Stress (biology)

What Is Stress?

Biological or physiological stress is an individual’s reaction to external stressors. Stress is considered the body’s way of reacting to an experienced challenge. When stress is perceived, there are several biological changes that take place in the body. This results in the release of stress chemicals known as adrenaline and cortisol.

Types of Stress (Conditions)

There are different types of stress, with each containing their own unique causes, symptoms, and approaches to treatment. Different types of stress include:

Acute Stress: This is considered the most common type of stress and is associated with the pressures and demands of daily life. Acute stress can also develop from past events and anticipation of future events. Acute stress typically goes away on its own and isn’t associated with the long-term psychological damage as long-term or chronic stress.

Episodic Stress: Acute stress that is frequently experienced is known as episodic stress. This type of stress is typically associated with individuals who take on too much or have too many personal demands. While episodic stress does occur more often than acute stress, it typically wanes for periods of time and does not affect an individual over the long-term.

Chronic Stress: Chronic stress is the type of stress that wears on a person day in and day out, often over a period of months or years. Chronic stress can happen from unrelenting demands, experiencing repeated trauma, and persistent problems that keep occurring in a person’s life. Chronic stress is extremely damaging to a person’s psychological and physical health, and can cause serious long-term problems.


Symptoms of stress are related to the type of stress a person experiences. Following are the most common symptoms associated with acute, episodic, and chronic stress.

Acute stress symptoms can include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Tension headache
  • Back and neck pain
  • Stomach problems (including heartburn, diarrhoea, constipation, flatulence, and irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain

Episodic stress symptoms can include symptoms of acute stress as well as:

  • Extreme sense of urgency (always being in a hurry)
  • Anxiousness
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Aggravation
  • Tension and feeling “over” aroused
  • Excessive worry
  • Tension headaches
  • Migraine headache

Chronic stress can include all the symptoms of acute and episodic stress. Chronic stress however, tends to become familiar. People with chronic stress often forget that it is there, with it simply becoming a part of their everyday existence. Chronic stress is extremely dangerous to a person’s health. Chronic stress has shown to lead to serious illness such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, and psychological problems such as depression, anxiety disorder, panic, and more.


There are several ways to manage stress and it can be treated. While acute stress can typically be managed with various breathing and relaxation techniques, episodic and chronic stress may be treated with medication or psychotherapy.

Medication used to treat stress typically consists of anti-anxiety medications. Psychotherapy can also be helpful in assisting individuals understand what is causing their stress, as well as help them learn coping strategies and different ways to overcome it.

Oftentimes, lifestyle changes can help a person overcome the acute and episodic stress they feel from time to time. Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep can all help with stress management.

Drug and alcohol abuse can also lead to stress. While many people use alcohol and illegal (or prescription) drugs as an outlet for stress, the use of these substances can make a person’s stress response even more responsive. Drug and alcohol abuse also masks the reasons for stress, which leads to a person ignoring the underlying problems causing their stress.

Stress Facts

  • Not all stress is bad, as it can motivate a person to perform or help them in times of danger.
  • Unexpected, prolonged, uninterrupted, and unmanageable stress are the most damaging to a person’s health.
  • Long-term, chronic stress can lead to health problems including: decreased immunity, reproductive system problems, sleep problems, and problems with the digestive system.
  • Severely stressed women have a higher tendency to suicide than women with moderate stress levels. This is particularly true in working mothers who do not have substantial understanding and support from others.
  • According to one opinion poll, the most common reason for stress worldwide is money.

External Links

Stress: Different Types of Stress, American Psychological Association

Coping with Stress, S-cool

5 Things You Should Know About Stress, NIH

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