5 Types of Stressors and Simple Tips to Manage

Updated October 6, 2022
Tired businesswoman with head in hand sitting at computer desk in office

Do some stressful situations feel different to you than others? There are different types of stressors and you might have various reactions to each type. Although stress can sometimes trigger similar thoughts and physical sensations, there are actually five different kinds of stressors that can take a toll on your mental and physical health in different ways.

For instance, some stressors are caused by immediate challenges, such as having to take a test or present a project at work. However, there are also stressors from your past that might affect you in the present, such as a breakup or the loss of a loved one. The more you know about the specific type of stressor you are facing, the better you will be able to understand how it is affecting you and how to manage the stress in a productive way.

5 Types of Stressors

Different events and situations from the past and present can cause stress in a person's life. These different causes are known as stressors, and researchers have separated them into five distinct categories.

Sometimes you might be feeling stressed, but not fully know the reason why. At present, things might seem to be going really well for you. Maybe your health has been good, you have a steady job, and have built strong social relationships with your friends and family. Yet, you are still feeling stressed.

This may be because of the type of stressor you are experiencing. Just because there isn't a clear and present source of stress in your daily life, it doesn't mean that past stressors are no longer making an impact. And, it's possible for a person to experience more than one type of stressor at a time that can negatively impact their overall well-being.

Acute Time-Limited Stressors

Acute time-limited stressors only occur in a specific and controlled environment. Some examples of acute time-limited stressors include:

  • Answering personal questions
  • Mental math
  • Public speaking
  • Solving a puzzle under a strict time limit

Some research studies aim to measure changes in stress levels by presenting participants with a stimulus that is meant to cause some level of stress. For example, they might bring out an animal that that is the source of a person's phobia ( such as a snake or spider). This exposure is meant to make the participant feel a bit uncomfortable and on edge for a brief period of time, as an acute time-limited stressor.

Brief Naturalistic Stressors

Brief naturalistic stressors are ones that occur naturally in your environment. In other words, they're stressful situations that you might experience in your day-to-day life. This type of stressor might look a little different for everyone.

In these situations, the stress you experience usually only lasts for the time that you are in the stressful situation itself. Once you have made it through the challenge or discovered a solution to it, the intense emotions are typically resolved.

Some examples of brief naturalistic stressors are:

  • Experiencing a flat tire
  • Getting stuck in traffic
  • Running late for work
  • Taking a test

Stressful Event Sequences

It may not come as a surprise, but stressful events can cause people to experience anxiety and other heightened emotions. Stressful event sequences occur when there is a traumatic event that causes related and additional stressors.

For example, when a person loses a loved one, it is a challenging and impactful event. And, it often leads to additional challenges, such as having to make final arrangements, manage finances, and console loved ones. It's a domino effect when one stressful event triggers the start of several others that will be able to be resolved at some point.

Some examples of major events that can lead to stressful event sequences are:

Chronic Stressors

Chronic stressors are undesired events that force people to change their identity or social roles. In addition, they also don't have a clear endpoint or resolution that can be seen in the future. They create a constant source of stress in a person's life and can require people to make significant changes to their lifestyle.

Some examples of chronic stressors are:

  • Being diagnosed with a severe illness
  • Developing a disability
  • Experiencing relocation or displacement due to war

Distant Stressors

Some sources of stress can be a result of experiences from a person's past. Distant stressors are stressful and potentially traumatic events that happened a long time ago in someone's life, but that continue to affect them in the present. Although these events might have happened several years ago, they still contribute to negative thought patterns, behaviors, and physical sensations.

Some examples of distant stressors include:

Learn to Manage Different Types of Stress

Understanding the five types of stressors might help you to gain a better understanding of why you feel anxious or overwhelmed in certain scenarious. Some types of stressors are easier to manage than others, and you might find that some take a bit more work to overcome. You may not be able to control the occurrence of stressors, but you are able to control your reaction to them.

Coping strategies and relaxation techniques are great tools that can help people manage their reactions to stressful events, and make them feel a greater sense of control. Take some time to check in with yourself and reflect on what aspects of your life might be a source of stress. Then, explore different management strategies, self-care activities, and steps you can take to have a positive impact on your mental health.

5 Types of Stressors and Simple Tips to Manage