Wellness·5 min read

Stressed Out? Here's How to Cope, Based on the Type of Stress You're Facing

A woman sitting with her chin on her hands, looking stressed
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Nov 30, 2022

If you’ve been feeling extra stressed lately, you’re not alone. Because the majority of Americans feel the same way. But some types of stress can have long-term impacts on your health. And learning how to manage stress can make a big difference. To understand the different types of stress and how to deal with them, we called up two experts: Mark Seery, associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo and Dylan Gee, associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Yale University.

Experts Interviewed

Dylan Gee

Dylan Gee, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Yale University. She specializes in mental health disorders and stress disorders.

Mark Seery

Mark Seery, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He specializes in different causes of stress.

Vibe check: Is everyone really that stressed out?

Yup. Stress levels in the US are higher than they have been since 2019. And we can thank the pandemic, the economy, and climate change for that. According to an American Psychological Association survey, 87% of Americans said that the cost of everyday items is a source of stress (hi, inflation). And 27% said they’re often “so stressed they can’t function.” 

Are there different types of stress?

Yes, and they can cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms, and impact your long-term health. Stress generally falls into two buckets: 

Acute stress

Aka short-term stress that triggers your “fight-or-flight” response. Like when you slam on your car brakes, speak in front of a large crowd, or prep for a difficult conversation. But acute stress can also come from something good. Like the rush of riding a roller coaster or watching a scary movie (well, at least for some). So this type of stress is pretty short-lived. 

Acute stress is “not necessarily a bad thing,” said Gee. “It keeps us alive.” When your stress response is triggered, your body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. They release more blood sugar to give you energy and increase your heart rate and breathing to help you deal with the situation. Once the stressful event is over, your body usually returns back to normal. And acute stress typically doesn’t have long-term health consequences.

Acute stress disorder

Acute stress disorder may sound similar to acute stress, but it has key differences. It happens after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Like a death, a car crash, or sexual assault. And symptoms like dissociation, mentally re-experiencing the event, or anxiety can last from three days to a month after the event. Acute stress disorder can develop into PTSD. If you think you might be experiencing acute stress disorder, talk to a doctor or a mental health professional to get help. 

Chronic stress

Aka long-term stress. Think: working in a toxic environment, dealing with financial stress, or experiencing climate disasters, said Gee. It can last from weeks to years. 

Chronic stress may manifest in a few different ways. Like insomnia, headaches, digestive issues, difficulty concentrating, or irritability. Acute stress can sometimes turn into chronic stress, said Seery. Like if you've been stressed throughout a job interview process that's taken weeks or months. 

Unlike acute stress, chronic stress can have long-term impacts on your… 

  • Mental health. Chronic stress can cause anxiety or depression — or make it worse. 

  • Physical health. Being exposed to too much cortisol and having an increased blood pressure can put you at a greater risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and memory issues.

  • Healthy habits. Meaning, poor self-care. Chronic stress “can lead us to adopt bad behaviors that aren't good for us either psychologically or physically,” Seery said. That may look like drinking more coffee instead of getting good quality sleep, drinking more alcohol, or skipping out on healthful foods and exercise.

This all feels familiar. Any tips on how to cope? 

The good news is, acute stress should disappear pretty quickly. But if you're dealing with acute stress disorder or chronic stress, you don't have to just grin and bear it. Seery and Gee emphasized the benefits of therapy, talking to someone you care about, and prioritizing self-care. Which is more than just a hashtag. Gee noted that self-care activities — like watching your favorite show or doing a hobby you enjoy — can “allow time for recovery to rejuvenate.” 

Here are a few other ways to manage stress

  • Move your body. Because exercise can release endorphins. And endorphins can make you feel good. (TY, Elle Woods).

  • Breathe. Deep breathing can signal your brain to calm down and slow your heart rate. Try this: Breathe in for four counts, hold for four, exhale for four, and hold for another four. Repeat as much as you need. 

  • Get enough sleep. We’re talking seven to nine hours. “Sleep is just a big deal,” said Seery. It helps you think more clearly, process memories and emotions, and physical recovery. All of which set you up for success, sans stress. 

theSkimm

Stress might just feel like a normal part of life. But it doesn’t have to be. And if it’s getting in the way of your joy, it might be time to find a therapist or incorporate more self-care into your routine. Because untreated chronic stress can cause health issues down the road. 

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 


Live Smarter

Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter. Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.

fbtwitteremail