7 Types of Stressors and How to Cope

If someone asks you to identify what was stressing you out, could you do it? If you’re going through a divorce or recently lost your job, the answer is a no-brainer. However, sometimes you feel on edge without knowing why. 


Learning to identify the source of your stress is the first step in addressing the problem. Psychologists classify the issue as acute, periodic or chronic. They also identify four specific types of stressors you might encounter — here’s what you need to know. 

Acute, Periodic or Chronic Stress? 

The first way psychologists classify types of stressors is by duration. Everybody experiences stress, but the frequency of its occurrence produces various health outcomes. 

1. Acute

You’re on the freeway when someone cuts you off. You slam on your brakes to avoid a collision, but in the aftermath, you feel weak and shaky, a bit off balance. 

Congratulations — you just experienced acute stress. While you might experience a residual headache or stomach upset, your symptoms typically abate as the danger passes. 

Your body is designed to handle this type of stress. It’s the mechanism that gets your booty in motion when you spy an angry mama bear, and it helps you to survive. As long as your symptoms abate, you shouldn’t have any long-term health effects, although you may replay the event in your mind. 

2. Periodic or Episodic

Periodic or episodic stress occurs when one acute event happens soon after another. Maybe your boss demands overtime more than occasionally, or you experience a trifecta of unfortunate events. 

Although periodic stress can impact your health, you can get it under control. Techniques such as practicing meditation, getting more exercise or adopting a hobby can help. Likewise, removing yourself from the situation by seeking alternative employment or delegating responsibilities eases pressure. 

3. Chronic 

When stress becomes chronic, look out for health trouble. Chronic tension can lead to high blood pressure, which elevates your risk of heart attack and stroke. You may also develop ongoing pain issues, anxiety and depression. 

Chronic stress often results from inescapable situations. Those who live in poverty or abusive situations often experience this degree of overwhelm. Often, those with chronic illnesses likewise fall into this camp, at least in the United States, where the cost of managing their condition leads countless individuals into bankruptcy

Four Specific Types of Stressors and Coping Suggestions

The type of stressor you experience arises from its source as well as its duration. Dr. Karl Albrecht, a management consultant, speaker and author of “Stress and the Manager,” identified four specific types of stressors — knowing which one you face can help you take charge more effectively.   

4. Time Stress

Time stress occurs when you have tons to do and not enough hours to complete everything. It’s the sensation that spurs college students to pull all-nighters before exams. 

The best way to tackle this type of stressor is through effective time management. Make your planner your best friend — chart your week ahead on a Sunday evening and review your to-do list each morning. Do your most unpleasant chore first so that the rest of your day is smoother sailing. 

5. Anticipatory Stress

Anticipatory stress strikes when you get caught up in a negative thought spiral full of future boogeymen. Your worry that you made a mistake on your expense report leads to worry about your job security. Before you know it, you’re mentally selecting cardboard boxes for your entry into homeless living. 

Mindfulness is a fabulous tool for calming anticipatory stress because it reminds you that what you fear most isn’t happening right now. That means you still can change the outcome with a clear head. Take some time to practice 2-to-1 breathing to calm yourself or take a brisk walk to decrease the fight-or-flight response. 

6. Situational Stress

Situational stress often occurs suddenly — you get stuck behind a slow driver on a 2-lane country road on your way to a crucial meeting. While it’s usually acute, it can become periodic in the case of a micromanaging boss or spouse prone to frequent outbursts. 

Honing your conflict resolution skills can help you relieve situation stress caused by hostile encounters with others. In the case of traffic jams, sometimes, the only thing you can do is ask yourself how much your current frustration will matter in five years. 

7. Encounter Stress 

Encounter stress occurs due to interactions with other people. Those who work in professions like nursing or public safety often experience this type of stressor because they interact with people at their lowest points. 

Some people have a higher tolerance for encounter stress than others. Introverts tend to dislike customer service roles, for instance, because of the high volume of contact they entail, while extroverts may thrive in such positions. However, anyone can become burnt out from too much social interaction. 

The cure for this type of stress is to spend some time alone. Lose yourself in a novel or get in your car and pump up the jams. 

Identify the Type of Stressors You Face and Ease the Pressure 

What types of stressors do you face most frequently? Once you identify the kind of tension plaguing you, you can take steps to restore calm.