Acute vs. Chronic Stress: Unraveling the Key Differences

Acute stress is the stress you feel because of a specific event or situation. On the other hand, chronic stress is caused by constant exposure to stressful situations and the hormones your body releases during each stressful episode.

While these issues may sound similar, this article examines their differences and how they affect your health.

Acute vs. Chronic Stress: Symptoms

Acute and chronic stress share some overlapping symptoms, but chronic stress symptoms are longer-lasting and more difficult to manage. Symptoms of acute stress include:

● aggression
● anxiety
● insomnia
● mood swings
● difficulty concentrating

Meanwhile, chronic stress symptoms include:

● anxiety disorders
● isolation
● aches and pain
● fatigue
● depression

Overtime, chronic stress can also result in additional complications, such as:

● high cholesterol
● high blood pressure
● low sex drive
● stomach ulcers
● type 2 diabetes

Acute vs. Chronic Stress: Causes

Stress is a reaction that occurs when something activates your body’s fight-or-flight response. Generally, acute stress is a reaction to situations that are difficult to manage but temporary, such as:

● medical emergencies
● upcoming events
● car accidents
● work deadlines
● unexpected expenses

Alternatively, chronic stress is a reaction to long-term stressors that keep your body on high alert for an extended time. Examples of such situations include:

● financial hardships
● unstable living situations
● chronic illness
● strained personal relationships
● demanding jobs

Acute vs Chronic Stress: Treatment Options

Stress treatment options depend on the severity and how the stress affects your life. If you’re experiencing frequent acute stress episodes, your primary healthcare professional can recommend the following lifestyle treatments:

● Cutting Back on Caffeine: Reducing your caffeine intake can help limit acute stress episodes
● Avoiding Stress Triggers: If you can avoid stressful situations, it can reduce your overall stress levels.
● Making Time to Relax: Creating time for self-care and relaxation through yoga or meditation practice, hot showers and baths, and spending time with friends can reduce stress levels.

On the other hand, chronic stress treatment options are more complex. You might receive treatment for managing your stress and treatment to alleviate your symptoms. These options include:

● Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): This treatment teaches mindful techniques for managing stress responses.
● Medication: Prescription medications for anxiety and depression can help you deal with chronic stress symptoms in some cases. The right drugs will also depend on your symptoms and factors, like any other medications you already take.
● Symptom-specific treatment: Your physician might prescribe medications for any complication and symptom linked to your chronic stress. For example, your treatment could include medications for dealing with insomnia or IBS.


Acute stress is the result of a specific, temporary situation and can cause symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety. On the other hand, chronic stress is caused by an ongoing situation like a chronic illness or a demanding job.