The four different types of stress and how to manage them

Woman feeling stressed. (Getty Images)
There are four different types of stress, each with their own symptoms. (Getty Images)

Feeling stressed? You're not alone. A huge 63% of people in the UK are stressed at least weekly – up from just over a third 6 years ago.

Stress is a natural response to challenges or demands that we all face in our everyday lives and plays an important role in pushing us to overcome hurdles and achieve our goals, but experiencing prolonged stress can have detrimental effects on our physical health and emotional wellbeing, highlighting the importance of effective stress management strategies.

While we may be able to identify some of the tell-tale signs of the mental health disorder - insomnia, anxiety, brain fog - there are actually four different types of stress, each with their own symptoms.

And though there is some crossover in terms of the impact of each type, the first step to coping with stress effectively is knowing how to recognise each type and treating it accordingly.

The 4 primary types of stress

1. Physical stress

This can be anything from a physical traumatic injury right the way through to hormonal or chemical imbalances and inadequate oxygen supply.

"It might present itself in the form of headaches, tight muscles, joint pains or other aches and pains, you might also notice a change in your heart rate and blood pressure," explains Alistair Richardson, mental health coach, osteopath and nutritionist at Kaylo.

Other common signs include getting sick more often than usual, generally feeling lethargic or noticing tension throughout your entire body.

"This type of stress affects our body's physical state, causing exhaustion and disrupting our internal balance – often leading to burnout," Dr Richardson adds.

Woman at her computer suffering from stress. (Getty Images)
How to recognise which type of stress you're experiencing. (Getty Images)

Techniques to help

  • Exercise

Whether it's going to the gym or walking in the hills, Dr Richardson says using that physically held tension that the nervous system creates will help to release the built-up energy in a positive way.

"Exercise can allow you to expend that pent-up nervous tension and in doing so increase your tolerance in the muscles," he adds.

  • Shaking

Standing on the spot and shaking the whole body out is another quick and effective way of getting back to the sensations in the body. "This is another method of safely utilising that nervous energy stored in the tissues," Dr Richardson explains.

  • Eating well

Making sure you have the correct nutritional intake has a vital role in hormonal and immune system health. This is because your gut has 97% of your serotonin (happy hormone) receptors within it as well as housing 70% of your immune system.

"Getting your gut health right will help to increase your overall neuro-immuno-endocrinal health," Dr Richardson adds.

Woman experiencing stress. (Getty Images)
Understanding the type of stress you are experiencing can help you manage it. (Getty Images)

2. Physical stress

This pertains to our emotional state, heavily influenced by the brain's feedback from both internal and external sources.

"Psychological stress often presents itself in the form of memory problems, an inability to concentrate, brain fog or anxiety," Dr Richardson explains. "When we are under psychological stress, our sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze/fawn) nervous system engages against the 'perceived' threat.

"Whether this is an actual external threat such as a bear chasing us or an email that’s got our back up, our nervous system behaves in the same way by reacting to the threat we perceive," he adds.

Since the brain plays a crucial role in communicating with the rest of the body, maintaining internal and external boundaries is essential for managing this stress type.

"If you are prone to absorbing emotional energy from others for example, it’s important to recognise the stress this might be causing to your mind/body," Dr Richardson says.

Techniques to help

Ground yourself by focusing on your breathing

Dr Richardson says our breath holds the key to regulating our autonomic nervous system via the vagus nerve, which is our prime nerve that functions the parasympathetic (rest/digest) side of our involuntary nervous system.

Prioritise yourself

Taking time to ensure you are doing things you enjoy and giving dedicated time to prioritise yourself can help to bring back some of the happiness and joy that can be lost when under psychological stress.

Woman breathing through her stress. (Getty Images)
Breathing is one technique to overcome certain types of stress. (Getty Images)

3. Psycho-social stress

This involves the dynamics of our relationships and the lack of support and resources, altering our survival adaptation methods.

"Examples of psychosocial stress can include anything that translates to a perceived threat to our social status, social esteem, respect, and/or acceptance within a group; a threat to our self-worth; or a threat that we feel we have no control over," Dr Richardson explains.

"This stress arises when we're forced to adjust our survival strategies, which could present as people-pleasing, abandoning ourselves to fit in, defensive mechanisms arising and (just a few examples) leading to a heightened state of stress."

Techniques to help


Tapping your skin (usually over your wrist, neck or face) can help provide a reference point to your consciousness via the sensation of touch.

"This in turn tells the brain to return to your body and allows the nervous system to regulate again," Dr Richardson explains.

Spending time in nature

This helps regulate your nervous system. "Just looking up at the stars can help you realise that what you might be going through at that time has a slightly less stressful impact when compared to the grandeur and enormity the universe we are set in," Dr Richardson explains.

Focus on what you can control

Getting familiar with your emotions and triggers can help you to understand why you might be feeling the way you are and reacting negatively towards situations, circumstances or people.

"You are your own biggest enemy but also your greatest asset, it just depends on your outlook and self-awareness," Dr Richardson explains. "Understanding your past can help you unlock your future by becoming accountable for your own emotional health. Those who can do this non-judgementally can access a whole other level of transcendence."

Spend time with loved ones

In doing this, we can absorb some of that positive energy and fill the cup back up where it might have previously been drained.

Woman meditating in nature. (Getty Images)
Taking time to get out in nature is another way to counter feelings of stress. (Getty Images)

4. Psycho-spiritual stress

This is tied to our belief systems, including religion, personal identity, and self-worth, shaped by repetitive narratives.

"It could present as feeling the pressure to meet expected societal, cultural, religious or familial norms (even if that means abandoning one’s own authentic beliefs) resulting in a crisis of values, meaning, and purpose; joyless striving (instead of productive, satisfying, meaningful and fulfilling work) and a misalignment within one's core spiritual beliefs," Dr Richardson outlines.

Techniques to help

Practice gratitude

Saying three things you are grateful for in your life each day can help to re-wire the way in which our brain perceives our environment and life in general.

"If we start the day by seeking the positive in life, it helps to change our view on the rest of the day and thus make things seem a little happier, increasing our satisfaction with life."

Kaylo’s new online course ‘Recover From Burnout & Global Stress Part One’ is available now at

Stress: Read more

Watch: Five ways to de-stress your skin