A woman performing yoga pose on the coast facing the sun

Acute and short-lived stress is a regular part of daily life. Learning to embrace short-term stress and anxiety may encourage a positive response in stressful situations. However, when stress doesn’t go away and begins to become chronic, it can harshly impact one’s health.

Acute Stress

Identifying the difference between acute and chronic health will help to facilitate a healthy approach to managing stress. Acute stress is the most common form of stress and can crop up on just about everyone.

According to the American Psychological Association, acute stress may arise from demands and pressures of recent times in one’s life or in anticipation of the future.  Acute stress symptoms can be recognised by most people and are highly treatable and manageable. Due to it’s temporary and fleeting nature, acute stress doesn’t have enough time to do the harm related to chronic stress.

Some common symptoms include emotional distress (characterised as anger, anxiety and depression), muscular issues, tension headaches, stomach and gut problems and transient over-arousal leading to increase in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, chest pains, sweaty palms, and so on. 

Chronic Stress

Unlike the short-lived nature of acute stress, chronic stress is the opposite. It’s the type of stress that wears people down over extended periods of time over weeks, months and even years.

The American Psychological Association explains that chronic stress has the capacity to devastate bodies, minds and lives and causes chaos through long-term attrition. It is associated with the ‘stress of poverty’, and dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships and or careers. 

Chronic stress that has been internalised and remains present in our day-to-day lives is perilous. The worst aspect is that this type of stress is one that people may get so used to that they can even forget it’s there. It may also start to become inherently part of one’s behavioural pattern and character.

Due to the nature of chronic stress, physical and mental resources deplete through long-term erosion. It may lead to a fatal breakdown, violence, severe health issues and suicide. The symptoms are often hard to identify and treat and would require professional help for stress management and extended medical treatment.

The sort and severity will vary considerably from person to person. However, as a guideline, some symptoms to look out for would include extreme irritability, fatigue, headaches, inability to concentrate, disordered thoughts, feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem, mood swings, changes in appetite, dependency on alcohol/narcotics and so on.

Managing Stress 

We looked to the Mental Health Foundation UK to find out some of the ways to manage stress. 

1. Healthy eating

There is an increasing amount of studies that show how closely linked food is to our mood. Eating healthily is one way of keeping your health in your control and may reduce the risk of diet-related diseases. 

Eating healthily may help to facilitate better stress management because you are more likely to handle stress better when you are healthier and eating nutritiously. Nourish your body and nourish your mind.

For example, reducing or limiting your caffeine intake may be helpful because caffeine is a stimulant that may make you feel “stressed” which may make stressful situations seem tenser than they actually are.

Enjoy mealtimes as a calm and relaxed affair and sticking to a regular eating schedule may also help as an effective way to manage stress. Skipping meals and eating on-the-go may make stress-related symptoms worse as it may likely cause indigestion. Plus, taking your time and enjoying your meal is a great time to reflect on your day or socialise with friends.

Often, people who are undergoing stress turn to eating “comfort food” as a way to relieve stress. However, this is a very unhealthy relationship to have with food and may ignite feelings of guilt which in turn, may make you feel worse.

Instead, replacing “comfort eating” with other actions such as taking a walk, listening to music or taking a bath may be more beneficial for effective stress management. 

2. Exercise regularly

The great thing is that practically any form of exercise can help as a technique for stress relief. No matter your fitness level, there is a form of exercise that can benefit everyone.

Using exercise as a platform to alleviate stress is a healthy response to aid your body in releasing endorphins, which is your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. These hormones interact with receptors in your brain to help reduce your perception of pain and to trigger positive feelings in your body.

Exercise is meditation in motion. After an hour-long yoga class, a quick run in the park or several laps in the pool, whatever the exercise is, you’ll often find that you may have forgotten momentarily about the day’s frustrations because you’ve only been concentrating on your body’s movement.

Shedding daily irritations through physical activity and exercise may result in increased energy, improved mood and optimism. All of which may help you maintain a calm and clear mindset. 

3. Practice meditation and mindfulness

In the 1970s, a Harvard physician pioneered a meditative technique called the “relaxation response”. Rather than invoking a “fight or flight” response to stressful situations, the “relaxation response” is a technique that elicits the opposite bodily reaction.

It includes training our bodies to be in a state of deep relaxation in which we decrease pulse rate and blood pressure and slow down breathing. This may be done through silent repetition of a word, sound or phrase. By achieving a state of relaxation, the physical and emotional consequences of stress may be reduced.

Mindfulness is a holistic mind-body approach to life that allows us to understand experiences differently. It’s about paying attention to your thoughts and feelings in a way that maximises your capacity to manage stressful situations. Even several minutes of mindfulness a day may be helpful and effective at relieving some degree of stress and anxiety.

Additionally, mindfulness allows us to gently build up an inner strength which allows us to have sensors to future stress. Anticipating future stressors before it hits may allow it to have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being.

4. Good quality sleep

Restful sleep is fundamental to good health. Often, when people are stressed they are more likely to experience difficulty sleeping. The connection between poor sleep and stress is likely to be a cyclical one. Experiencing stress and anxiety may cause poor sleep which may lead to a plethora of mental and physical health issues, which may cause more stress in daily life.

There are a few chronic sleep conditions such as insomnia and sleep apnoea that may require professional medical help. However, poor sleep caused by stress can be self-remedied.

Some ways to lower stress levels to improve sleep include increasing your exposure to daylight, exercise, natural relaxation and wellness techniques like meditation or yoga, aromatherapy, journaling and improving the space in which you sleep. Being aware of these and making changes accordingly may aid in a night of more restful sleep and reduce stress levels from tiredness. 

So there you have it, folks! You know how about the different types of stress, and while it’s totally normal to have stressful situations in life, chronic stress is definitely something we all need to avoid. You also now have a list of go-to techniques that will help you on your way to a healthy relationship with any stresses that come your way!