by Andrea M. Darcy
Wondering if you need to worry about your stress levels? Knowing the different types of stress can help.
Why know the types of stress?
Stress, if we take the time to examine it, has an identifiable cause. And with the right support and approach, stress can be dealt with and improved, before it risks becoming harder to treat anxiety.
So the more we understand different types of stress, the more we can:
- recognise what our stress is about
- take action steps to get it under control
- avoid more serious mental health issues
- understand if our stress is manageable alone or with support from friends and family
- or if it’s at a dangerous point where we need professional support in the form of a coach, counsellor, or therapist.
The severity of your stress
Stress is often divided by how frequent and severe it is. You’ll hear talk of general, chronic, and acute stress.
General or daily stress means everyday life sometimes overwhelms us.
Chronic stress is when the overwhelm is constant and ongoing, or episodic.
Acute stress means that the overwhelm affects our ability to cope. It can lead to a clinical diagnosis (see below).
The sources of stress
It can be easy to blame our stress on one ‘place’. It’s work stress, or home stress.
Or course stress is not location bound. It tends to seep into all areas of our life. If work is hard, we snap at our partner when we get home.
photo by Luis Vilasmil
Dr. Karl Albrecht, in his seminal book, Stress and the Manager, instead divided stress into time, anticipation, situations, and encounters.
- Time stress would mean you tend to source your stress from not feeling ‘on top of things’. You feel stressed if you have a lot to do, and worry about forgetting things or being late.
- Anticipatory stress is related to anxiety and a need for control. You focus your worries on events that haven’t happened yet.
- Situational stress can relate to low self-esteem and worries about being good enough. You are stressed by conflict and challenges.
- And encounter stress would be social stress. It is stress that arises from relating, whether that is with a colleague, friend, or family member. It can be connected to difficulties in understanding others.
The way you manifest stress
The different types of stress can also refer to the way you are manifesting the stress you are feeling. Some people have classic stress, where they have busy thoughts and feel tired.
But some people might just have physical symptoms. They are convinced they have everything under control, for example, but their eating and sleeping habits have shifted. They are overeating, waking up too early each morning.
Let’s take being in a car accident as a way to look at all the different ways stress can manifest.
This can refer to the tension in our body from the accident, and our injuries. But in psychology, it would refer to the ways your body continues to show signs of stress, even when you feel otherwise ‘over’ the accident. For example if you still have sleep issues, changes in appetite, and constant headaches.
Constantly rethinking the accident and what you did or didn’t do could be seen as cognitive stress. Cognitive refers to thinking.
If you have mood swings, like anger and sadness, that leave you struggling to cope? This would be emotional stress.
Social stress can arise if we now feel uncomfortable around others. We don’t want their sympathy, or we are angry they let us get into the car.
This would be a way to describe the upset you are going through due to now questioning your previous spiritual beliefs. Is there really a God if bad things happen?
Clinical forms of stress
Back to acute stress. This would mean that a very difficult experience has left you unable to cope, and it can lead to a mental health diagnosis of acute stress reaction.
The requirements for a diagnosis of acute stress reaction can vary slightly depending on what country you are in and what medical manual your health practitioner uses. Outside of America, the manual commonly referred to is the the International Classification of Diseases, currently in its tenth version (ICD-10), put out by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
According the ICD-10 an acute stress reaction means that within an hour of experiencing an exceptionally difficult mental or physical stressor, you have symptoms like:
- arousal symptoms: sweating, trembling, heart palpitations
- chest/abdomen symptoms: difficulty catching your breath, nausea or stomach upset
- brain/mind symptoms: can’t think straight, dizzy, fearful
- tension symptoms: tight muscles, jumpy, restless.
It’s classified as severe if you also experience four or more serious symptoms like social withdrawal, aggression, anger, despair, overwhelming grief, or inappropriate behaviour. Or if you totally dissociate from reality.
Acute stress reaction is not permanent. If disappears within hours or a few days. Otherwise you would be eligible for a diagnosis of anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How can I be stressed if nothing bad happened to me?
It can be easy to underestimate and ignore our stress by telling ourselves we have no right to be stressed as ‘nothing bad has happened to me’.
But keep in mind that stress doesn’t arise from just our direct experience. It can come from knowledge of what has happened to someone we love, or from worry about what lies ahead. We are stressed as our child got bullied, or because we know we are going to be made redundant when our company shuts down in a few months.
Can therapy really help with stress?
You don’t have to be at crisis point to seek talk therapy for stress. Sometimes the very act of being able to voice what is upsetting us to someone who is not invested and won’t judge can be a tremendous relief.
And a therapist is trained at asking just the right questions, so that we suddenly see ways forward we had somehow missed. You can then decide on steps to take towards a more manageable existence.
Time to stop burning yourself out and allow yourself to thrive again? We connect you with a highly regarded team of mental health professionals in central London. Or use our booking platform to find UK-wide talk therapists and online counselling you can access from other countries.
Andrea M. Darcy is a health and wellbeing expert and writer who also runs a consultancy advising people on how to find the right therapy and therapist for them. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy