling anxious, worried, restless, lacking motivation, moody, irritable, angry, and overwhelmed or lacking control. It can be difficult to concentrate and focus, and some experience memory problems as well. Prolonged activation of the body’s stress response impacts cognitive functioning over time. 

Chronic stress often leads to unhealthy coping behaviors like substance use, overeating or undereating, isolation, procrastination, anger outbursts, and conflicts with others. It’s also linked to negative thinking, rumination, poor judgment, and constant worrying. 

If left unmanaged, chronic stress can seriously affect mental and physical health, relationships, and work. Seeking treatment is crucial to address it before it causes lasting damage.

Who is Most Vulnerable to Stress?

Stress can be different for everyone. It can happen to anyone, no matter how old they are or where they come from. There is no way to find out the level of stress someone is going through.

The reason people are suffering from stress can be simple. They may lack support from friends and family, or have other issues like being deprived of food or sleep. These can be the reason for them not being able to handle everyday life. Thus leading them to stress.   

Janelle Marshall, Licensed Professional Counselor, states, “Some of the most common and impactful stressors that individuals face in today’s fast-paced society include finances, relationship issues, and boundary problems with friends and family. Over the years, these stressors have become increasingly impactful in people’s lives, affecting their socialization with others, causing increased somatic symptoms, and impacting work performance.”

Certain personality types and individuals in particular situations may be more vulnerable to stress than others. Here are some factors that can make someone more vulnerable to stress:

Type A personality: Type A personality is when someone wants to excel at everything they do. They need perfection and will do everything to make that happen. People with Type A personality traits, such as competitiveness, time urgency, and a tendency toward workaholism, are more likely to experience high levels of stress. They might also be more likely to get illnesses caused by stress.

Trauma: People who have experienced trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or violence, may be more exposed to stress.

Work-related stress: People who work in high-pressure jobs, such as sales, healthcare workers, first responders, or executives, may be more vulnerable to stress.

Financial stress: People who are struggling financially, such as those living in poverty or with significant debt, may be more vulnerable to stress.

Life changes: Major life changes, such as divorce, the death of a loved one, or moving to a new city, can be stressful and make someone more vulnerable to stress.

Lack of social support: People who lack social support, such as friends or family, may be more vulnerable to stress.

It’s important to note that everyone experiences stress differently, and what may be stressful for one person may not be stressful for another.

Additionally, some people may be more tough to stress than others, meaning they are better able to cope with stress and its effects.

What are the Common external causes of stress?

  • Major life changes
  • Relationship complexities
  • Children and family
  • Financial problems
  • Work or school
  • Being too busy
Symptoms of Stress

What are the Common internal causes of stress?

  • Pessimism
  • Constant worry
  • Negative self-talk
  • Impractical expectations
  • Stiff thinking
  • Lack of flexibility
  • All-or-nothing attitude

What are the Effects of Stress?

A slight stress sometimes is not something to be worried about. However, constant, never-ending stress can be the grounds for or worsen various severe health problems.

Effects On Health:

Stress can have various effects on the body, both in the short-term and over extended periods:
Physical Symptoms: Stress can manifest physically, leading to symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and digestive problems. It can also contribute to sleep disturbances, like insomnia.

Immune System: Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

Cardiovascular System: Stress can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart problems, including hypertension and heart disease.

Digestive System: Stress can lead to digestive issues like stomach aches, diarrhea, and constipation. It can also exacerbate conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Respiratory System: Stress can cause rapid, shallow breathing and worsen conditions like asthma.

Skin: It can lead to skin problems like acne, eczema, and psoriasis or exacerbate existing skin conditions.

Musculoskeletal System: Chronic stress can cause muscle tension, pain, and stiffness, contributing to conditions like tension headaches and fibromyalgia.

Hormones: Stress triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which can lead to weight gain, changes in appetite, and disruptions in the menstrual cycle.

Mental Health: Stress is closely linked to mental health issues such as anxiety, Depression, and mood swings. It can also impair cognitive function, leading to memory problems and poor decision-making.

Behavioral Changes: People under stress may engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating, substance abuse, or withdrawal from social activities.

