The Three Stages Of Stress: What To Look For
There truly are no clear stages to stress. Stress is not predictable, and it follows no rules. At times individuals may not realize the reasons they feel or act they do are related to stress. People react to real or perceived stressors both psychologically and physiologically (Rohleder, 2012). Some of the psychological reactions to stress can range from fear, sadness, or even giddiness.
Physiological symptoms can include increased heart rate, nausea, diarrhea, headache, sleeplessness. Ignoring the symptoms of stress can lead to serious health risks such as hypertension, cardiac issues, and even lowering the immune system causing the individual to be more susceptible to disease (Greenberg, Carr, & Summers, 2002).
Acute stress is the most common form of stress, everyone experiences it at one time or the other (Persson & Zakrisson, 2016). Acute stress comes on suddenly with little to no warning and is a reaction to changes to our normal situation. Some examples of situations that can bring about acute stress are:
- New job
- New home
- Flat tire
- First date
These are minor disruptions to our normal routine. A new job or new home can bring about long-term changes, and these are typically associated with what is called positive stress. The reactions to positive stressors can be the same or nearly the same as negative stressors ("Effects of stress on heart rate complexity-A comparison between short-term and chronic stress," n.d.).
For example, the in-laws coming for a visit may not bring about positive stress, but the heart rate may become elevated and you may lose sleep over the impending visit. The same responses can be had for a new job, a new home, or a first date. The key difference would be that the other three are situations one looks forward to and are not associated with any sort of negativity.
Stress that is related to non-threatening life changes does not linger; however, some individuals have a low threshold for stress and may experience episodic acute stress in that they react negatively to every day type occurrences (Persson & Zakrisson, 2016). Persons who have episodic acute stress are generally diagnosed with acute stress disorder (Suliman, Troeman, Stein, & Seedat, 2013). Situations like running late for work, and remembering you still need to feed the dog or take out the trash can create a severe stress reaction. It is acute, but it is also intensely uncomfortable. The individual who experiences episodic stress may wish to consider stress management strategies.
Chronic stress is stress that is nearly constant and is due to life and daily events that are ongoing such as job stress, marital or family stress, financial, or health-related stress (Gouin, Glaser, Malarkey, Beversdorf, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2012). People who experience chronic stress are in a situation that is either difficult or impossible to change and they either feel they are, or they are trapped in that situation. Chronic stress is the most dangerous form of stress because it goes for prolonged periods of time without respite.
Prolonged stress can lead to issues with cardiovascular system, issues with the digestive system, it can lower the immune system, and can lead to depression (Juster, McEwen, & Lupien, 2010). Individuals who experience episodic acute and chronic stress are at an increased risk for heart disease and some researchers also believe cancer (Schneiderman, Ironson, & Siegel, 2005). If in an ongoing stressful situation, individuals may need to find support outside the family or work environment.
Exercise, breathing techniques, and meditation help to lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Having someone to talk to on a regular basis, either a friend, family member, or co-worker can help. Unfortunately, it is often the people closest to us that contribute to the stress, or they are too close to the situation to be objective.
Remaining in a stressful situation can be very damaging both physically and psychologically. It may prove beneficial to find an online source of help with a licensed therapist who can provide support, feedback, and resources for stress reduction activities. Betterhelp.com offers an entire network of qualified and highly skilled therapists who are available via email, text chat, or video chat. Reaching out to a therapist through Betterhelp could be a positive step forward in reducing stress and improving your quality of life.
Effects of stress on heart rate complexity-A comparison between short-term and chronic stress. (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/science/article/pii/S0301051108002317
Gouin, J.-P., Glaser, R., Malarkey, W. B., Beversdorf, D., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2012). Chronic stress, daily stressors, and circulating inflammatory markers. Health Psychology, 31(2), 264-268. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.1037/a0025536
Greenberg, N., Carr, J. A., & Summers, C. H. (2002). Causes and Consequences of Stress. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 42(3), 508-516. https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/42.3.508
Juster, R.-P., McEwen, B. S., & Lupien, S. J. (2010). Allostatic load biomarkers of chronic stress and impact on health and cognition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(1), 2-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.10.002
Persson, P. B., & Zakrisson, A. (2016). Stress. Acta Physiologica, 216(2), 149-152. https://doi.org/10.1111/apha.12641
Rohleder, N. (2012). Acute and chronic stress induced changes in sensitivity of peripheral inflammatory pathways to the signals of multiple stress systems - 2011 Curt Richter Award Winner. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(3), 307-316. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.12.015
Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel, S. D. (2005). STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 607-628. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141
Suliman, S., Troeman, Z., Stein, D. J., & Seedat, S. (2013). Predictors of acute stress disorder severity. Journal of Affective Disorders, 149(1-3), 277-281. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2013.01.041