Different Types of Stress

Some people suffer from stress occasionally, while others always suffer from it. Knowing the different types of stress will allow us to create more successful therapeutic strategies.
Different Types of Stress
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Muscle pain, insomnia, migraines, concentration problems… There are different types of stress and it manifests in different ways. Knowing about each one of them can help us to deal with them more successfully.

Although it’s true that we sometimes experience all these physical and psychological sensations at the same time, each of them has their own specific trigger.

This psychological condition is very common. Although most of us have experienced stress at certain times, the problem is when we don’t handle it effectively. When stress starts to take root and drags on for weeks, months, or even years, it can affect your health.

A lot of scientific literature warns us about the risk of chronic stress on cardiovascular health. For example, research such as that conducted at the University of California, San Diego by Dr. Joel Dismale shows that many people go to see a specialist due to stress-related problems. They’re looking for relief from those persistent headaches, the pressure they feel in their chest, and their sleep problems.

However, if these situations become chronic and the person doesn’t implement suitable stress management strategies, then it may affect their cardiovascular health. Therefore, this gives us a clear indication of the need to be much more sensitive to these harsh realities.

A stressed man.

What are the different types of stress?

We’re sure that you’ve uttered the words “I’m stressed out” quite regularly. But, even if the pressure and its effects on your body are really quite unpleasant, there’s something you need to realize. Stress is a normal response to “abnormal” situations.

What we’re saying here is that human beings, just like other animals, need this psychophysiological response in order to be able to respond to threats, danger, and changes in their surroundings. Stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, help to activate changes that allow you, among other things, to solve work problems or overcome difficulties in your life.

However, there are times when stress stops being positive and useful and actually becomes “distress”. This negative stress unbalances you and then plunges you into a feeling of helplessness that can stay with you for a long time. Knowing the different types of stress will help you understand what you’re going through much better.

Acute stress: when you really feel the pressure

Acute stress is usually brief. It’s very common. Having work problems or a big argument with someone, being worried about a medical appointment, or having suffered a theft or witnessed an accident are all examples of this type of stress.

As we mentioned, it’s the most common type of stress and is defined by a mental approach that only focuses on the negative side and is obsessed with that particular situation.

In order to diagnose it correctly, we can follow the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

  • Symptoms of intrusion. The person can’t stop worrying about the problem. However, little by little, it loses its intensity.
  • Symptoms associated with the state of mind. Anguish, fear, and restlessness, among others.
  • Symptoms of agitation. Headaches, problems sleeping and concentrating, and difficulty making decisions.

As we’ve pointed out, acute stress is the most common out of all the different types of stress. In these cases, cognitive-behavioral therapy, such as cognitive restructuring strategies, relaxation techniques, or imaginal exposure facilitate progress in many of these patients.

Episodic acute stress or crisis-prone personality

Episodic acute stress is linked to a very specific personality profile. We’re referring to the type A personality that American cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Raymond Rosenman defined in the 1950s. These people generally are very competitive.

Likewise, this type of stress creates a psychological state of high wear and tear that comes and goes. At certain times, it seems to disappear for a few months, and then it suddenly returns again. Let’s look at the most common characteristics:

  • Emotional distress. This tends to lead to anger or irritability, impatience, bad temper, and constant tension. There’s always a feeling of urgency in their minds. Also, they think they always have to be prepared for some unknown imminent task they’ll have to do.
  • Cognitive distress. People with type A personality are very demanding. This means that they’re aware of multiple stimuli at the same time. However, living for months on end with this level of stress will eventually lead to memory problems and mental fatigue.
  • Problematic interpersonal relationships.
  • They suffer muscular discomfort, headaches, backache, and jaw pain.
  • Stomach and intestinal disorders.
  • Recurrent episodic stress is linked to the appearance of cardiovascular problems.
A stressed woman.

Types of stress: Chronic stress or suffering that doesn’t change over time

Having spent many years in a harmful work environment where you suffered harassment. Enduring a traumatic childhood. Losing a loved one and not being able to recover from that loss and all that it entailed. Suffering in unimaginable ways just to cover your mortgage payments. Being part of a family environment full of conflict, demands, and criticism.

These and many other situations produce chronic stress, one of the most problematic and debilitating psychological conditions at all levels. Constant suffering and uneasiness become such a part of the person’s life that it changes them completely and they become enslaved to these states.

  • This is one of the types of stress that can appear along with other psychological problems, such as depression.
  • People who suffer from it show insecurity and acquired helplessness. This means that no matter how much they do, they think the situation will never change.
  • They suffer from insomnia, fatigue, digestive problems, muscular discomfort, tachycardia, concentration problems, etc.

The therapeutic approach for these patients should always be an individualized one that attends to every particular need. However, on average, the following techniques are very useful:

  • Encouraging the person to understand what stress is.
  • Emotional management strategies.
  • Physiological deactivation techniques (diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and thematic imagination, for example).
  • Cognitive restructuring.
  • Assertiveness techniques.
  • Techniques for solving problems and overcoming difficult and stressful times.

In conclusion, each of these types of stress can be treated. The important thing is to seek professional help as soon as possible in order to prevent such suffering from becoming a constant problem.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dimsdale, J. E. (2008, April 1). Psychological Stress and Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2007.12.024
  • Hüther, Gerald (2012). Biología del miedo. El estrés y los sentimientos. Barcelona: Plataforma Editorial.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.