Addicts will tell you that their drug of choice made them feel good before it started making them feel bad. That makes sense if it’s something like alcohol or heroin but, according to clinical psychologist and author Dr. Lindsay Gibson, the same is true for stress addiction.
Not all stress is bad of course, as it helps us to get things done and cultivate more resilience. A little bit of stress can feel invigorating and give our life purpose. The problem becomes when we live in a place of chronic stress. To find out if you’re a stressaholic, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you feel guilty or lazy if you’re not being productive?
- Do your many stressful responsibilities make you feel important?
- Do you pride yourself on staying super-busy and productive?
- Does pushing yourself to get everything done give you a sense of meaningfulness?
- Do you feel like no one else could do what needs to be done better than you?
- Does a high level of activity and sense of commitment feel like the norm to you?
- Are you self-critical and judgmental?
- Are you demanding of, and put a lot of pressure on, yourself?
- Do you feel worthwhile only if you’re busy?
- Do you secretly wish that others would be impressed by your demanding schedule?
- If you try to slow down, do you feel empty or depressed (which is actually addiction withdrawal)?
If you answered yes to more than a few of these questions, you might be a stressaholic. You may not realize you’re addicted to stress though, Dr. Gibson says, because the longer you live like this, the more habituated you become to it—just like with intoxicants. However, while your tolerance to stress continues to increase, the damaging effects on your body remain the same. All the while, you’re too busy to even realize these effects. Symptoms like anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, overeating, weight gain, hormone imbalances and lack of focus just seem normal, expected and accepted. The longer you go without addressing these symptoms, however, the worse your body suffers. Stress is slowly killing you.
The first step in changing this destructive behavior is realizing that you are inflicting much of this stress upon yourself by listening to what I call ‘the voices in your head.’ Many of us got messages in childhood (and continue to get them from our culture) that our sense of worth is tied to our productivity, so we are constantly feeling like we need to prove ourselves. Dr. Gibson says that while alcoholics drink to quiet that voice in their head, stressaholics overwork themselves to silence that inner judge. This, of course, leads to intense self-neglect.
Once we have realized that we might be subconsciously inflicting this deadly behavior upon ourselves, what then? The answer is to practice slowing down enough to be able to pay more attention to how you’re feeling and what you need. Practices like yoga (even just 15 minutes a day) and meditation can help you start to unwind and become more present. A contemplative retreat is a wonderful way to give yourself a larger amount of time but, if you don’t feel you can get away for a whole weekend, even a three hour Mini Retreat will do wonders. And if you’re ready do some inner work around your addiction to stress, self-paced courses like my Stop Sabotaging Your Self Care course can help you get to the root causes of your stressful habits and make real change. By taking the time to turn your focus inward, you may be astonished at how desensitized you’ve become, as well as a bit guilty about how long you’ve been ignoring the signs of physical and emotional unease from your body. But once you do start reconnecting to yourself, you will be better able to realize when you are getting caught up in the stress cycle and stop it in its tracks. Remember, this is not an overnight fix. It’s going to take some work and effort on your part. But starting is the key, and it is my mission to help you. I’ve been there, and I’ve gone through the process–and I can guide you through it too. Some small but effective changes can make a big difference in your life and the lives of those around you.
If you’re ready to release stress, get your health back on track, and feel better in your body, I encourage you to take a look at all the various stress-relieving offerings on my website, and contact me with questions.