Stress management: Know your triggers

Your response to the demands of the world determines your stress level. Take time to consider common stressors and how they affect you. By Mayo Clinic Staff

The kids are screaming, the bills are due and the pile of papers on your desk is growing at an alarming pace. It's undeniable — life is full of stress. Understanding the types and sources of stress — short term and long term, internal and external — is an important part of stress management. So what stresses you out?

Two main types of stress

Stress is your body's reaction to the demands of the world. Stressors are events or conditions in your surroundings that may trigger stress. Your body responds to stressors differently depending on whether the stressor is new — acute stress — or whether the stressor has been around for a longer time — chronic stress.

Acute stress

Also known as the fight-or-flight response, acute stress is your body's immediate reaction to a perceived threat, challenge or scare. The acute-stress response is immediate and intense, and in certain circumstances it can be thrilling. Examples of acute stressors include having a job interview or getting a speeding ticket.

A single episode of acute stress generally doesn't cause problems for healthy people. However, severe acute stress can cause mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and even physical difficulties such as a heart attack.

Chronic stress

Mild acute stress can actually be beneficial — it can spur you into action, motivate and energize you. The problem occurs when stressors pile up and stick around. This persistent stress can lead to health problems, such as headaches and insomnia. The chronic-stress response is more subtle than is the acute-stress response, but the effects may be longer lasting and more problematic.

Effective stress management involves identifying and managing both acute and chronic stress.

Jul. 23, 2013 See more In-depth