Acute stress is a part of life, but when it turns into chronic stress, it can cause serious health concerns both mentally and physically.

Acute stress is the stress you feel as the direct result of a specific situation or event. For instance, it’s acute stress when you’re running late for an appointment and begin to feel symptoms of stress such as anxiety and difficulty focusing.

Chronic stress is the result of stress that builds up from repeated exposure to stressful situations and the hormones your body releases during each stressful episode. Many things can lead to chronic stress, including factors such as difficult relationships, job demands, and financial concerns.

Acute and chronic stress share some overlapping symptoms. However, the symptoms of chronic stress are longer-lasting and can be harder to manage.

Symptoms of acute stress include:

Symptoms of chronic stress include:

Over time, chronic stress can lead to additional complications. These include:

Stress is a reaction that happens when something activates your body’s fight-or-flight response. It gets your heart racing and puts you on high alert. A wide range of things can cause acute stress.

Generally, acute stress is a reaction to situations that are challenging to manage but that are temporary, such as:

  • car accidents
  • medical emergencies
  • work deadlines
  • unexpected expenses
  • upcoming events
  • traffic
  • weather
  • travel

On the other hand, chronic stress is a reaction to long-term stressors. These long-term stressors keep your body on high alert for an extended time. Examples of situations that can lead to chronic stress include:

Treatment options for stress depend on the severity and how the stress is affecting your life. Acute stress doesn’t typically need treatment unless it’s making daily activities difficult.

If you’re experiencing episodes of acute stress frequently, your primary healthcare professional might recommend lifestyle treatments such as:

  • Increasing your physical activity: Exercise and an active lifestyle can help your body release stress-reducing hormones.
  • Cutting back on caffeine: Caffeine can increase the symptoms of stress. For some people, cutting back can help reduce episodes of acute stress.
  • Making time to relax: Taking time for self-care and relaxation through steps like hot showers and baths, yoga or meditation practice, and spending time with friends can reduce stress levels.
  • Avoiding stress triggers: If you’re able to avoid specific stressful situations, it can help lower your overall stress levels.
  • Lowering your sugar intake: Eating a healthy diet and reducing the amount of sugar you take in can help manage your body’s reaction to stress.
  • Disconnecting from phones and other devices: Cutting back on the amount of time you spend engaged with social media and news sources can help reduce stress levels.

Treatment options for chronic stress can be more complex. You might receive treatment to help you manage your stress and treatment to help alleviate your symptoms. Options can include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a therapy method that helps you identify your thought patterns and discover how they contribute to your stress levels. It can give you the tools you need to lower stress and cope with the difficulties in your life.
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): MBSR is a treatment that teaches mindfulness techniques to help manage responses to stress.
  • Medication: Sometimes, prescription medications for anxiety or depression can help with the symptoms of chronic stress. The right ones for you will depend on your symptoms and on factors such as any other medications you already take.
  • Symptom-specific treatment: Your doctor might prescribe medications for any complications and symptoms connected to your chronic stress. For instance, your treatment could include medications to help with insomnia or IBS.

Acute stress is the stress that results from a specific, temporary situation or event. It can cause symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia.

Chronic stress is stress that is the result of an ongoing situation such as a demanding job or chronic illness. It can lead to long lasting physical health compilations and sometimes needs treatments such as therapy and medication.