- Mental Health
The Three Types of Stress—and How to Find Relief
Feeling stressed? You’re not alone. Everyone around the world experiences stress regularly. Per The American Institute of Stress, Americans score 20 percentage points higher in stress levels than the average in other countries measured, with up to 55% of Americans reporting feeling stressed at least once during their day. There is no single definition of stress, and everyone experiences stress differently. But residents of other countries are certainly not feeling stress-free today, either. And while there are different types of stress, including some good stress, the overall data is clear: Everyone could benefit from stress reduction to live better. While it’s important to note that stress is not all bad and may sometimes be good, learning to manage it and mitigate it will enhance your overall emotional and physical health and well-being. It's important to learn to recognize your unique stress triggers, and find effective ways to manage them. Here are the types of stress that warrant a response and a deeper investigation into what's happening in your body and mind:
The Three Types of Stress
The American Psychological Association defines stress in terms of three categories:
- Acute stress
- Episodic acute stress
- Chronic stress
1. Acute Stress
Acute stress is the type of stress you’re likely most familiar with and experience most often. As the name suggests, acute stress is hyperintense and mostly short-lived. This type of stress is triggered by brief episodes of perceived threats to your safety or a general sense of wellness, for example, if you’ve lost all your files right before a critical presentation or are nearly hit by a car while crossing the street. Acute stress is something most of us can’t avoid; it’s our body’s natural reaction to new and/or unexpected events. There’s nothing wrong with the right amount of acute stress. It may even be beneficial when you break out of your comfort zone and learn a new skill, push yourself in a new and unfamiliar direction, or experience a significant change in your life.
2. Episodic Acute Stress
Frequent episodes of acute stress are known as episodic acute stress. During this experience, your body repeatedly releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, spiking your blood pressure and heart rate. In addition to the cardiovascular and endocrine systems, the American Psychological Association notes, your musculoskeletal and respiratory systems are also negatively impacted by stress. It’s easy to understand how constant acute stress may lead to long-term health concerns, not just in those moments of distress and tension but potentially causing lasting damage. Experiencing acute stress over and over again can lead to a state of chronic stress. Certain professions are more likely to experience episodic acute stress, including first responders, firefighters, emergency medical services and police officers, per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). But individuals grappling with any past, present or repeated traumas, those caring for a chronically ill family member, or those feeling tremendous financial or professional pressure for years may suffer too.
3. Chronic Stress
If you’re suffering from stress that you feel will not go away or dissipate, you might be dealing with chronic stress. This type of stress causes our bodies to overproduce two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which can very quickly lead to more than just a state of burnout and cause you to experience:
- Intense bouts of anxiety
- High blood pressure
- A weakened immune system
- Muscle pain
Chronic stress can feel overwhelming and even debilitating. It may at times, affect nearly every aspect of life. It can be caused by any event that has a long-standing impact on your mind or your life, most notably life-altering events like divorce, losing a loved one, losing a home or job, or an environmental disaster. But chronic stress may also result from constant episodes of acute stress that build up over time.
Yes, good stress also exists. Biologically, stress is the body’s natural response to a perceived social, emotional, or physical threat. Known as the “fight or flight” response, stress can be a wake-up call to action—be it in a dangerous situation or removing ourselves from a toxic relationship or work environment. Stress serves to keep us safe or motivate us to improve our lives in some way. Stress in the body, for example, from surgery or vaccination, can also lead to a stronger immune response.
How to manage stress
Stress might be a normal physiological reaction, but learning to recognize and manage it often feels like no small task. Here are some tested tips to better manage your stress levels anytime.
Regular exercise significantly reduces some of the effects of chronic stress, such as anxiety, depression and insomnia, while strengthening your musculoskeletal, pulmonary, and cardiac systems, leading to stronger resilience against stressful episodes in your body. You’ll likely not only see the improvement in your WHOOP data when you get the right amount of movement—you’ll also sleep better, feel better, and enjoy life more.
Eat a colorful diet
When choosing meals, it’s important to eat whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) that represent all the colors in the rainbow to ensure you’re getting your fair share of macro and micronutrients. This also means relying less on high-processed foods, notably lacking in nutrients and overloaded with chemicals that are not only hard to pronounce but just plain bad for you. Research has shown that lacking certain critical nutrients, including those that are stress- and mood-regulating and rich in B vitamins, can directly impact your ability to keep your stress levels in check.
Deep breathing exercises can help regulate your sympathetic nervous system by activating a part known as the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of our relaxation response. According to a recent WHOOP study on members that tracked stress and breathwork, breathwork positively impacted recovery when reported on a day when users also experienced stress. The breathing sessions available with Stress Monitor experience can help mediate symptoms of stress by boosting mood, lowering anxiety, and decreasing respiratory rates. To help you regulate and calm your stress, WHOOP walks you through two helpful breathing protocols: increase relaxation (cyclic sigh) and alertness (cyclic hyperventilation).
Cut down on screen time
WHOOP is strictly screen-free for a reason—No Screens. No Distractions. Just Science. Overdosing on screen time has been clinically detrimental to overall health and wellness. As noted in one study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, a strong correlation between the overuse of smartphones and higher rates of stress and depression also exists. Another recent study found that too much screen time can hurt a person’s ability to sleep well—both in quantity (hours) and quality (REM sleep), and poor sleep is directly linked to increased stress in the body, too.
Track and Manage Stress With Whoop
Studies use a variety of definitions or measurements of stress, including self-reported stress, like how you feel, or lab-tested biomarkers, like cortisol. Stress Monitor offers a clear picture of your personal daily stress levels by measuring your heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) in the moment as indicators of your physiological response to stress. Your reading is then compared to your personalized baseline from the past 14 days, and any motion is taken into account to help distinguish known stressors, like exercise, from other stressors. Stress Monitor then identifies your stress levels on a scale of 0 (low stress) to 3 (your peak stress level).
To better understand the psychological experience of stress, you can use the WHOOP Journal. You can log your perceived stress levels and WHOOP will analyze how self-reported stress effects your resting heart rate, heart rate variability, recovery, and duration of each stage of sleep.
Because Stress Monitor provides stress scores in real-time, you can learn to identify trends and triggers that impact your stress level and life. Whether you choose to do a stress-reducing breathing protocol at the moment when your stress is spiking in your body or decide to evaluate other lifestyle or environmental factors that are influencing your stress, Stress Monitor allows you to measure and understand your own stress and stressors accurately, making it easier for you to manage, and learn to control both.