Types of Stress and Their Symptoms

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Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More

What Are the Different Types of Stress? The main types...

What Are the Different Types of Stress?

The main types of stress include:[1]
  • Acute stress: Acute stress is immediate, short-lived stress responses triggered by specific events or situations. Common scenarios that elicit acute stress include public speaking, taking exams, or encountering sudden challenges at work or home. Acute stress is normal and can even be motivating, but prolonged exposure to acute stressors without effective coping skills can lead to negative health effects.
  • Chronic stress: Chronic stress is persistent, long-term stress that results from ongoing challenges, pressures, and adversities in life. Common sources of chronic stress include financial issues, job dissatisfaction, relationship problems, or chronic health conditions. Chronic stress can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, and immune system dysfunction.
  • Eustress: Eustress is beneficial or positive stress that motivates and energizes people to achieve goals, engage in challenging activities, and adapt to new experiences. Unlike distress, which is harmful, eustress is associated with feelings of excitement, anticipation, and fulfillment. Examples include starting a new job, planning a wedding, and preparing for a competition. Eustress can enhance resilience, promote personal growth, and contribute to overall well-being.

Stress is a natural response to challenges or demands that individuals face in their daily lives, characterized by physical, emotional, and mental tension. It serves as a signal that the body and mind are responding to perceived threats or pressures, prompting people to take action to cope with or adapt to the situation. 

In everyday life, stress plays a significant role in motivating individuals to overcome obstacles, achieve goals, and navigate various challenges. However, prolonged or excessive stress can have detrimental effects on physical health, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life, highlighting the importance of effective stress management strategies.[1]


Given that stress has been linked as a co-factor in 95% or all disease processes, a keystone of holistic, alternative health and healing is learning how to effectively manage and reduce stress. Stress management is a learning process that begins with recognizing or identifying four specific types of stress affecting you and how these stressors (that is, what demands a change from you) are showing up or manifesting as symptoms in your life.

Stress factors broadly fall into four types or categories: physical stress, psychological stress, psychosocial stress, and psycho-spiritual stress.

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Physical stress

This can include trauma (injury, infection, surgery), intense physical labor/over-exertion, environmental pollution (pesticides, herbicides, toxins, heavy metals, inadequate light, radiation, noise, electromagnetic fields), illness (viral, bacterial, or fungal agents), fatigue, inadequate oxygen supply, hypoglycemia I (low blood sugar), hormonal and/or biochemical imbalances, dietary stress (nutritional deficiencies, food allergies and sensitivities, unhealthy eating habits), dehydration, substance abuse, dental challenges, and musculoskeletal misalignments/imbalances.

Psychological stress

This may include emotional stress (resentments, fears, frustration, sadness, anger, grief/bereavement), cognitive stress (information overload, accelerated sense of time, worry, guilt, shame, jealousy, resistance, attachments, self-criticism, self-loathing, unworkable perfectionism, anxiety, panic attacks, not feeling like yourself, not feeling like things are real, and a sense of being out of control/not being in control), and perceptual stress (beliefs, roles, stories, attitudes, world view).

Psychosocial stress

This may include relationship/marriage difficulties (partner, siblings, children, family, employer, co-workers, employer), lack of social support, lack of resources for adequate survival, loss of employment/investments/savings, loss of loved ones, bankruptcy, home foreclosure, and isolation.

Psycho-spiritual stress

A crisis of values, meaning, and purpose; joyless striving (instead of productive, satisfying, meaningful and fulfilling work; and a misalignment within one’s core spiritual beliefs.

Overall, improperly or ineffectively managed stress usually takes a toll on the body. When stress-related feelings, moods, emotions are pushed into the body, the soma, this is usually termed psychosomatic or psychogenic illness, including headaches, heart palpitations, physical/cognitive/emotional pain and suffering, constricted throat and shallow, constricted breathing, clammy palms, fatigue, nausea, anxiety, allergies, asthma, autoimmune syndromes related to acute stress due to an ineffective functioning of the immune system, hypertension (high blood pressure), and gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhea, upset stomach, duodenal ulcers and esophageal reflux syndrome.

Prolonged chronic stress and acute stress can result in suppressed immune function, increased susceptibility to infectious and immune-related diseases and cancer. Emotional and prolonged stress can also result in hormonal imbalances (adrenal, pituitary, thyroid, etcetera) that further interfere with healthy immune functioning.

(Adapted from Larry Trivieri, Jr, The Health Plus Letter, Vol. 2, No. 2, www.1healthyworld.com)

a man that is stressed suffering from mental health problems

How stress impacts physical and mental health

Stress can have significant impacts on both physical and mental health. Physically, it can lead to headaches, muscle tension, digestive problems, and weakened immune system. Mentally, it can cause anxiety, depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. Long-term stress increases the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and mental health disorders. Proper stress management is crucial for overall well-being.

