It seems to me that living with stress becomes just a way of life for many of us. We know that it is really bad for us and we say that we would really, really love to stop being stressed. Yet we continue to do what we have always done, hoping that somehow it will all turn out well and that the stress will not, eventually damage us, physically, emotionally, professionally, spiritually and interpersonally. But sooner or later, the stress gets us, one way or another. And yet despite our intelligence and the fact that we have a choice, so many of us continue to respond to our lives in a stressful way.
Have you heard of the Pacific Salmon? These fish struggle upstream to spawn. In order to give them the energy they need to fight the current on this grueling journey, they secrete high levels of the potent stress hormone, cortisol. But the increased cortisol causes the salmon to stop eating. Their digestive tracts wither away. Their immune systems break down. And after laying their eggs, they die of exhaustion and infection, their bodies worn out by the journey. Salmon cannot help being stressed out. They go into stress overdrive and finally die because they are programmed to do this.
We, on the other hand, are usually subject to stress of our own making. We see the consequences of our stress on our compromised immune system, the breakdown of our organs and systems, our depleted energy levels, our decreased lust for life and challenges in our relationships. We take medication for migraines, hearts disease, blood pressure, depression, memory loss and a myriad of other problems all triggered and aggravated by stress. And still we hold onto our stress, often pushing ourselves more and more.
Wouldn’t you say that being unable to give something up that we know is bad for us fits the definition of being an addict?
Are you addicted to your stress?
Here’s how you would know.
- You know you need to make changes in your life that would reduce your stress but you find every excuse in the book to avoid making these changes:
– Now’s not the right time
– I can’t afford to do this financially
– It’s not realistically possible
- You are in a state of denial or avoidance. When someone speaks to you about your stress it goes in one ear and out the other. In the back of your mind you know your stress is chronic but you avoid thinking about it.
- You ignore the link between your stress level and your physical or emotional problems:
– My father and brother have heart disease – it’s a family thing – that’s why I have it too.
– Depression runs in our family.
- You are actually quite proud of how stressed you are – you boast about it – perhaps seeing it as a sign of strength?
– You think you’re stressed, let me tell you about my life!
– Yeah, yeah ‘stress, shmesh’… I just get on with what I have to do.
– I cope best when I am stressed!
Like all addictions, our addiction to stress affects those closest to us – particularly our children. If there is one powerful reason to have the courage and commitment to choose a lower stress lifestyle, it is the fact that our kids absorb our stress. Moms and dads with high stress levels are highly likely to have kids that are stressed. Calm, centered, relaxed and healthy parents have calm, happy, healthy kids.
Like all addictions, giving stress up is tough to do but it is doable. If you think you are addicted to your stress here are 4 things you can start doing immediately:
- Create a vision of how your life would be with less stress. Spend several days thinking about this and writing things in a journal about the stress-less life you can see for yourself and your family. It’s vitally important that you have a picture in your mind of what life could be like for you with less stress. Without this clear picture you will not be able to make it happen.
- Then take each aspect of your life and ask yourself: How can I do this in a happier, calmer, easier way? What will I have to change? What is involved? Who is involved? Who can help me with this?
- Prioritize the changes you need to make – starting with the easiest ones first.
- Reach out and connect with the people and resources that can assist you in achieving each of these changes. Involve those closest to you. Tell them what you want to do and why this is important to you and to them. Get their support.
The best part of letting go of a stress addiction is how good you will begin to feel. Each day, you will feel lighter physically and emotionally, your brain will be clearer and sharper, aches and pains disappear, you laugh more easily, your body posture changes, your eyes sparkle, you are bursting with energy, you see colors, smell smells and you wonder why you never gave up your addiction to stress long ago!
The cherry on the top is the amazingly positive effect this will have on your children!
Have you been able to overcome your stress addiction? We would love to hear how you were able to do this.