Symptoms of stress can range from anxiety to inability to focus, Chronic stress puts individuals at higher risk for cardiac episodes including heart attack and stroke

Understanding Chronic Stress

Article at a Glance

Chronic stress can impact almost every facet of life and can manifest as:

  • Physical symptoms: increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, chest or back pain, muscle cramps, upset stomach, low energy, increased sweating, and fainting.
  • Cognitive symptoms: increased anxiety and worry, racing thoughts, poor judgement, lack of focus, memory and concentration issues.
  • Behavioral symptoms: unhealthy responses to stress including decision to drink, use drugs or other harmful habits.
  • Emotional symptoms: anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, increased hostility, poor impulse control, tension, and unwillingness to cooperate.

Additional chronic stress can increase risk of serious disease such as diabetes, heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Stress impacts nearly every single system in the body. It can weaken the immune system, impede functionality in the digestive and reproductive systems, increase risk of cardiovascular disease, and accelerate aging.[1] Optimal health is important to work performance, however – especially for professionals in high-power roles with many taxing responsibilities. When stress begins to affect cognitive function, including judgment, concentration, memory, as well as physical and emotional wellbeing, it becomes essential to address its impacts promptly. 

A healthy adaptational response to stress occurs over a short time frame. For minimal to no effects on long-term health, stress responses should be initiated quickly, maintained for a brief amount of time, and then turned off. On the other hand, problems arise when individuals experience an over-response to stress, or the stress response fails to shut off. A healthy response to stress is characterized by the following three steps:

  • The brain mediates the stressor, signaling the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline.
  • The hypothalamus, a region of the forebrain which coordinates the nervous system, works with the pituitary gland to trigger the slower maintenance response, signaling to the adrenal system to release hormones including cortisol.
  • Nerves react to the trigger, producing behavioral responses such as heightened awareness, focused attention, and reduced pain perception.

These actions controlled by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic nervous system contribute to the body’s internal balance, or homeostasis, to optimize energy production and use. Because these systems influence other functions in the body; prolonged responses can have a damaging effect on health. [2]

Symptoms of stress can be both immediate and long-term. While there are many long-term consequences of chronic stress that should be considered to understand its full impact, for now, we will focus on short-term symptoms associated with the condition, categorized by type.

Physical Symptoms of Stress


The physical symptoms of stress can be experienced almost immediately upon exposure to stressors. Stress slows some bodily functions, such as the immune and digestive systems, while hastening others. For instance, blood pressure and pulse rate increase, and rapid breathing occurs. Other physical effects of stress can include sweating, back or chest pain, muscle cramps or spasms, headache, nervous twitches, and upset stomach. Low energy, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, ringing in the ear, and cold or sweaty hands and feet are also physical symptoms of stress. In cases of extreme stress, fainting can also occur.[3]

Cognitive Symptoms of Stress


Acute stress can be advantageous and allow individuals to be hyper alter and make quick decisions, Chronic stress can lead to difficulty concentrating and memory problems

Acute stress can heighten awareness, allowing individuals to become hyperalert to their surroundings . This can be advantageous in certain professional circumstances – allowing for sharp and quick decision-making, for example. Yet, chronic stress actually has the opposite effect. With constant worrying, anxiety, and racing thoughts, individuals may experience poor judgment. Difficulty concentrating and memory problems are also common symptoms of chronic stress.[4] In professionals and executives, whose effectiveness in their role is largely determined by decision-making skills, the cognitive impacts of stress can take a devastating toll on one’s career.

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Behavioral Symptoms of Stress


Behavioral symptoms of stress include negative habits such as nail biting and tobacco use to form, Chronic stress may lead individuals to turn to negative behaviors such as alcoholism and drug abuse

The negative impact of stress penetrates virtually every aspect of an individual’s life. In an attempt to escape stress factors, individuals often turn to unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco use, as well as drug or alcohol abuse. Over- or under-eating and decreasing frequency of exercise can also result from compounding stress. Individuals may adopt nervous habits like nail biting and pacing, and they may also become socially withdrawn. Procrastination and neglect of important responsibilities are additional characteristics of chronic stress; as some individuals use avoidance as an unhealthy coping mechanism.[5]

These negative behaviors can transcend into other areas of one’s life, too. With unhealthy behavioral responses to stress, decisions to drink, use drugs, or practice other harmful habits may also affect sleep quality, weight, libido, energy, and cognitive function. Optimizing these five areas of wellness is essential to job performance, because a well-rested individual who is also at their best both physically and mentally is better able to excel in their role. Therefore, the ability to deal with job-related stressors (or any other source of stress) in healthy, productive ways can support performance in the workplace, while also improving quality of life in one’s personal life, too.

