What Are The Three Types Of Stress? Coping With Stress

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated December 1, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Stress is a natural response in the body to emotional or physical danger or perceived threats. While stress can be common in short bursts, it may be unhealthy if it persists for an extended time or causes adverse impacts. Stress can come in different forms, with three main types. Understanding these types and how they might appear may help you reduce stress in your daily life and cope with challenging symptoms or co-occurring conditions like anxiety or depression.  

Stress Can Be Harmful

Stress And Its Three Common Types

There are two critical elements to stress, including the psychological response to a perceived threat or stressor and the physiological response. At times, stress is healthy. For example, stress can warn you if you’re encountering a situation that could be dangerous, prompting the fight-or-flight response to prepare you for what might occur. As adrenaline and cortisol flood the body, you may experience extra strength and stamina, allowing you to defend yourself for a brief period.

However, when there is no resolution to stress or the situation is not dangerous, the stress response can stay heightened after the event. If you are stuck in a traumatic situation that you cannot escape, the stress response may also stay heightened, causing hypervigilance and fear or resulting in a freeze response. Long-term stress can have several mental and physical health consequences. To better understand, it may be helpful to look at the three types of stress, including the following.  

Acute Stress

Acute stress happens when an individual is subjected to an obstacle or threat that produces an immediate reaction. This type of stress is common and can happen in everyday scenarios. For example, you might experience acute stress during a dispute with a coworker, after missing a deadline, or while running late due to traffic. During situations like these, people may experience a fight-flight-freeze response. Whether or not an individual chooses to engage in flight, fight, or freeze can depend on whether the situation requires action or is a perceived threat. 

Acute stress is not dangerous and can be beneficial until a certain point. At times, experiences with acute stress can help people learn to handle mildly disruptive situations or positive causes of stress, like a new baby or a marriage. Acute stress also has the potential to provide the appropriate practice for dealing with similarly mild issues that may arise later down the line. While this manner of stress is often not dangerous, undergoing acute stress can act as a warning sign for chronic stress. Severe acute stress can occur when you’ve faced a severely dangerous or life-threatening situation. 

Episodic Acute Stress

Frequent episodes of acute stress make up episodic acute stress. Episodic acute stress can indicate a more profound challenge that has yet to be addressed. For example, an unhealthy relationship, a stressful work project, or a looming personal issue may be sources of this type of stress. Frequent and repeated stress can be unhealthy and may lead to chronic stress. 

Chronic Stress

A person develops chronic stress when they experience high-stress levels for an extended period. Chronic stress does not subside or eventually fade away like acute stress. This type of stress may be caused by ongoing challenges, an unhealthy relationship, or undesirable circumstances that can lead a person to perceive that they are trapped and unable to escape. Taking steps to reduce chronic stress can be essential for well-being. 


Tips For Reducing Stress In Your Life

Stress can have adverse effects, but you can take steps to reduce the impacts. Here are a few you might find helpful.

Find Balance 

Creating a balance throughout your life can help you reduce stress. Some people struggle to find balance as they pile on many duties in one area of life, potentially neglecting others. For example, someone might take on extra shifts at work or work for 12 hours a day when they’re not required to. In some cases, working too much is a sign of avoidance or trying to evade stress. However, these behaviors can worsen stress and potentially lead to mental burnout

Start by noticing what areas are taking up more time or attention than you want and to which you’d like to devote more time. Ensuring balance could involve meditating for a few minutes each day before getting out of bed instead of immediately checking your email. Studies show that even ten minutes of meditation a day can have health benefits. Balance can also mean dedicating a certain amount of time to spend with your family and friends or ensuring you have enough time each day to partake in a hobby.  

Live A Healthier Lifestyle

Cultivating a healthy lifestyle can be another effective way to reduce stress. This change might involve ensuring healthy habits like exercise, journaling, time in nature, better sleep, and meditation. It can also involve spending time with positive people whose presence you enjoy. 

Living a healthy life doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t face challenges or difficulties. However, the habits in which you regularly engage and the people with whom you surround yourself can make a difference. If you find you are frequently surrounded by unhealthy environments, consider how you can make a change. 

Stress Can Be Harmful

Ask For Help 

If you are in a situation where you are constantly facing stress, you may feel alone or unsure how to escape. While the above tips might be helpful, a counselor can guide you through a therapeutic plan to reduce stress. Working with a therapist can help you gain new tools and receive validation and insight about your feelings. 

When you’re experiencing high levels of stress, seeking help through therapy may seem like an additional stressor, as it can require a long commute, parking fees, or a waitlist. If you’re struggling with these areas, trying online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be beneficial. With online therapy platforms, you can talk to your therapist from home or anywhere with an internet connection.  

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for a range of concerns, including stress. For instance, one study examined the effectiveness of internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (ICBT) for individuals experiencing chronic stress. It found that the individuals who received the treatment significantly improved their levels of perceived stress after treatment.  


Stress can come in three forms, acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress. Regardless of the type, it may adversely affect a person’s physical and mental health. If you’re experiencing stress, you can try the above suggestions for stress reduction or consider reaching out to a licensed therapist for insight and support.

Ease stress and mental exhaustion

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