Applied Psychology

Different Types of Stress and How to Differentiate Between Them

May 04, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
Different Types of Stress and How to Differentiate between Them

Stress manifests in various ways and can originate from a myriad of causes. This means that there are different types of stress. Anyone can learn to manage their stress levels better. The first step to doing this is being able to differentiate between different types of stress.

Types of Stress

Not all stress is equal. Bad stress is debilitating and can be harmful to every level of our wellbeing. However, studies show that moderate amounts of short-lived stress can actually be good for us. Good stress is defined as moderate, short-lived stress. We can be spurred into action by bouts of good stress. It can get us to try new things and take risks to achieve our goals. Effectively this means that we should use good stress to our advantage while managing our bad stresses.

“Stress can have a positive or a negative impact in our lives.”

3 Health Benefits of Good Stress

  1. It Improves Cognitive Function:  Your brain’s neural-connections can be improved by moderate stress. Which results in better attention span and memory, thereby enabling you to be more productive.
  2. Mini-Immune System Boost: Moderate stress stimulates the release of interleukins. This chemical gives our immune system a quick boost which can protect us against illness.
  3. Builds Grit and Success: When we overcome difficult situations, we are better able to deal with future stress. This is because, usually, afterwards we have a better sense of control within our lives. Which empowers us to successfully tackle increasingly difficult situations and be more successful overall.

4 Ways Bad Stress Impacts Us

  1. Physically: Increased blood pressure, muscle tension and aches, dizziness, shortness of breath, increased illness and weight gain.
  2. Emotionally: Irritability, mood swings, emotional outbursts and temper-tantrums.
  3. Psychologically: Depression, anxiety and panic episodes, memory problems and an inability to focus or concentrate.
  4. Behaviourally: Withdrawing from activities, avoiding company and social settings. Relying on legal and illegal substances to be able to successfully carry out everyday activities.

Dividing Types of Stress into 4 Areas

  1. Acute Stress: Short term, every-day-type stress. The impact can be either positive or negative.
  2. Chronic Stress: Negatively impacts our lives. It usually stems from traumatic events, seemingly never-ending or reoccurring strain that’s inescapable.
  3. Episodic Acute Stress: This type of stress becomes a way of life. It causes us to run from pillar-to-post. Thereby creating a cycle of ongoing stress.
  4. Eustress: It’s known as a positive stress as it often links to things that we find exhilarating. It causes spikes in adrenaline and can spur us to meet deadlines, reach our goals and experience new things.

Unpacking Acute Stress

Acute stress is one of the most common types of stress and relates to everyday pressures. It is a normal part of life. Acute stress can be in the form of things that have recently happened or upcoming challenges. It’s usually linked to something that is unpredictable, new or threatens our ego. In other words, it makes us feel like we are not in control. Often there is an immediate solution which, once implemented, helps to dissolve the strain of a situation.

“Acute stress relates to everyday life and can have a positive impact.”

An example of an acute stress situation is giving a speech to a crowd. Ahead of speaking, you may feel like your heart is racing and you become hyper-aware of everything around you. These are signs that your stress hormones have been released.

Acute stress does not usually have a lasting negative impact on our wellbeing. Sometimes our equilibrium can be upset for a while. But because the situation can be resolved, usually the impact of acute stress isn’t a lingering one. However, if acute stress is cyclical or extends over longer periods it can become chronic stress.

The Impact of Chronic Stress

Researchers think that our bodies are not equipped to deal with constant bouts of prolonged stress. This is because they have found that our bodies are negatively impacted by the repeated release of stress related hormones. Effectively, instead of buffering our immune system and sharpening our cognitive abilities, they cause wear and tear to our wellbeing.

“Chronic stress can have negative health consequences.”

Thus, chronic stress negatively affects our wellbeing. It can cause long lasting complex health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression. For those who are already at risk of chronic illnesses, bad stress can accelerate the advent of an illness. Or alternatively exacerbate a current condition.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can occur when someone experiences ongoing stress. Usually this is due to exposure to a specific traumatic event. Such as a car accident, assault, abuse or serious health problems. However, it can also be as a result of exposure to traumatic events through work. For example, without debrief or counselling sessions, those who work as social workers and emergency responders are vulnerable to PTSD. PTSD can immobilise someone to the extent that they can no longer look after themselves, function socially or work. PTSD does not only impact the individual. It can cause the breakdown of intimate relationships, damage family relationships and create a legacy of despair within communities.

How to Buffer Against Stress

  1. Know your stresses. Identify what causes you to feel stressed. Some stresses originate from within and others have links to external events. Once you understand the cause, develop strategies to better manage future situations and prevent them from being stress escalators.
  2. Understand what relaxes you. Try out different ways to calm your mind and body. The goal is to deescalate your stress response when something triggers it. Some people find humming a specific tune helpful, while others pause and count to 10.
  3. Build Resistance. You can become more resilient to stress by adopting healthy daily habits. You can do this by being mindful of your diet, exercising and taking time to relax.
  4. Eliminate Tolerances. Make a list of things that drain you, which you currently tolerate but wouldn’t choose to include in your life. Systematically work at eliminating them.
  5. Help Someone else. You take your focus off your own stress by helping someone. Thereby, giving yourself a breather. You also boost your feel-good factor, which helps put you into a better head space.

Helping Others Manage Stress

Are you interested in helping others better manage stress and achieve an improved quality of life? SACAP offers a number of courses through which you can become an accredited psychologist or counsellor. Contact us today to find out more.

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