4 Types of Stress To Know & Understand

To manage stress well, you need to understand the four types of stress. The "Four Quadrant Stress Grid" below, uses a simple, well-known color-coding system to rate the four main types of stress. Green means good or go, yellow means proceed with caution and red means stop or bad.

Staying in any of the four zones for extended periods or on a repeated basis, will cause the body to create millions of free radicals, leading to extreme free radical damage or oxidative stress, which then leads to serious chronic degenerative disease (CDDs). More than 200 known CDD's are believed to be caused by oxidative stress, of which about half are inflammatory diseases and the other half are auto-immune diseases.

These four types of stress are perfectly complemented by the four main fields of stress (chemical, physical, electromagnetic and emotional). Being continually or repeatedly stressed out in any of the fields is extremely dangerous and should be avoided.

Of course, the red zone and even the yellow zone do the most damage, because the human body requires significant periods of non-stress from all four fields and all four types for the sake of optimal health and wellness. By respecting the limitations of the four types and the four fields of stress, you will be able to achieve and maintain optimal health and wellness.

four-Quadrant stress grid

Definitions for the 4 Main Types of Stress


  • adjective:  being long-lasting and recurrent or characterized by long suffering ("Chronic indigestion")
  • adjective:  having a habit of long standing ("A chronic smoker")


  • having or experiencing a rapid onset and short but severe course ("Acute appendicitis")
  • adjective:  extremely sharp or intense ("Acute pain")

Eustress (Good Stress as in Euphoric Stress)

  • stress that is deemed healthful or giving one the feeling of fulfillment
  • the optimal state of stress to be the most productive

Distress (Bad Stress or Destructive Stress)

  • great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; acute physical or mental suffering; affliction; trouble.
  • a state of extreme necessity or misfortune.

Quadrant One: Chronic Eustress

Quadrant One is known as Chronic Eustress or long lasting, recurrent, good stress. This is, by far, the very best of the types of stress out there. This is when the body can be in its most productive state.

This quadrant should be every person's goal in life. While it is an excellent goal to stay in this quadrant as much as possible, the body also needs downtime from all types of stress. Be creative, be aggressive and be consistent because this is the quadrant where "real" productivity exists, but be sure to build in significant amounts of rest and relaxation.

If things happen in life, that take you out of this quadrant for a time, then that's OK, but every effort should be made to deal with the problem and move back to this safer quadrant. Even in this quadrant, free radicals can be created so be sure to take steps to counter any free radicals being made by the body and to repair free radical damage that has already happened.

Words like fun, happiness, success, peace, joy, laughter, fulfillment, spirit and love exist in this quadrant. When we are in a state of chronic eustress, our bodies have very high levels of the feel good hormones like Dopamine, Endorphins, Nitric Oxide and Oxytocin.  These hormones make it possible for us to have high levels of self-esteem and to have really strong relationships in all areas of your life, whether they be romantic, parental or work-related.

If you have been married a long time or in a long-term relationship and the shiny newness has worn off, all you need to do is get into this quadrant again and it will feel like a honeymoon all over again.

However, relationships are just one challenging area of life that can be assisted by an awareness of the four types of stress. By understanding all the different types of stress as well as the 4 main fields of stress, you will be able to keep your body in the optimal state of stress or non-stress in all areas of your life and you can do it by design.

Quadrant Two: Acute Eustress

Quadrant Two is known as Acute Eustress or rapid onset, short, intense good stress. On a 'types of stress' scale of 1-10, with 1 being bad and 10 being good, this quadrant sits at about 6-7.

When you get some really fantastic news or you are engaged in a feel great workout or when something really wonderful happens to you, you experience this kind of stress. The body is temporarily, intensely and quickly flooded with feel good hormones like Dopamine and Oxytocin. 

Of the four types of stress, this type is desirable and it does a body good to experience acute eustress often.

Quadrant Three: Acute Distress

Quadrant Three is known as Acute Distress or rapid onset, short, intense bad stress. As far as types of stress go, this one is no fun but is not terribly dangerous and in fact it can save your life.

Of the four types of stress, this one is the most respectful of your body's built in stress response system. This type of stress response happens when we feel shocked or threatened and your fight or flight stress response system kicks into gear. The HPA Axis in the body sends out a flood of emergency response hormones such as Adrenaline and Cortisol. These hormones allow us to be alert, to have increased strength, endurance, speed and energy, thereby allowing us to respond to danger.

This type of stress comes from things like a car accident or if you are attacked or if you feel extreme fear. While this type of stress is classified as a bad stress, it is not dangerous in the long term, assuming it is not over-used, because it does not last a long time and the body will wash away these extra hormones when the danger or threat has passed. This stress helps us to survive. Usually, this stress response in the body leaves a residue of Cortisol behind and if you follow this acute stress response up with some wonderful physical exercise, you can eliminate most of the Cortisol even faster. However, it's not a great idea to expose yourself to acute stressors often.

Quadrant Four: Chronic Distress

Quadrant Four is known as Chronic Distress or long lasting, recurrent bad stress. This is by far the worst of the types of stress in our lives. Unfortunately, it is also the most common. When this situation is left unchecked, the body produces extreme free radicals leading to plenty of oxidative stress.

Chronic distress is the cause of most peoples' problems. With this kind of stress, your body is constantly flooded with emergency response hormones like Cortisol and Adrenaline. When your Endocrine System is over-used to this extent, things begin to malfunction.

It's just like your Pancreas, which becomes worn out when we constantly over use it by spiking our blood sugar several times each day.  Your Pancreas was never intended to process that much sugar and your Endocrine System was never intended to process that much hormonal activity.

When we stay in a state of chronic distress all the time, we overproduce the emergency response hormones and we under-produce the feel good hormones.

Every effort should be made to get out and stay out of this quadrant at all cost.  Do whatever you have to do.  Change your expectations, change your job, get out of a bad relationship, ask for help, pray to a higher power if you need to, but get out of this quadrant NOW! 

If you stay here for long, you will develop Panic Attacks, Anxiety, Depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and a whole host of other illnesses.  Oh and by the way - you will very likely gain a lot of weight and get very fat. All these diseases and problems come from a messed up HPA Axis in the body just the same as Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome come from a messed up Pancreas.

Staying here will kill you and long before this quadrant gets around to that, it will more than steal your quality of life. So get out now, while you still can and stay out.

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