The pressure to be productive and live up to expectations can weigh on everyone from time to time, but chronic stress is a much more harmful complication that can influence your health. Recognizing the symptoms of chronic stress can help you decide when you need to seek professional mental health treatment so you can get back to feeling your best.

What Is Chronic Stress?

Chronic stress is a constant feeling of being pressured or overwhelmed for an extended period. Chronic stress can come from any number of sources, including your:

  • Work
  • Family
  • Friends
  • School
  • Responsibilities
  • Self-imposed goals or expectations

While most people deal with stress occasionally, people experiencing chronic stress can feel like they never get a break. It can become difficult for them to relax, and the symptoms of chronic stress can begin to impair their ability to go about their everyday lives without interruption.

Thankfully, there are treatments available to help people overcome the feeling of chronic stress. If you think you’re living with this condition, enrolling in a stress management program may be just what you need to get back on track and find some relief.

But if you’re not sure whether chronic stress is the source of your troubles, it might be helpful to start by learning to recognize the symptoms of chronic stress.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Chronic Stress

Identifying the symptoms of chronic stress is often difficult for a simple reason. Chronic stress implies that people have been living with elevated stress levels for months or years and may have been dealing with the symptoms for just as long.

As such, it’s difficult for some people to compare their symptoms to a baseline of mental health, as their stress symptoms have become the norm.

There are, however, several signs and symptoms of chronic stress that may indicate that your stress levels have become a problem. This includes signs like:

1. Trouble Focusing

Living with chronic stress can cause a number of symptoms related to concentration and focus. People who take on more stress than they can handle can find it difficult to keep their attention on focused tasks and may take longer to complete intensive work or projects.

Furthermore, chronic stress can cause people to forget important meetings or events. The pressures of stress simply become too much to manage, and it can become difficult to keep track of everything you need to get done.

2. Low Energy

A chronic feeling of low energy or motivation can also happen due to chronic stress. Stress can feel like a weight holding you down, and when your to-do list might be a mile long, you may not have the energy to accomplish everything you hope to on your timeline.

Part of the problem with chronic stress is that people will attempt to accomplish all their tasks regardless of how much energy they have left. This can lead to burnout, poor work quality, and a cascade of other negative health symptoms, such as not getting enough sleep or turning to substance use in an attempt to cope or get more done.

3. Substance Use

Using addictive substances to cope with stressful situations is a dangerous symptom of chronic stress that can lead to a host of other negative consequences. Using drugs or alcohol to cope is one of the most dangerous forms of substance use, as it often leads to the development of a substance use disorder.

Besides, using drugs or alcohol to cope doesn’t necessarily fix the problem or provide any stress relief — it only pushes this stress off until a later date. People who travel this path often find themselves with more stress than they had to begin with, in addition to the symptoms of a new substance use disorder.

4. Irritability or Anger

If you’re constantly getting frustrated or angry at small events, it might be another of the symptoms of chronic stress. Living constantly in a stressful state can shorten your temper and cause you to lash out at your friends, loved ones, coworkers, or even complete strangers for the smallest of reasons.

Anger is often referred to as a “secondary emotion,” which means that it comes in response to another emotion you’re feeling at the time. Your stress can make you feel afraid or anxious, but rather than living with these uncomfortable emotions, you turn to the relative comfort of anger instead.

5. Sleep Challenges

Chronic stress affects sleep in many different ways. Your stress and anxiety can literally keep you up at night, worrying about the tasks and responsibilities that lie ahead of you. It can also impact the quality of your sleep by keeping your body in a constant state of distress.

Having sleep difficulties can cause a cascade of other negative health effects. Not getting enough sleep can leave you tired and groggy throughout the day, more irritable and frustrated, and less able to focus on the tasks that are giving you stress in the first place. It can also put you at risk for several different health complications, including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.

6. Social Changes

Being chronically stressed often results in negative impacts on a person’s social life. You may spend less time with your friends or loved ones because you feel overwhelmed by your stress and find yourself experiencing challenges in your relationships as a result.

This often results in people who are chronically stressed beginning to feel isolated and alone. Recent research has shown that loneliness can be incredibly harmful, with some researchers saying that chronic loneliness has a similar risk to your health as smoking cigarettes.

7. Appetite Changes

Your appetite may change dramatically in response to stress. This can happen in both directions — some people become too stressed to eat, ignoring hunger cues until they become less and less frequent. Others turn to food as a coping mechanism to deal with their stress. These appetite changes can result in sudden, unintended weight changes as well.

How to Recover From the Symptoms of Chronic Stress

When you’ve identified that chronic stress is leading to your symptoms, it’s time to take action to find recovery. The effects of chronic stress can be sweeping, so for most people, a comprehensive approach to overall mental health is often the best solution.

Stress Management Programs

A stress management program offers several key treatments and interventions that can help you overcome the effects of chronic stress in your day-to-day life.

These programs typically include focused work on learning stress relieving techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, lifestyle changes, and emotional regulation, as well as treatment for any mental health concerns that may be a source of your chronic stress.

When people live with chronic stress, it can come from a number of different sources. It can be work, substance use, mental health disorders, or having a child that is leading to you feeling overwhelmed. Since every client is different, a stress management program provides detailed assessments and individualized treatment plans to help each person achieve recovery.

For some, this means conventional treatments, such as medication and talk therapy. Other people may benefit from innovative treatments, such as deep transcranial magnetic stimulation or hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Finding what works for you is part of the process of overcoming stress and building a system of healthy coping mechanisms that will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed by stress in the future.

Lifestyle Changes

Certain lifestyle changes can improve your ability to handle stress, letting you keep up with your current workload without being overcome by intense stress. Often, people experience chronic stress because they simply cannot cut out parts of their lives that are causing them stress. Practicing strategies that build your capacity for stress is often the best solution. Some of these lifestyle changes include:

  • Exercise: Keeping up with a regular exercise routine teaches your body to manage stressful situations and can reduce many of the physical symptoms you experience from chronic stress.
  • Meditation: A regular mindfulness meditation practice can help you to stay connected to the present moment rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past.
  • Nutrition: Optimizing your diet and nutrition can drastically improve your physical and mental health symptoms, leaving you better equipped to deal with stress as it comes.

For a more targeted and systematic approach to lasting lifestyle changes, consider the option of lifestyle psychiatry. This field combines conventional psychiatric treatments with targeted lifestyle changes, all under the guidance of a trained mental health professional who has your best interests in mind.

Don’t Let Chronic Stress Hold You Back

Living with chronic stress can be overwhelming, but you can recover, provided you seek out professional resources to help you along the journey. To learn more about the stress management program at Plus by APN, call 424.644.6486 or fill out our confidential online contact form.


  • Medic, Goran et al. “Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption.” Nature and science of sleep vol. 9 151-161. 19 May. 2017, doi:10.2147/NSS.S134864
  • “Stress Won’t Go Away? Maybe You Are Suffering from Chronic Stress.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.