Acute Stress vs. Chronic Stress: The Differences & How To Treat Them

There are lots of natural ways to manage stress and boost resiliency for acute and chronic stress, as well as anxiety. We explain the differences and effective stress management techniques for tough times.

Your phone is constantly going off, the bills are piling up, the kids are screaming, work pressures are relentless. It’s undeniable – life is full of stress, in every direction. If only we could hit *delete* on anything  stressful. Unfortunately, the reality of life is stress will always exist. The good news is that understanding the types of stress and its sources can help you to manage and navigate periods of tension more effectively so they don’t take a toll on your health.

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Acute stress vs. chronic stress

There are two main types of stress; acute stress and chronic stress, which are both a part of the body’s natural fight or flight stress response. When someone feels under threat, their body releases stress hormones. Both types of stress can lead to sleepless nights, lack of clarity, irritability and excessive worry. There are a couple of key differences between the two though:

Firstly, acute stress is short-term stress whereas chronic stress is more long-term.

Acute stress tends to be in response to a recognised threat, while chronic stress can linger occurring more days than not for at least six months. It can either by caused by multiple triggers or sometimes seem out of nowhere, as if nothing is triggering it. Examples of acute stressors include external lifestyle factors like having a job interview or getting a speeding ticket, which cause a temporary but natural rush in adrenalin. Often chronic stress isn’t caused by anything that happens to you but stimulated by internal stressors like negative thoughts that pop into your head. Common internal stressors include fear of failure, lack of control and personal pressures put on yourself (i.e. career acceleration).

Stress isn’t always bad!

It’s a common misconception that stress is negative – in fact, stress is healthy and can be a form of positive thinking. For instance, when stress kicks in and helps you smash a deadline you thought was impossible, it’s positive. However, when stress results in insomnia, poor concentration and significantly affects your day to day life, it’s negative.

Positive Stress
Moderate stress now and then is totally normal and is actually healthy / Unsplash

Symptoms of stress

Stress – both acute and chronic – will present itself differently for everyone. Cueing into your own responses to stress can help you increase awareness of how it manifests for you. Here are the most common symptoms of stress:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Back and/or neck pain
  • Feeling light-headed, faint or dizzy
  • Sweaty palms or feet
  • Skin issues like acne or inflammation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Frequent illness
  • Irritability
  • Gut problems and disrupted microbiome
  • Excessive worry
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling overwhelmed or on the brink of burnout
  • Poor concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low energy
  • Loss of libido

Natural remedies for stress

There are various natural ways to manage stress and boost resiliency. Below are a selection of the most common natural stress management options and techniques. 

1. Exercise

One of the most effective and highly-recommended stress management techniques is exercise. Physical activity produces endorphins— chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers —and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Exercise is amazing for stress and overall mental health, even as little as 20 minutes outside in nature can significantly reduce stress.  

2. Aromatherapy

Smelling soothing essential oils can help to ease stress and anxiety. Certain scents work better for some than others, so it’s about finding what works for you but below are a few of the most popular calming scents:

  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Vetiver
  • Bergamot
  • Roman chamomile
  • Neroli
  • Frankincense
  • Sandalwood
  • Ylang ylang

3. Supplements

Consider adding a supplement to your daily routine to naturally manage stress and anxiety in the long-term. Here a few of the most common vitamins for combating stress, which you can add to your next Vitally order!

Omega-3 fatty acids: One study showed that medical students who received omega-3 supplements experienced a 20 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms.

B complex vitamins: B vitamins are essential for heart and brain health. High doses of B vitamins have been suggested to improve symptoms of stress, such as mood and energy levels, by lowering blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine.

Vitamin D: In Australia and New Zealand we have an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, which isn’t great for our mental health. Vitamin D is a key nutrient for the nervous and immune systems and low levels have been linked to depression.

Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha, often referred to as “nature’s anti-anxiety”, is an adaptogenic herb long used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat stress and anxiety. Several studies suggest that it’s effective.

