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addicted to stress

Are You Addicted to Stress?

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March 16, 2021 | Published by


Stress isn’t always bad. There’s a good type of stress, eustress, that we need in our lives. Eustress motivates us to take on challenges, ride roller coasters, and ask someone out on a date. Stress can also be an addiction, a drug to help cope. In fact, stress and drugs have been shown to share side effects, like: increased heart rate and blood pressure, increase in blood sugar, decrease in digestive function, skin issues, anxiety, and relationship problems. So how do you become addicted to stress, and how do you know if you are?

Stress can be as addictive as drugs due to the hormones released by the body during stress. In addition to adrenaline and noradrenaline, dopamine is also released while experiencing stress. Dopamine, a “feel good” chemical, encourages repeated behaviors by activating the reward center of our brain. This chemical may play a vital role in many types of addictive behaviors and substance abuse issues.1

Many stress addicts are fully functional in their daily lives and are seen as overachievers or go-getters. Always on, they often leave people wondering when they ever have time to sleep or rest. While it may seem these people are exceling in all areas of life, they’re often doing so while sacrificing their own personal needs, relationships, and health. They may not even know what to do on a day off, which many of these people may use as time to work from home. Stress addicts are likely the type to take their work phone and laptop along on vacation “just to check on things.”

Many of us are proud of this stress. In conversation it can become a competition to see who is the most tired or stressed. Work hours and demands, obligations with the kids and their numerous school activities, no time to sleep or take a vacation – these are all common conversation pieces among the overbooked and overstressed. This can trick us into thinking we don’t have it so bad since someone else is more stressed and tired, or that we could be doing more since we aren’t the busiest of the group. However, there are no winners in the stress Olympics.

Just as other types of addicts eventually need more to satisfy the addiction, stress addicts too need more and more to satisfy the urge and feel that same rush. As with drugs, the brain starts to develop a tolerance to stress, so over time more stress is needed to fill the need. You may find yourself taking on even more projects at work or procrastinating even more on certain things so it becomes a last-minute emergency. The HPA axis, the glands in your body that fuel the response to stress, starts to fatigue over time. Thus, stress levels need to be higher and more prolonged to get the same type of cortisol and adrenaline release as before.2 In short, you’re burning the candle at both ends and there’s not much left in the middle.

How do you know if you’re addicted to stress? Read the below behaviors and see if they sound familiar.1

  • You often leave things until the last minute.
  • You have difficulty relaxing or unwinding.
  • When you take time off or go on vacation, you’re often thinking of work.
  • You feel stressed without access to your work phone, computer or tablet.
  • You find it difficult to quiet your brain at bedtime.
  • You feel there is never enough time to get things done.
  • You feel there’s no time to partake in hobbies, see friends, or have family time.
  • You find yourself finishing, or wanting to finish, other people’s statements.
  • You feel you are always running from one thing to the next.

Like other addictions, chronic stress can lead to some serious health conditions. It’s important to recognize your relationship with stress and the effect it has on your mind, body, and relationships. How do you begin to curb your addiction to stress? Here are some tips that can help restore some balance and lower the levels of stress you’re experiencing.2

Unplug. This one may be hard at first, but one of best first steps in breaking an addition to stress is reducing screen time, particularly with your phone. Designate times to check your phone, including time limits. You could start by not checking your phone at meals and build up to making entire weekend days phone-free.

Be wary of toxic friends and acquaintances. Do you have friends and colleagues that guilt trip you for taking time off, leaving early or even on time? They may not have your best interests in mind and it can be a good idea to limit your exposure to those people. Having boundaries is healthy and perfectly acceptable. Devote more time to people who show concern, provide reality checks when needed and care about you.

Deal with your inner saboteur. We all have that inner voice that provides self-criticism and doubt. Try giving that inner voice a name and addressing it directly. Experts have found we can better deal with problems when thinking of them in the third person, rather than first person. For example: say you’re taking a break and that inner voice starts to make you feel guilty. You can respond with something like, “I hear you Steven but I’m taking a deserved break right now and I’ll get back to you later.”

Exercise. Physical activity is a tried and true method to reduce stress. Exercise also lets your unleash any built-up aggression or anger in a healthy way. Exercise also releases many different endorphins that can counter the stress hormones in your system.

Relax. There are many different ways to relax, from meditation to sex to sitting quietly in a comfortable chair. Relaxation is key to reducing stress and helping to quiet a stress-addicted mind. Don’t stress if you have trouble relaxing at first. You may need practice to train your mind to relax. Start simple and slow. Don’t expect yourself to be able to reach a level of Zen your first time.

Put yourself first. Set aside some time each day for yourself. This time can be used for anything that you enjoy, as long as it doesn’t add more stress. A massage, yoga class, a walk outside, listening to music, journaling, or gardening are all examples of quality me-time.

References:

  1. Hanna, H. Are You a Stress Addict? The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/are-you-a-stress-addict
  2. Nuwer, R. Are You Addicted to Stress Here’s How to Tell. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/stress-addiction_n_5689123

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