Long-Term Impact: Prolonged exposure to stress can contribute to chronic health conditions, increase the risk of developing serious diseases, and accelerate the aging process.

Understanding these effects underscores the importance of stress management techniques and seeking support when dealing with chronic or overwhelming stress.

Effects On Relationships:

Communication Challenges: Stress can lead to difficulties in effective communication. When individuals are stressed, they may become less patient, irritable, or withdrawn. This makes them harder for them to express their thoughts and emotions clearly.

Conflict and Tension: Increased stress levels can lead to more frequent conflicts and arguments in relationships. Small disagreements may rise into larger disputes, causing tension and strain.

Emotional Distance: Individuals experiencing stress may withdraw emotionally. This creates  a challenge for their partners to connect with them on an emotional level. This emotional distance can weaken the bond between partners.

Lack of Quality Time: Stress often consumes time and mental energy. As a result, individuals may have less time and energy to invest in their relationships, leading to a decrease in quality time spent together.

Physical Intimacy: Stress can negatively affect physical intimacy. It may lead to decreased libido, sexual dissatisfaction, or even sexual dysfunction, impacting a couple’s physical connection.

Support and Empathy: When someone feels stressed, some may ask their partner for help. However, others might find it hard to understand or help with their partner’s stress. This can lead to feelings of isolation.

Financial Stress: Money-related stress, such as debt or financial instability, can be a significant source of tension in relationships. Financial disagreements are a common cause of conflicts among couples.

Parenting Challenges: Stress can affect parenting. When parents are stressed, they may have less patience with their children. This can damage their bond with children while the children will also feel unloved. This can lead to strained parent-child relationships.

Social Isolation: In some cases, individuals may isolate themselves from their social circles, including family and friends, when under stress. This can further strain their relationships.

Health Implications: Chronic stress can lead to health problems. When one partner’s health is affected, it can place additional stress on the relationship. The other partner may need to take on caregiving responsibilities.

Overall Relationship Satisfaction: The collective effect of stressors on a relationship can result in reduced overall relationship satisfaction. If not managed, chronic stress can even lead to the deterioration of the relationship.

It’s important for individuals and couples to recognize the impact of stress on their relationships and actively work on stress management techniques, open communication, and seeking support when needed. Addressing stress in a healthy way can help preserve and strengthen relationships.

At work, stress can make it hard to remember things, learn new stuff, and handle tough situations or jobs that need focus.

Manage Stress and Anxiety

How to Manage Stress and Anxiety?

At one point in life, everyone feels stressed. When you are anxious or stressed, these tips will surely help you deal with them:

  • Have a break. Learn yoga, meditate, listen to mellow music, undergo a body massage or practice some relaxation techniques. These activities will calm you and clear your mind.
  • Eat nutritious foods. Do not skip meals.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake because they can heighten anxiety.
  • Get ample sleep. This will relax your mind and body.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Take deep breaths slowly.
  • Be optimistic at all times.
  • Smile often. Learn to appreciate small things.
  • Accept the fact that you cannot control all the things around you.
  • Do not seek for perfection because it is impossible. Unmet expectation will lead to disappointment then stress.
  • Get involved and be active in your community; this will give you a break from the everyday stress.
  • Talk to a close friend or family member. You can also seek help with a counselor.
  • You can take antidepressants such as Sun Horse Energy which helps to control the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. This in return improves your moods.


Stress is a complicated thing that can affect our health and how we feel in our daily lives. Short-term stress from everyday problems can sometimes be okay, but if we have stress for a long time, it can be really bad for us. Stress comes in different forms and can happen for many reasons, and it can make us feel not good both in our bodies and our minds. 

Doing things like exercising, eating well, relaxing, and being with friends can help with normal stress. But if stress is really bad or lasts a long time, talking to a doctor or therapist might be needed. By recognizing when we have too much stress, figuring out why, and getting help when we need it, we can handle life’s challenges without it hurting our health in the long run.

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Jason Vredenburg, RD

Jason Vredenburg is a nutrition writer with over twenty years of experience as a Registered Dietitian. He has researched and written nu