Acute Stress vs. Chronic Stress

Health Writer

Stress can come from many different places and be short-lived or long-lasting. Based on the factors contributing to your stress, symptoms and treatment may vary.

Acute Stress

Acute stress is short-lived. It can be beneficial and create motivation. For example, when a deadline is approaching, stress may help you to focus and complete your task before the deadline. College students use this type of stress often to complete projects and "cram" for exams. Acute stress is the type of stress many people feel when they have a car accident, have trouble at work, or their children have problems in school. Once the situation is resolved, the stress diminishes.

There can, however, be some physical symptoms of acute stress.

These include:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches or indigestion
  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain

Treatment for acute stress often includes rest and  relaxation. Anti-anxiety medication  is usually only  used if acute stress is a trigger for anxiety or panic attacks. Therapy can help is the situation is not going to be resolved in a short period of time.

Chronic Stress

Chronic, or long-term stress, comes about as the result of a situation that has not been resolved or continued for many years prior to being resolved. This might be a traumatic event that happened during childhood. Although resolved, the feelings surrounding the situation may not have been dealt with and chronic stress remains.   There may also be an ongoing situation, such as family abuse, dysfunctional home or an ongoing illness in the family.

This stress has the ability to create additional health problems, for example heart disease or stomach ulcers.

Treatment for chronic stress might include cognitive behavioral therapy and medication as well as treatment for any physical illnesses brought on as a result of living with stress for an extended time.