Emotional Symptoms of Stress


Emotional symptoms of stress include increased agitation and may lead to social withdrawal, Chronic stress can progress into depression and other mental health conditions

The emotional symptoms of stress include anxiety and agitation, as well as feeling overwhelmed. Agitation can cause hostility, poor impulse control, tension, and uncooperativeness – qualities which sever ties among colleagues and other members of your professional network.[6] Because individuals with chronic stress tend to limit their social interaction, they may also begin to develop feelings of isolation and loneliness. The condition may also lead to feelings of insecurity and restlessness. Feeling generally unhappy is a common symptom of stress, and over the long term, this can progress into depression and other mental health conditions.[7]

While these symptoms are serious and need to be addressed, the effects of stress become even more critical if not treated. Over the long-term, the consequences of ongoing stress can have an extreme impact on a person’s mental, physical, emotional, and cognitive wellness. Impaired concentration and low energy levels are just two of the specific effects related to chronic stress that can directly diminish workplace performance. Cenegenics focuses on optimizing the five pillars of wellness – sleep, energy, libido, cognitive function, and weight management – with proven age management medicine to help professionals feel and perform their best professionally.

Long-Term Effects of Stress


Chronic stress has dangerous, multifarious implications: not only can stress create new problems, it may also exacerbate existing ones. For executives and professionals whose busy day-to-day routines are already impacted by the demands of juggling a multitude of responsibilities, the effects of chronic stress can be more pronounced than in the average individual. The physical and mental toll the condition takes on people can ultimately transcend to the workplace, leading to conditions like lack of sleep, focus, and energy which can impede long-term goal achievement and overall career success. Here are just a few of the specific ways stress can have a lasting impact on health.

Physical Consequences of Long-Term Stress


The long-term physical effects of chronic stress are nearly too vast to measure. When stress is constant, the same life-saving response your body produces in acute stress can suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to disease and illness. Individuals with chronic stress are more prone to developing colds and other sicknesses, and there is even an established link between stress-related disorders and autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis [8]. These conditions can lead to absenteeism and energy depletion, which could have a compounding, negative effect on work performance. Researchers believe that when stress is severe, the body may lose control of cortisol over the immune system, contributing to increased inflammation. This can also lead to a range of serious health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Left untreated, these factors can contribute to potentially fatal conditions including heart attack and stroke [9].

Chronic stress can lead to increased risk of serious health conditions including heart disease and high blood pressure, Physical symptoms of stress can vary but may progress into potentially fatal conditions including heart attack and stroke

Stress can also impact physical appearance, leading to skin and hair issues including psoriasis, eczema, hair loss, and acne. When it affects diet and exercise, it may also lead to obesity or other eating disorders. Being overweight increases the risk of fatigue, as decreased sleep duration and quality are directly associated with increased body weight [10]. Thus, the effects of stress tend to snowball: fatigue also impairs brain activity, which makes it impossible to contribute to your fullest potential at work [11]. The inflammatory response can also irritate the colon, causing conditions such as gastritis and ulcerative colitis over time.

The impact of stress is so pronounced that it can even cause issues in the reproductive system. In women, it can cause menstrual problems, while it may cause sexual dysfunction such as premature ejaculation and impotence in men. Loss of sexual desire is also potential side effect of stress experienced in both men and women [12].

Additionally, while stress can contribute to obesity which can in turn cause fatigue, stress itself also often has a major impact on sleep. Unfortunately, the stress/sleep relationship often forms a dangerous cycle, in which the heightened state of alertness produced by chronic stress prevents sleep, but lack of sleep continues to cause added stress. In fact, adults who sleep fewer than the recommended eight hours per night report a higher stress level than those who sleep at least eight hours each night. Stress often causes individuals to lie awake at night with anxiety, and this lack of sleep can compound the physical damage caused by stress. Even minimal sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can contribute to serious health issues like obesity and high blood pressure, as well as impaired memory and judgment [13]. While alertness is essential to navigating daily challenges in most executive, managerial, and other professional roles, it is also necessary for a host of other day-to-day activities, including driving and maintaining awareness of your general surroundings.

Additional Consequences of Chronic Stress


Additional symptoms of stress include depression and chronic anxiety

Chronic stress can contribute to clinical depression, chronic anxiety states, and addictive disorders. One of the main reasons the condition is so dangerous is because of its notorious snowball effect: it may only impact a few isolated areas of a person’s life at first, but these consequences tend to ripple outwards. The example of stress’s effect on sleep above showcases this relationship: while chronic stress itself can cause impaired judgment, it can also cause lack of sleep, which has an additional impact on decision making abilities. Thus, the lasting consequences of stress are often too significant to measure, and instead of affecting an individual in a linear fashion, it often produces a far-reaching web of consequences. Oftentimes, it penetrates the most critical realms of wellness in profound ways, including sleep, energy, weight, libido, and cognitive function.