Recognizing Stress Symptoms

Cognitive symptoms of stress

  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Racing thoughts or constant worrying
  • Memory problems or forgetfulness
  • Inability to focus on tasks or organize thoughts
  • Anxious thoughts
  • Fearful anticipation

Emotional stress

  • Feelings of anxiety, nervousness, or restlessness
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Overwhelm or feeling out of control
  • Sadness, depression, or frequent crying spells
  • Inability to relax
  • Stress eating

Behavioral symptoms of stress

  • Changes in eating habits (overeating or loss of appetite)
  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
  • Avoidance of tasks
  • Fidgeting
  • Clenched fists
  • Problems completing work assignments
  • Strained face
  • Crying

Physiological symptoms of stress

  • Headaches or migraines
  • Muscle tension or body aches
  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Sweating, trembling, or shaking
  • Grinding teeth
  • Sweating
  • Faint feelings
  • Choking feeling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stomachache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Loosening of bowels
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Rapid heartbeat

Social symptoms of stress

Some people in stressful times tend to seek out others to be with. Other people withdraw under frequent high stress situations. Also, the quality of relationships can change when a person is under constant stress.

Ketamine therapy is a relatively new treatment option for stress and anxiety that has shown promising results in clinical studies. It is administered intravenously, often in a series of low-dose infusions over the course of several weeks or months. Ketamine works by modulating the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly glutamate, which is involved in the regulation of mood and behavior. It is also important to have a thorough evaluation by a qualified healthcare provider before starting ketamine therapy to ensure that it is appropriate for your specific situation. Interested in learning more about ketamines for anxiety? Find a ketamine therapy clinic near you.

The Science of Stress: Mechanisms and Effects

Stress triggers a series of physiological and psychological responses that impact both the body and mind. 

When faced with a stressor, the body activates the fight-or-flight response, a primal survival mechanism designed to prepare for danger. During this response, the body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which increase heart rate, elevate blood pressure, and boost energy levels to facilitate quick action. 

While this response can be lifesaving in emergencies, chronic exposure to stress can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health. 

Prolonged activation of the stress response can weaken the immune system, disrupt sleep patterns, contribute to digestive issues, and increase the risk of developing anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. 

Additionally, chronic stress can impair cognitive function, memory, and concentration, making it difficult to focus and perform daily tasks effectively. Learning effective stress management techniques can help mitigate the negative impact of stress on both the body and mind, promoting overall health and well-being.[1]

What are the types of stress?

There are different types of stress that can affect our bodies and health. One type of stress is acute stress, which is a stress response due to a sudden change or perceived threat. This can lead to symptoms like increased heart rate, feeling irritable, and anxiety. Another type is chronic stress, which is caused by ongoing stressors like work or family situations. This can lead to symptoms like depression, fatigue, and physical health issues.

It’s important to learn how to manage stress and find helpful information and resources. Taking time for yourself and doing things that make you feel good can give stress relief and be helpful in reducing stress levels. Talking to people in your life can also be helpful in finding support and learning new ways to cope with stress.

What is physical stress?

Physical stress is a type of stress that affects the body. It occurs when a person experiences stress for an extended period of time, which can lead to changes in the body. Some symptoms of physical stress include muscle tension, headaches, and fatigue.

Physical stress may also result in other health problems, such as increased blood pressure, decreased immune function, and an increased risk of alcohol and substance abuse.

There are ways to treat and manage physical stress, such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and finding healthy ways to cope with stress. It’s important to pay attention to the symptoms of physical stress and seek treatment if necessary, as it can have long-term effects on a person’s health.

What is psychological stress?

Psychological stress is a type of stress that affects a person’s mental and emotional well-being. It can be caused by many different types of events or situations, such as work-related stressors or the death of a loved one. When a person experiences psychological stress, it may lead to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and difficulty coping with ongoing stress in everyday life.

Studies have shown that psychological stress may also increase the risk of certain serious health problems too, such as heart disease and mental health disorders. However, there are resources and support available to help people cope with psychological stress and take control of their physical and mental health. It’s important to seek help if you are experiencing symptoms of psychological stress, as early intervention can lead to better outcomes.

What is cognitive stress?

Cognitive stress is the type of stress that comes from the way we think and process information. It can be caused by a variety of things, such as work, relationships, or life changes. This type of stress may affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When we are under cognitive stress, we may feel overwhelmed or out of control, and we may struggle to focus or make decisions. Common symptoms of cognitive stress can include depression, anxiety, and irritability. It is important to find ways to cope with cognitive stress, such as practicing mindfulness or talking to a trusted friend or therapist. By taking control of our thoughts and finding healthy ways to manage stress, we can improve our overall mental and physical health, and well-being.

Acute stress vs chronic stress

Acute stress is short-term and occurs in response to immediate threats. Common examples include taking a test, overcoming a problem at work, or driving in traffic.

Chronic stress is long-term, persists over time, and often stems from ongoing situations or lifestyle factors. Chronic stress may be caused by family problems, romantic issues, or work-related stress.

Symptoms of acute stress include:[1]

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heightened alertness

These symptoms are usually short-lived and resolve once the stressful situation subsides.

Meanwhile, symptoms of chronic stress include:[1]

  • Persistent anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Problems concentrating

Chronic stress can also lead to changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and mood swings.

Long-Term Health Effects

When it comes to long-term health effects, acute stress responses don’t tend to cause issues in the long run, but repeated exposure to acute stressors without recovery time can progress to chronic stress.

On the other hand, long-term exposure to chronic stress can be damaging to your health. Chronic stress is linked to:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Weakened immune function
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Burnout

(Compiled by University of Miami psychologist Michael Antoni and colleagues, in Kenneth R. Pelletier, Ph.D. Between Mind and Body: Stress, Emotions, and Health in MindBody Medicine, Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. and Joel Gurin, Eds., Consumer Reports Books, Consumer Union: Yonkers, New York, 1993, 19-38, citation: 24).

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