In modern day life, stress has become an integral part of our lives with people associating it to something that is very unpleasant and disturbing. People associate stress with that bad feeling we have when we are trying to cope with challenges we face in our everyday activities (Folkman, 2013). We are bombarded with school, work, personal relationships, family, friends and the environment around us, just to mention a few that cause stress. Stress has a direct effect on our feelings, thinking and physical conditions. Stress is experienced when one perceives real or imagined threat, and in society, it is manifested in a general decline of behavior while personal stress is the inability to think on a reasonable and rational level. Stress is, therefore, the body's natural defenses against the threats and dangers to our well-being or the unpleasant state of emotional and physiological arousal caused by real or imagined danger (Folkman, 2013). Since the body cannot differentiate between real and perceived stress, it reacts to both in the same way by producing hormones, adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline that either confront or avoid danger.
In understanding what stress is, there is a need to differentiate between what causes stress and what are the causes of stress. There are very many things that cause stress known as stressors and these stressors could either be good or bad (Folkman, 2013). Good stressors always push us to do something good or achieve something, and they vary from one person to the other, and these include, going to school, getting married, promotions, participating in games among others, the bad stressors, on the other hand, include the life struggles we face, and these could be illness, financial problems, personal relationships such as divorce just to mention a few (Folkman, 2013). Stress has many symptoms, and these vary from cognitive, behavioral, physical and emotional symptoms. The American Psychological Association (APA) identifies three types of stress, and these are; acute stress, episodic stress and chronic stress. Management of stress is very difficult due to the various symptoms, causes and effects presented by these three types of stress (American Psychological Association, 2015).
Acute stress is always caused by reactive thinking, which essentially means that our bodies react to the events or situations around us (Bryant, 2017). In most cases, acute stress is always very brief and short lived because it is the negative thoughts we anticipate in future or to the events that have recently happened (Bryant, 2017). For instance, if you have an upcoming interview, you may be stressed about how you will present yourself before the interviewers. Previous events may include an argument and thoughts about the argument and how aggressive it may cause stress. Some of the effects of acute stress include emotional distress of anger, anxiety and depression, rapid heartbeat, severe headaches, cold hands or feet, sleep problems, muscular tensions such as back pain, stomach and bowel problems among others (Bryant, 2017). However, if the stress is prolonged, then it causes Acute Stress Disorder, which is associated with both physical and mental conditions of people suffering especially from trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) (Jamieson et al., 2013).
Episodic Acute Stress
Episodic acute stress is caused by the frequent occurrences of acute stress, and this can make people live in crisis (Jamieson et al., 2013). The people who worry a lot, or those who are always pessimistic about life, or people who have a number of responsibilities but cannot deliver always suffer from episodic acute stress. There are two types of people who suffer episodic acute stress, and these include the type "A" personality who is always very aggressive to achieve goals, impatient, insecure and very anxious to perform (Jamieson et al., 2013). The second type of people is those who worry a lot and always see the negative side of every eventuality, for them the world is a very dangerous place to be, and something bad is always about to happen(Jamieson et al., 2013). These types of people are are always depressed with thoughts of negative outcomes, and this causes severe mental and physical health problems. The side effects of episodic acute stress are similar to those of acute stress such as anger, anxiety and depression, rapid heartbeat, severe headaches, cold hands or feet, sleep problems, muscular tensions, but in episodic acute stress, the effects are prolonged and more frequent which could cause severe damage and suffering which requires psychological treatment (Bryant, 2017).
Chronic stress involves being emotionally overwhelmed to situations we consider as being out of our control, causing the release of corticosteroids such as the endocrine which triggers stress (Gottlieb, 2013). Chronic stress stems from abuse such as sexual abuse, drug or substance abuse, unemployment, divorce, dysfunctional family, hopelessness and loss of focus in life, traumatic childhood experiences among others and when left untreated could cause severe health issues (Gottlieb, 2013). These health issues are health risks associated with heart diseases, cancer, lung diseases, liver cirrhosis just to mention a few. Chronic stress affects the neurobiology of the body and brain making someone's health to deteriorate with time (Gottlieb, 2013). Unlike acute or episodic acute stress, people with chronic stress always feel very hopeless and helpless because they are always in situations they think they cannot control such as traumatic childhood experience and most people seem to habituate to it rather than seek medical treatment (Gottlieb, 2013). Some resort to suicide, violent acts and homicide, with their bodies tearing down due to the mental and physical attrition. Chronic stress is treated with both medical and psychological treatment which involves stress management.
American Psychological Association. (2015). Stress in America: Paying with our health. Retrieved May, 29, 2015.
Bryant, R. A. (2017). Acute stress disorder. Current opinion in psychology, 14, 127-131.
Folkman, S. (2013). Stress: appraisal and coping. In Encyclopedia of behavioral medicine (pp. 1913-1915). Springer, New York, NY.
Gottlieb, B. H. (Ed.). (2013). Coping with chronic stress. Springer Science & Business Media.
Jamieson, J. P., Mendes, W. B., & Nock, M. K. (2013). Improving acute stress responses: The power of reappraisal. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(1), 51-56.
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