These very pillars are the foundation on which the Cenegenics program was built. By finding solutions to improve in these five realms, effective stress management becomes a natural byproduct. For example, Cenegenics tailored programs provide solutions catered to each individual’s needs for optimizing nutrition, achieving better sleep, and driving energy levels, which can be effective tools for managing stress.

Understanding Chronic Stress vs Acute Stress – In Conclusion


Stress can impact nearly every single system in the body, and professionals in high-power roles with many taxing responsibilities are at in increased risk. Physical symptoms of stress can be experienced almost immediately upon exposure to stressors. Cognitive symptoms of stress such as constant worrying, anxiety, and racing thoughts can lead to poor judgment.

In an attempt to escape stress factors, individuals often turn to unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco use, as well as drug or alcohol abuse. These behaviors can lead to emotional symptoms and even progress into depression and other mental health conditions.

Over the long-term, the consequences of ongoing stress can have an extreme impact on a person’s mental, physical, emotional, and cognitive wellness. Cenegenics helps individuals with effectively managing stress by optimizing the five pillars of wellness – sleep, energy, libido, cognitive function, and weight management – with proven age management medicine to help professionals feel and perform their best professionally.

Contact Cenegenics to find out how our personalized, physician-developed age management solutions can help you treat your stress before you suffer long-term effects.

Next Steps: Managing Stress with Cenegenics


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We hope the information above assisted you in your research process.

Key Resources in Understanding Chronic Stress


This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:

The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 1: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Available for purchase here

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 2: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Available for purchase here

Textbook Authors:

Jeffrey Park Leake, M.D., CPT

Dr. Jeffery Park Leake is the Partner and Director for Physician Training and Certification for Cenegenics Las Vegas. He specializes in age management and wellness and has trained over 600 physicians worldwide.

Todd David Greenberg, M.D., CSCS

Dr. Todd Greenberg is a practicing physician with a broad range of expertise, including wellness, exercise, sports injuries, and MRI of sports injuries. He is a Radiology Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington.

Additional Information on Effectively Managing Stress


How Cenegenics Can Help Relieve Stress in Executives & Professionals

Types of Stress: Understanding Stressors

Why Can’t I Sleep? – Clinical Explanations

Healthy Heart: What is Heart Disease? Preventative Steps and Recognizing Symptoms

Building a Nutritional Plan: Food for Weight Loss

Weight Loss: Role of Exercise

What is Age Management Medicine?

What is Cenegenics?

Defy Your Age™ with Cenegenics

Sources on Managing Stress


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[2] Stöppler, Melissa Conrad, MD. “Stress.” MedicineNet.com Retrieved from URL: https://www.medicinenet.com/stress/article.htm#stress_facts

[3] Nordqvist, Christian. “Why stress happens and how to manage it.” Medical News Today. 28 Nov. 2017. Retrieved from URL: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/145855.php

[4] Segal et al, see above.

[5] “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.” Mayo Clinic. 28 April 2016. Retrieved from URL: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987

[6] “Understanding Agitation.” Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Retrieved from URL: http://www.dbsalliance.org/pdfs/brochures/agitation.pdf

[7] Segal et al, see above.

[8] Song et al. “Association of Stress-Related Disorders With Subsequent Autoimmune Disease.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 19 June 2018. Retrieved from URL: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2685155

[9] “The Link Between Autoimmune Diseases and PTSD.” Healthline.com Retrieved from URL: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/the-link-between-autoimmune-diseases-and-ptsd#1

[10] Hargens, et al. “Association between sleep disorders, obesity, and exercise: a review.” Nature and Science of Sleep. 1 Mar. 2013. Retrieved from URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3630986/

 [11] Tanaka, et al. “Effects of Mental Fatigue on Brain Activity and Cognitive Performance: A Magnetoencephalography Study.” Department of Physiology, Osaka City University Graduate School of Medicine. 01 Jul. 2015. px

[12] Karriem-Norwood, Varnada, MD. “Stress: Symptoms.” WebMD. 11 July 2017. Retrieved from URL: https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-symptoms-effects_of-stress-on-the-body#2-5

[13] “Stress and Sleep.” American Psychology Association. Retrieved from URL: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.as

[14] Song et al. “Association of Stress-Related Disorders With Subsequent Autoimmune Disease.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 19 June 2018. Retrieved from URL: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2685155

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