The 4 Types of Stress You Need to Know

by Auriel

This may sound crazy, but I love talking about stress. Now, I don’t love stress itself (I’m not a masochist!), but I do enjoy conversations around this topic because stress plays a major role in our health and overall quality of life.

Don’t believe me, listen to this: 

  • 75 – 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. 
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, anxiety, and more (source).

I’m going to guess that when you hear the word stress, feelings like overwhelm, fear, and frustrations come to mind. Or situations like a demanding job, an argument with your partner, or your car breaking down on the side of the road. 

But you may be surprised to learn that stress is more than our thoughts, feelings, and reactions to our circumstances. There are different types of stress that cause our body to activate its stress response (learn more about that here!). Many of which get completely overlooked in our conversations about stress. 

And these often unmentioned stressors may be affecting you without you even realizing it! Causing your stress levels to rise and your risk for illness to increase. We don’t want that!

This is why it’s important to understand stress in all its forms, so you can identify what’s stressing you out and putting undue strain on your body.  

Knowledge is power and once you know, you can take action toward creating your healthiest, happiest life. 

Read on to learn about the different forms of stress that throw our body out of balance and sabotage our wellness.  

What is stress? A new perspective

Most definitions of stress define it as an emotional response to an external stressor. In other words, our reaction to a threat, big or small. But there’s more to it than that. 

Stress is the body’s reaction to ANY change that requires an adjustment or response and the body reacts with physical, mental, and emotional responses (source). These changes are not only triggered by our thoughts and feelings but can come from various sources which we’ll discuss in a moment. 

First, I want to touch on acute vs. chronic stress. 

These are the two major categories of stress that differentiate between “good” (unharmful) and bad stress. Keep in mind that our body is designed to handle stress, and it is quite good at it. But everything has its breaking point. 

Acute stress is momentary or short-term and usually triggered by something specific like a fast-approaching deadline. It has a beginning and an end. This is the type of stress we were built for.

On the other hand, chronic stress (the name alone sounds unpleasant!) is the long-term, dragging on-and-on kind of stress. It’s a problem because it keeps the body on high alert never giving it a chance to rest. Over time, chronic stress can have a major impact on your physical and mental health.

All stressors will fall into either of these two categories based on their duration and are important to keep in mind. Remember, not all stress is bad. A lot of stress is normal, but being able to recognize when it’s not is key.

4 Types of Stress

There are many many sources of stress that throw the body out of balance and activate its stress response. In this state the body is all fired up, ready to fight danger (perceived or real), and is working really hard to keep you safe. 

These sources of stress can be grouped into four different types: psychological, sociological, physical, and chemical. We talk a lot about the first two, but I want you to know that stress could be creeping in from these other sources as well. Let’s take a look.

Psychological 

  • Emotional- anger, fear, depression, grief, poor self-esteem and confidence
  • Cognitive- overwhelm, anxiety, frustration, worry, perfectionism, guilt, shame
  • Spiritual- lack of purpose, meaning or joy; out of alignment with values and core beliefs

Sociological

  • Poor/toxic relationships
  • Lack of social connection and/or isolation
  • Death of loved one
  • Work environment
  • Financial worries 
  • Life changes like new job, marriage, or birth
  • Daily hassles and to-do lists

Physical

  • Injuries (acute or chronic)
  • Repetitive motions such as during work
  • Poor posture (text neck, slouching, etc)
  • Excessive exercise or not enough exercise
  • Major illness, surgery, infection
  • Any health condition, autoimmune disease, allergies, hormone imbalance, etc. 

Chemical 

  • Poor diet – processed foods, fake ingredients, GMO foods, sugars & highly processed oils, conventional meats, alcohol, caffeine
  • Pesticides and herbicides from foods and cleaning supplies
  • Conventional skincare, beauty and cleaning products
  • Heavy metals (water supply, vaccines)
  • Toxins through work exposure, air supply, pollution

That’s a lot, right? It’s crazy to think about how we are all bombarded with so many different stressors every day. 

Everything from the foods we eat, the products we put on our skin and use in our homes, to the air we breathe in our environments could be creating a stressful internal environment. Add that to the stressful thoughts and emotions that we experience and you may need to take a second look at how much stress your body is really under. 

What to do about it

The last thing I want to do is scare you! Yes, stressors, physical and mental, are all around us. But, the good news is our bodies are extremely resilient. Like I mentioned before, we were designed to handle stressors of all sorts. However, when stress becomes chronic, the body will eventually reach its breaking point. 

Think of each of these categories as a bucket. The more buckets are filled the more work the body has to do. If all the buckets start to overflow, the body is gonna snap! That’s when you start to experience stress-related symptoms and ultimately a full-blown illness

With stress coming at us from all of these different sources, it’s necessary to find a way to lighten the load and address the areas that are affecting us. 

First, it’s important to take stock of how much stress you’re actually under. Oftentimes we don’t feel particularly stressed emotionally, but could still be dealing with other types of stress that are affecting us in the same way. I have a quiz that allows you to see the bigger picture of how stress is impacting you. You can download my Assess Your Stress Quiz here.   

Once you have an understanding of the ways stress is impacting you, it’s time to take a good look at your lifestyle as it relates to the 4 types of stress. Which buckets are full for you? What could be throwing your body out of balance?

Consider your nutrition, any long-term illnesses, posture, products used on your body and in your home, stressful situations, or negative feelings. Dive in and start to consider these areas and the real impact they have on your health and wellness.

Don’t get overwhelmed! You might start to realize that your body is under a lot of stress, much more than you realized. The sad thing is that this is true for the vast majority of us. And many things are out of our immediate control like pollution, toxins in our food supply or even a demanding job that you can’t just up and quit.

But there is a lot that we can control, like our thoughts, diet, exercise habits, home environment, and self-care practices. Make small changes to the areas that are your biggest stressors. Small changes add up and the more you can take the burden off your body the better you will feel and the healthier you will stay.  

But sometimes it helps to get some support with making these changes and that’s exactly what I help my clients do – make targeted and impactful changes that help you feel unstoppable. That includes stress management, nutrition, movement, self-care, mindset changes, and more, according to your individual needs. 

The biggest takeaway that I want you to get from this post is that stress is not just in your head (though that is a major source for most of us). It’s also in our bodies and the environment around us. And all of these stressors add up! The result is physical, mental, and emotional symptoms and further down the line serious illness. With over 75% of illnesses being stress-related, it’s definitely an important topic to understand and explore its impact on you and your wellness. 

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