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Could you be addicted to Stress?

If you are someone that always seems to be stressed out, and constantly looking for more to add to your to-do list instead of managing well what you already have on it, then you might be an addict.


Admittedly there are two sides to the impact of stress; there’s a good side which can help you to achieve your best work, support you to learn new skills and pay attention to the details when it matters. However the other side of stress, the less helpful side, is that in large doses it can make you feel overwhelmed, miserable and erode your self-confidence. However, this less helpful side of stress is often linked to having perfectionist tendencies, not wanting to miss out and the belief that it will get better with the more you accomplish.


It’s important to recognise that it is human to take breaks and that everyone needs them.


It might seem silly to be addicted to something that can affect you so negatively however our relationship to stress is adaptive and at some stage it did support you, but now it no longer does.  


What Being Addicted to Stress Looks Like

It’s often hard to determine if you are addicted to stress, especially if you are used to being in a stressed state or you are surrounded by stressed-out people; either at work, home or amongst friends. The human body is amazing and can adapt to stressors in our life without us asking it to. As a result, stress has a compounding effect. It creeps up on us and for people with chronic stress, it is very difficult to determine whether you got there because of how you manage stress or if it was because you actively looked for it and now have too much of it or have been exposed to it for too long without respite.


Here are some common signs that you might be addicted to stress:


  1. Never having any free time – If you feel like you never have free time, and your diary is jam-packed then you might be addicted to stress. Even people who are incredibly busy most of the time, with a busy schedule, still make time to rest and rejuvenate to sustain themselves for the busy schedule. If you look at your upcoming schedule and struggle to find any free time in it, it is more than likely that you are seeking more things out to fill your schedule.


  1. Constantly packing your schedule – If an emptier diary fills you with dread, so much so you are motivated to fill it by offering to help out others, deciding against delegating tasks so you have more to do, or adding more tasks to the tasks you already have then you may be addicted to stress. Or perhaps you decide to learn a new skill or take up a hobby to fill your spare time so you have more to do. Admittedly there is nothing wrong with working hard and getting ahead in your life, but if there is an underlying story that makes you feel like you have to be this way, e.g. “This is what it means to be successful, happy etc.”, then that’s a big sign that you could be addicted to the stress and overwhelm that a busy life brings you.


  1. Being bored when you have nothing to do – For those rare occasions when you have nothing to do and no plans, are you bored? Do you struggle with what to do with your time? Do you feel uneasy when you have free time? Does a narrative start in your head about what you could or should be doing instead? If so, these could be other signs of being addicted to the stress.


  1. Feeling more accomplished when you are busier – You might be someone who values outputs and outcomes and as a result feels more accomplished the more you have to do. That somehow lack of sleep, 70-hour work weeks, and never having time for friends and family just means you are working harder than them, dreaming big, and being more accomplished. You may also find you are focusing on the tasks more than the accompanying relationships which is not a healthy long-term attitude to have. As a human being, you need rest, both for your mind and your body and you need to focus on the task and the relationship to get things done well.


  1. Starting to compensate for not sleeping well – You might has fallen into a rhythm where you regularly sleep 7 hours or less a night and have found other ways to compensate for an under-slept brain. You start to rely on caffeine, sugar, exercise or a busy schedule to keep you alert during the day and at night you struggle to sleep; either to fall asleep or stay asleep, due to racing thoughts and worry. This is a sign your addiction to stress has exceeded your current capacity to manage it.


  1. Being Used to the Feeling of Overwhelm – This is a sign that doesn’t seem like a problem however it can be one of the worst of all. If you spend so much of your time stressed out and overwhelmed, you might not even realize the stress anymore. You get used to it, and you become accustomed to that feeling of unease, you have adapted to the mental and physical signs of stress and as a result may miss any further signs of unwell-ness until they cannot be ignored.


How to Get a Handle on Your Stress Addiction

If any of this sounds like you, now is a good time to review your situation and understand your drivers for the stress addiction. It’s easy to blame your situation on the job, or the incompetence of others, or the busy-ness of a young family however as one of my mentors Jon Kabat-Zinn says “Wherever you go, there you are”. As a result, things are not going to change until YOU make some changes. The first step is acknowledging and accepting that you are dealing with chronic stress and that you might be seeking it out.

Stress is common, but not normal.

If you are used to enduring large amounts of stress for prolonged periods, then you may want to start making small changes so that you do not experience a ‘Feast-Famine change’ which could make the change unsettling.

Here are some suggestions you can consider to reduce your stress in simple ways. 

  • Review your commitments and consider if you really need to do them all, and if not how best to cancel your involvement. Indeed, some may only need to be postponed.
  • Set a time limit for how long you are going to work each working day and commit to what you are going to achieve each day.
  • Set aside some time each day for 'free time' and use it for that. 
  • Recognise you don't need to be involved in everything.
  • Ask yourself if you're working longer hours to avoid something else. 
  • Regularise your sleep patterns for going to sleep and waking. 


Make small changes, and you will notice the difference very quickly. 

Speak to Martine about your stress levels? 

Do you want to live a life of grace and ease? Do you want your life to compliment who you are? Do you smile politely even when you REALLY want to give feedback? Are you struggling to make changes in your life that you know will benefit you?   

It might be time to talk to a professional. Click here to book in a no obligation 30-minute call to see if what you're struggling with and how I work might be a good match for you to achieve your goals. 

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