My late grandfather used to say “Don’t be stressed, kick stresses’ (behind).” The thought of stress can be enough to make you stressed. Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. Some people have more effective ways of coping with stress resulting in a quicker recovery, while others struggle to find ways to cope. Stress management has become one of the most sought after interventions, especially during the holiday season. Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. A stressful event can trigger the fight, flight or freeze response (see here for more information on fight, flight, freeze); causing hormones to “surge” through the body.
Oftentimes when we think of stress, we think of “bad stress” because again the term stress itself usually carries a negative connotation with it. Managing the “bad stress” and the stress that can be life threatening can be complicated and confusing as there are different types of stress that will require unique interventions. However, there is some good stress. Some stress can even save your life and boost your immune system. This good stress is referred to as eustress. It also gets the heart pumping, increases your breathing rate, makes you perspire more and causes chemicals reactions throughout your system. The big difference is in the type of chemicals you produce when you are excited and happy; verses being excited and apprehensive or unhappy. When we are in a “good” stress situation, you get a “runners high” type of chemical combination. Let’s take a look at the different types of stress and the most effective ways to manage them.
Acute Stress: Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is gripping and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. For example, a combination of fast runs up and down a challenging hill can be exhilarating early in the day. That same run late in the day can be trying, tedious and wearing. With that being said, overdoing short-term stress can lead to psychological distress, tension headaches, back pain, upset stomach and other symptoms.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) acute stress is short term, and doesn’t have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long-term stress. Fortunately, acute stress symptoms are recognized by most people. It is a lengthy list of what has gone amiss in their lives: the loss of an important contract, an overdrawn bank account, deadlines they’re rushing to meet, their child’s occasional problems at school and so on. Most of us can probably relate to this laundry list of things going wrong in our lives, as life happens on life’s terms. No need to hit the panic button! However, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms on a consistent basis (several times per week) as a result of these problems; click here for a free consultation.
The most common symptoms are:
- Emotional distress (anger, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, depression)
- Gastrointestinal problems (upset stomach, digestive problems, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome.)
- Muscular Tension (tension headaches, back pain, shoulder pain and son on)
- Over arousal-which can lead to increase in blood pressure, sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and so on
How can I cope with Acute Stress?
- Recognize the signs. Listen to your body. If you are exhausted, over aroused, overwhelmed; it may be time to “take 5.” Start by taking 5 minutes to step away from whatever you are doing in order to give your mind a chance to slow down in order for you to re-group.
- Set priorities: Decide what has to be done today and what can wait. Do not overextend yourself by adding additional tasks that will add more stress. Learn to say no (to stress) and yes to you.
- Lean on your support: Stress can take over your life if you allow it. No one can live in this world without help. Seek out support groups of individuals with similar experiences. You do not have to go through this alone. You are bigger than your stress. You will defeat this!
- Exercise/Stress coping programs: Take a walk, attend a yoga, meditation or tai chi class. While exercise (in moderation) is good for us, it is important to listen to your body so you do not over train, thus creating more stress.
Episodic Acute Stress occurs in people who suffer acute stress frequently, whose lives are so out of control that they live in chaos and crisis. They’re always in a rush, but always late. If something can go wrong, it does. They take on too much, have too much on their plates, and struggle to organize the numerous self-inflicted demands and pressures screaming for their attention. People who suffer from episodic acute stress typically describe themselves as having “a lot of nervous energy,” they tend to be abrupt and sometimes their irritability comes across as hostility. Another form of episodic acute stress comes from ceaseless worry. In this form, one sees disaster around every corner and pessimistically foresees tragedy in every situation. As a result, interpersonal relationships deteriorate rapidly when others respond with hostility, thus causing the world to become a very stressful, dangerous, unrewarding, punitive place where something awful is always about to happen.
The most common symptoms of episodic acute stress include:
- Frequent bouts of over-arousal, which include persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain and heart disease.
How can I cope with Episodic Acute Stress?
- Recognize the signs and symptoms: If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, contact your primary care doctor. To find a primary care doctor within your geographical location, click here.
- Lifestyle changes: You may be used to operating with a full plate and possibly adding seconds to that plate when the main course hasn’t even been touched. Consider holding off on the seconds and focusing on the main course. I promise you will remain busy with just the main course as your task and you may even complete a task. Give it a try!
Chronic Stress is a state of prolonged and continuous stress. The (sympathetic) nervous system that helps you deal with the fight-or-flight response is always turned on. As a result this type of stress wears people down day after day, month after month, and year after year. Chronic stress destroys bodies, minds, spirits and lives. It’s the stress of poverty, dysfunctional families, being trapped in an unhappy marriage, or in a despised job or career. Chronic stress sets in when a person can’t see a way out of a bad situation. It’s the stress of relentless demands and pressures for extended periods. With no hope, the individual gives up searching for solutions. Some chronic stresses stem from traumatic, early childhood experiences that become internalized and can remain painful and present.
The worst aspect of chronic stress is that people become immune to it; they suppress it. People are immediately aware of acute stress because it’s new and it affects our day to day situations; they ignore chronic stress because it’s old, familiar, and, sometimes comfortable.
The most common symptoms of chronic stress include:
Lack of Sleep
Abdominal pain, back pain
How Can I Cope with Chronic Stress?
- Recognize the signs. If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms as a result of any past trauma, contact a physician or mental health professional.
- Treatment of chronic stress may require extended medical as well as mental health therapy, and stress management.
Traumatic Stress: Trauma is defined as experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events such as war, natural disasters, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults such as rape. Threats to psychological or social integrity can also be traumatic. Studies have shown that most survivors of trauma return to normal within about six months. However, for some people, the intense reactions can persist or worsen over time. People experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often experience flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, uncontrollable thoughts, uncontrollable shaking, heart palpitations, tension headaches and increased arousal (overly alert, easily startled, difficulty sleeping). For more information on PTSD, click here.
How can I cope with Traumatic Stress?
- Write about what it means to you that the traumatic event occurred. How did it affect your beliefs about yourself, others and the world? How did it affect your sense of trust, safety, relationships and intimacy?
- If you are feeling stuck, seek help from a counselor trained in PTSD.
The information I shared with you was not designed to cause more stress but to bring awareness to the different types of stress, the impacts they have on the “whole person” and to provide resources for the help that is available to assist you in coping with stress.
Feel free to share some strategies you have used to deal with any of the 4 types of stress Acute, Episodic Acute, Chronic or Traumatic Stress.
Sharise Hemby-Nance is a licensed therapist and award winning author with 15 years of experience in relationship building and work-life balance. For more information or assistance with stress management, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org