Everyone has stress. But when is stress a risk to our health and well being? Episodic acute stress might be the most common way that stress gets out of hand and puts our mental and physical health in danger.
Stress is not an inherently good or bad thing — it’s just shorthand for describing what happens when a demand is put on an organism. This definition of stress covers a goldfish who need to find food, a grandmother who needs to figure out what to do about a dental problem, or an employee who is asked to do 9 hours of work in 8 hours.
Acute stress typically refers to the effects of a more demanding situation, like having an infant with a fever, or learning that you’ve lost your job. It doesn’t matter if the situation was foreseeable, nor if anyone was at fault.
Episodic acute stress is the term used when someone experiences acute stress with some regularity or frequency. There are several reasons why this might happen:
- Taking on too much responsibility
- Being in an unusually demanding job
- Being responsible for a loved one with frequent or significant difficulties
- Bad luck
- Having interpersonal difficulties
- Having a tendency to interpret situations in catastrophic ways
The Effects of Stress
This type of stress can have various medium- and long-term effects on our medical and mental health. These can include:
- Increased cholesterol
- Increased triglycerides
- Higher blood sugar
- Higher blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Weight gain
Many of the medical effects described above elevate your risk of having major medical problems later in life, including heart attack, renal disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Episodic acute stress can also seriously affect our ability to enjoy our lives and do the things necessary for maintaining emotional health. For these reasons, episodic acute stress is a problem that must be taken seriously.
Help for Episodic Acute Stress
What should people do if they realize they are dealing with this type of repeated stress? There is not one simple answer; it depends on the situation.
Stress Caused by a Job
Consider whether there are possible changes at your job that could help reduce your stress levels. This may involve having a discussion with your boss. There are no guarantees such a conversation will go the way you want it to. On the other hand, your boss may be unaware of the stress you’re under. Also, if they’re smart (granted, a big “if”), your boss will understand that you’re likely to quit if they can’t find a way to make the job more sustainable for you.
Stress Caused by Catastrophizing and Worry
Do you tend to interpret situations as being more alarming than others do? If so, you may be prone to catastrophizing — the tendency to perceive a concerning situation as a disastrous one. Catastrophizing can lead to unproductive worry and anxiety. The good news is that it can be effectively addressed by cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Stress Caused by Taking On Too Much
Do you have trouble saying “no” to things? Unfortunately, this can put you at higher risk for episodic acute stress. We all need to be able to say no sometimes, even if it will disappoint others. Granted, sometimes the situation you’re in won’t permit it, but opportunities to say “no” are often there if you look hard enough!
Stress of Unclear Origin
If you’re not sure why stress has become more of a problem for you, that’s ok! The smartest thing you can do may be to seek a consultation with a therapist who has expertise in stress and anxiety. They will be able to provide a professional opinion about how you can best act to improve things.
Subscribe to the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy blog!