Overflowing inboxes and endless to-do lists prevent many of us from taking time to stop and smell the flowers. Given the choice, though, would we? Turns out some experts believe we can actually become addicted to stress.
As addicts, we become addicted to just about anything that produces a rush or chemical reaction. Stress produces cortisol, a hormone that is a component of the fight or flight syndrome. When people become habitual worriers and let fear run the show, stress addiction becomes almost an automatic response.
Stress can be physical, like what we subject our muscles to at the gym. And then there’s the kind that’s in our heads — that OMG I’m so overwhelmed right now feeling. Still, in some cases, stress does more than light a productivity-boosting fire under our butts. Both emotional and physical stress activate our central nervous system, causing a natural high. Stressors can also wake up the neural circuitry underlying wanting and craving — just like drugs do. Gee, no wonder so many addicts and alcoholics have a propensity to stress!
But we have the solution at our fingertips. For those of us who do not like living on “Question Mark Island,” our third step give us the opportunity to give the situation to a higher power that is better suited to handle our dilemma. If we could not stop drinking and using on our own, how can we stop the stock market from crashing? Step one tells me that I am powerless over my first thought, but not whether or not I water and nurture that negative thought. Step two allows me to take a breather and consider a shot at some sanity. I also discovered an outline for the budding stress addict, or for those of us who tend to get overwhelmed:
Do something creative. Carving out a once-weekly time not to think about tomorrow’s agenda by painting, cooking, writing, dancing, or anything else that’ll take you off the clock temporarily.
Take it outside. Numerous studies show spending time in nature improves general well being, lowers anxiety, stress and depression and even boosts self-confidence. Especially for women. (As it turns out, most addiction recovery centers offer outdoor immersion programs.)
Calm down quickly but breathing slowly and deeply. Breath work changes the chemical response in the brain.
In a nutshell, step 10 asks me to pause when agitated or doubtful. The pause can include some of the above, or a simple phone call to an AA buddy. Breathing helps, and so do meetings. Simple but not always easy. One day at a time, we can wear our sobriety like a loose garment, instead of a stressful corset.