Rhodiola: Another adaptogen, Rhodiola is a non-toxic herb that stimulates the body’s stress response system to increase stress resistance. An 8-week study in 100 people with chronic fatigue symptoms, such as poor sleep quality and impairments in short-term memory and concentration, found that supplementing with 400mg of rhodiola extract daily improved symptoms after just one week.

Best Supplements For Stress
There are lots of supplements touted for their stress-relieving properties / Free People

4. Reduce your caffeine intake

Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, and energy drinks. Caffeine’s jittery effects on the body stimulates your fight or flight stress response. Studies show that this can make anxiety worse and heighten symptoms of stress like nervousness and moodiness. Everyone has different thresholds for how much caffeine they can tolerate – if you’re prone to stress try reducing your dose.

5. Cuddle your furry friend

Pets offer unconditional companionship, love, and support, so it’s no wonder they’re great for our overall wellbeing! Petting animals increases your levels of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”. This calms your nervous system, in turn relaxing you and soothing the soul. Dogs specifically make you happier as they keep you active and encourage you to be social.

6. Get creative

Not just a fad, adult colouring-in books are an effective mindfulness strategy for anxiety and stress. If colouring isn’t your vibe, anything that gets the creative juices flowing will do the trick. Why not get stuck into some home DIY or dabble in some poetry?!

7. Journal your thoughts and feelings

Finding a way to express anxiety can make it feel more manageable. Some research suggests that journaling and other forms of writing can help people to cope better with anxiety.

8. Meditation

Perhaps an obvious one as the main goal of meditation is to disconnect and de-stress, although many are put off by the idea because they find it intimidating but it doesn’t need to be! There are a wide range of meditation styles, including mindfulness, breathing exercises and traditional meditation. An easy meditation style you can easily make time for each day is lying in a comfortable position and slowly constricting and relaxing each muscle group, beginning with the toes and working up to the shoulders and jaw. Or, try using a mindfulness app for anxiety like Headspace.

Meditation For Stress
Practicing mindfulness or basic breathing exercises are effective forms of meditation / Unsplash

9. Lean on friends and family

Don’t be afraid to look to your network for support during tough times. Friends and family can offer strength and emotional support, or even just a welcome distraction from your own head. One study found that for women in particular, spending time with friends and children helps release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called “tend and befriend,” and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.

10. Laugh

Laughter really is the best medicine. It’s hard to feel anxious when you’re having a laugh. Not only is it fun, it helps to relieve your stress and tension by relaxing your muscles.

11. Learn to say no

Not all stressors are within your control, but some are. If you’re a people pleaser you’ll often find yourself taking on more than you can handle. Sound familiar? Take control over the parts of your life that you can change and learn to say “no”. Being selective about what you take on — and saying no to things that will unnecessarily add to your load — can reduce your stress levels.

12. Learn to avoid procrastination

On the above, when we’re feeling overwhelmed we tend to procrastinate, which doesn’t do our stress levels in the long-run any favours. Stay on top of your responsibilities by practicing time management strategies like a running to-do list (there’s heaps of great organisation apps for this!) and prioritisation. Breaking projects down into manageable steps can help to accomplish them with less stress.    

13. Herbal teas

The act of just sipping on a cup of hot tea is a form of meditation. Not only is it a calming process but some teas, like green tea, boast particularly soothing properties, which can help with sleep.

14. Therapy

Talking to a psychiatrist or psychologist is one of the most popular forms of treatment for chronic stress. A professional can help you understand your triggers and implement effective strategies for dealing with them. One of the most effective therapies for anxiety is called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The goal is to help a person understand how their thoughts affect their emotions and behaviour and to replace those reactions with positive or constructive alternatives.


All in all, it’s reassuring to know there are options and anxiety is highly treatable with therapy, natural remedies, lifestyle changes, or medication. You may need to try several combinations of therapies and remedies before finding one that works. However, we always recommend consulting a doctor if stress doesn’t improve.

Main image: Unsplash

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