Many a husband has joked that his wife or daughter is addicted to shopping. Women…
Can You Be Addicted to Stress?
The questions regarding unusual addictions, those that are not related to drugs or alcohol, abound. Psychologists and medical researchers might conclude that the only true addictions are to mind-altering substances. Some, however, see similarities between the symptoms of drug or alcohol dependence, and a dependence on such things as food, shopping and sex. These non-traditional addictions, which are up for debate regarding validity, are often called behavioral addictions because they involve an action or behavior, rather than a chemical substance. And, while some experts may not recognize them as true addictions, they do see them as behaviors with the potential for compulsion or obsession.
So what about stress? Can stress be considered one of these behavioral addictions? If you thrive on stress, does that mean you are obsessed with it? Neurology researchers have a few things to say about this. That feeling of physical or emotional stress can actually have effects on the chemistry in your brain. It activates your central nervous system and gives you a feeling like a high. It also activates systems in your brain that are related to cravings. These effects sound an awful lot like those from chemically-dependent substances. Before you delve deeper, it’s important to understand just what stress is.
Stress: Eustress vs. Distress
We tend to think of stress as a bad thing, but in reality it can often be good for you. The type of stress that brings positive benefits is called eustress. This is what you feel when you get excited about something or face a surmountable challenge. You experience an increase in your pulse and heart rate, your hormone levels shift, and you feel a sense of excitement, challenge, or happiness, but you do not feel fear or any real danger. You might feel eustress before giving an important presentation at work, when asking someone out on a date, or when going on a ride at an amusement park.
Bad stress that can harm you is called distress. This is the feeling that causes chronic anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. Good stress can go bad when you experience too much of it. You can also experience distress when there seems to be no way out of the situation causing you to feel stressed. Distress makes you feel bad and makes you sick. Research has shown that chronic distress can actually make you physically unwell and lead you to be susceptible to diseases and illnesses.
From Normal Stress to Addictive Behavior
Because researchers have found that stress activates similar neural pathways to those in play during drug addiction, the possibility of behaving like an addict when chronically stressed is very real. The people most likely to succumb to a stress addiction are those that are competitive, often anxious, depressed, or constantly negative.
Those with a stress addiction may start out experiencing stress in a normal way, but then turn to external problems, never-ending to-do lists, or situations out of their control in order to ignore or avoid issues that are more difficult to confront. These may include unresolved personal issues like family problems, low self-esteem, relationship inadequacy or others concerns.
Besides poor physical health, there are other negative consequences of being a stress junkie. You may find that you ignore the needs of others, have difficulty sleeping, or struggle to concentrate on tasks because your agenda of things to do occupies your mind so fully. You may also feel slight feelings of withdrawal or a fear of slowing down. When things become calm, you might find that you feel anxious and like you should have more to do.
What to Do About it
If you are beginning to feel as if you are overdoing the stress or you see the above signs in someone else, there are steps to take to dial it down. Although termed a behavioral addiction, chances are you or your loved one is not at risk of needing a rehabilitation facility for substance abuse. You may, however, need some form of professional help. Counseling or therapy sessions can really make a difference when you feel like stress is out of control in your life. Talking about it helps, as do the calming strategies that an experienced professional can suggest.
If you don’t think you need to turn to therapy yet, try some proven stress-busters. Exercise is one of the best ways to relax your body and mind. Just be sure to ease into it if you are not a regular fitness participant. A yoga class is a great place to start. Being creative can also help. Find time for a creative endeavor that you enjoy such as painting, writing, dancing, or even cooking.