The 7 Different Types of Stress—and How to Ease Them
Mental health experts reveal how to cope with different types of stress, from ambient anxiety to money troubles.
Coping with different types of stress
Feeling stressed from time to time is normal, whether it’s from a bad workday or watching the news about the coronavirus pandemic. But when the anxiousness and pressure build or stick around for days or weeks, stress can negatively impact your health. The American Psychological Association (APA) identifies three categories of stress: Acute—the kind from a one-time event like a big move or a death in the family; acute episodic, which occurs when you face a dreaded situation on a semi-regular basis; and chronic stress from persistent issues like difficult finances, serious trauma, or a bad work environment. Managing your stress first requires that you identify the source: Our mental health experts recommend looking at these potential stressors so that you can make a plan for coping.
Type of stress: Ambient anxiety
Ambient anxiety is a type of stress that can be potentially chronic, and it is enhanced during current events and world unrest, such as the coronavirus pandemic. It can strike anytime you turn on the news or hear about someone else's ill-fortune. Ambient anxiety is not empathy, but rather, a stress-laden, intense reaction to bad news. This can range from a nearby robbery, for example—coupled with the fear that it will happen to you or to a loved one.
"People who suffer from ambient anxiety have not developed an internal psychological and emotional barrier. Things they see and hear penetrate them to their core," explains Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist, Fran Walfish. Her tips for eradicating ambient anxiety include lots of self-care, plus limiting your daily intake of news. "It also helps to avoid negative people. When trying to keep a positive attitude, you must avoid people who thrive on negativity," she adds. Find out eight ways to cope when the world seems like a horrible place.
Type of stress: Work
According to the World Health Organization, work-related stress causes ill health, reduced productivity, and poor motivation. It also increases on-the-job accidents. "A  study in Preventive Medicine, indicated that prolonged exposure to work-related stress is linked to an increased likelihood of specific cancers, including lung, colon, rectal, stomach, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma," adds Dr. Walfish. Ways to combat work-related stress include physical activity. Commit to exercising, at least 30 minutes a day. This can be a brisk walk during your lunch hour, or as part of your commute home. (Here's what happens to your body when you start walking 10,000 steps a day.) It also helps to turn off the gossip machine. Avoid buying into or adding to negative feelings at work by discussing the situation with co-workers. Instead, discuss your feelings, calmly and assertively, with your boss.
Type of stress: Parenting
Stress and parenting go together, in fact, the APA even has an index for it. This can range from worrying about your baby not hitting their milestones to concern your college grad finding a job. Parental stress can be all-pervasive, eliminating your ability to enjoy your own life.
You're never going to stop worrying about your kids completely, but one way to reduce the impact of parental stress is through healthy habits. "The best way to deal with parental stress, and all types of stress, is to follow a holistic lifestyle. Healing your stress occurs from inside. Cleansing the mind of rubbish emotions gathered during stress is a must to recover," says Aditi G Jha, MD, a practicing family physician working at the emergency department of Fortis and St. Philomena's hospitals in Bengaluru, India. Dr. Jha recommends exercise, meditation, and eating healthy food. "Sleep is an essential, non-negotiable aspect to stress reduction. A proper night's sleep is a must, for the body to replenish energy, and function optimally. When the body is happy, the mind is certainly happy," she adds. Add these daily habits to your routine for a better night's sleep.
Type of stress: Urban living
The travails of city life are associated with a greater, overall lifetime risk for mood disorders and anxiety, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Nature. The researchers found the sounds, smells, and experience of urban living impacts the amygdala and cingulate cortex—two areas of the brain that regulate emotion and stress. Moving to quieter surroundings is one way to cope, but a more practical solution may be taking a much-needed vacation, daily, through meditation. (Here's what could happen when you start meditating daily.)
"Practices that train us to tune into these expressions of stress, such as mindfulness meditation, offer a way to effectively manage stress," says Jason Thomas, an educational psychologist, and meditation teacher at Evenflow Meditation. "This training gives us a greater capacity to be compassionately aware of our thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and behaviours as they are happening. With this compassionate awareness, we give ourselves an opportunity to step out of the stress cycle and regain a sense of emotional balance."
Type of stress: Childhood trauma
Childhood trauma-related stress can include sexual abuse, natural disasters, war, and automobile crashes. It can result in lifelong consequences, including an inability to regulate emotion, difficulty focusing, memory problems, and chronic stress. (Here's how to spot the signs of post-traumatic stress.) Attempting to manage the stress of childhood trauma, ideally, begins in childhood. However, many adults find themselves still grappling with unresolved issues dating back years, or decades. Working with a therapist can help you identify the underlying cause of your stress, plus provide tools for building resilience. Medications, prescribed either long, or short term, can also help.
"Chronic stress can be managed with coping strategies, but serious, institutional methods may become necessary," says Gabriella I. Farkas, MD, PhD, a physician that specializes in psychiatry at Northwell Health and founder of Pearl Behavioral Health & Medicine, and Pearl Medical Publishing, New York City. "Medicines...can be prescribed for symptom reduction, and therapies (including relaxation therapy, psychoanalysis, and cognitive-behavioural therapy) can help analyze the causes of stress, and address possible lifestyle changes to attack the stress at its origin."
Type of stress: Money troubles
If you can't make the mortgage, save a penny for retirement, or come up with cash to feed your kids, extreme stress is bound to occur. This type of stress can be chronic, resulting in depression, feelings of helplessness, and even heart disease or cancer. (These are the cancer symptoms you should never ignore.) Money-related stress is not easy to fix but does respond to positive lifestyle changes. If unemployment is the issue, working with a non-profit employment counsellor is a solid, first step. If you have some money in the bank but are living above your means, it can help to analyze your spending habits versus your income, and working with a financial planner, to make adjustments. Be aware of these telltale signs you're more stressed than you realized.
Type of stress: Life changes
Clearly, huge events such as the death of a spouse, personal injury or illness, and divorce, can trigger stress. But even seemingly minor events, such as moving or getting a traffic ticket can exacerbate stress levels. The American Institute of Stress lists these and other life events as contributors to stress, and they can all add up to a significant impact on your anxiety levels.
While it's true that dealing with all types of stress is part of life, recognizing just how stressed out you are, and why, can be a good first step in coping. You may not be able to change your stress-causing reality, but dealing with it is within your grasp. Having solid relationships can help. Making sure to cultivate and maintain friendships can greatly help reduce stress, by supplying a sympathetic platform for talking it out. (Don't miss these tips on how to make friends as an adult.)
Engaging in fun activities is also important. Do what you enjoy, whether it's a day trip, museum excursion, book club discussion, or concert. Just make sure to find activities that get you out of the house, and keep the Netflix binges to a minimum. Outdoor events give you a reason to look your best and focus on something other than the stressor at hand. Now that you know the seven types of stress, find out 37 expert-approved stress management tips.