Are You Addicted To Stress?

Are You Addicted To Stress?

Lifestyle | Posted by - January 23, 2017 at 12:00 am

For Victoria Walsh, high stress is part of what it means to be an entrepreneur. The owner of a recipe development and food styling business in Toronto loves her work and has a strict policy to never say no to a gig. That means piling on assignments, juggling family activities and even working through vacations.

“Meeting a huge number of deadlines is rewarding and makes me feel successful,” she says. “When things are slow, I become anxious and fret instead of enjoying the downtime – and it's not really about the money.”

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone: 6.4 million Canadians say they are significantly stressed out, according to Statistics Canada.  That may not be overly surprising considering how jam-packed our lives have become. But here’s what is alarming: experts say that some people may actually be addicted to stress.

“The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol give you energy in the short term, and people like that energized state,” says Dr. Gabor Maté, a Vancouver-based physician and author of When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress (Random House, 2004). “Otherwise there’s an emptiness in their lives.”

If you normally function at a high-octane level of stress, periods of calm may feel uncomfortable or even depressing – and that may lead you to seek out your next high-pressure fix. In a New York Times viral article entitled The Busy Trap, author Tim Kreider observes that the people who complain the most about being super-busy aren’t those who jam-pack their lives with self-imposed stressors. “They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence,” he writes.

In small doses, this “fight-or-flight” response can work to your advantage by giving you the drive you need to overcome challenges.To understand how stress can give you a feel-good high, let’s start with a 101 on the physical process: When you’re confronted with a threatening situation – whether it’s a looming deadline or rabid dog –your brain signals the adrenal glands to release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, to help you either fight off the threat or flee the scene. Adrenaline increases your blood pressure, giving you the go-go energy you’d need to do battle or hightail it to safer ground. Cortisol increases glucose in your blood stream and helps your brain use energy efficiently. It also suppresses functions such as the immune system that might not be useful in a dangerous situation.

“Short-term stress can be a satisfying experience, if it’s alternated with rest,” Maté explains. “But if somebody is stressed all the time, the rest doesn’t feel normal because they don’t feel like they are proving their purpose.”

Chronic stress can mask emotional pain and self-doubt just like drugs and alcohol can – and the health risks may be similarly high. Overexposure to stress hormones can be extremely disruptive to almost all of your body’s processes. “There’s so much research that shows almost any illness can be triggered by stress, from arthritis and multiple sclerosis to heart disease and cancer,” Maté says.

While some people may thrive in high-pressure situations (perhaps you really do create your best work at 4 a.m. on deadline day), stress becomes an unhealthy addiction if it starts negatively impacting your life socially, physically or emotionally. When that happens, it may be time to seek help.

“The first step is recognizing that it’s a habit and not who you are as a person,” Maté says. The good news: habits can be broken. Therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness mediation and cognitive behavioural therapy can help you change the behaviour that keeps you trapped in a stress cyclone. “The problem isn’t your work; it’s how you relate to it,” Maté says. “You can be a committed entrepreneur without being addicted to stress.”

Tags: addiction, adrenaline, chronic stress, stress, time management, health, downtime, entrepreneur, lifestyle, mental health, pressure

Jennifer Goldberg
Jennifer Goldberg is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She's an avid magazine reader, art lover and co-founder of Tavanberg, a multiplatform content agency in Toronto. She has edited or written for Best Health, Flare, the Globe and Mail, and more. Check out her work at Twitter: @jennmg
Matt Thorpe
April 2, 2016 at 10:06 am
We spend a lot of time, money and resources on the topic of Stress. In the business world, it's tough making it all happen on a daily basis even though our commitment's and passion are always there. I use to always think I was Stressed out when really I was just afraid of what was happening behind me which was showing up in front of me. We need to start talking about the FEARS that we have within us and once we resolve those the world of Stress continues to be an Illusion!!! Stress is nothing but FEAR!!! Let's start talk about it because we all have it.
Alan Frew
April 2, 2016 at 1:18 pm
I was always one for saying that instead of fighting stress I would accept it, I would "embrace" it, make it work for me,
I was on meds for high blood pressure and high cholesterol for several years.
About two years ago I took up swimming seriously as my major form of exercise. I shed weight, was feeling fighting fit, but the stress of my work and my life continued. Feeling physically so good I got lazy with my meds taking them less frequently if at all. On August 20th 2016 I suffered a devastating stroke. My neurologist claims that it was directly a result of my high cholesterol and BP but interestingly a neuro-surgeon I consulted said that he feels my stress factor most likely contributed far greater to my suffering the stroke than my not taking my prescribed drugs. Food for thought.

Alan Frew
Joe Wasylyk
January 29, 2017 at 2:31 pm
I think that a couple of ounces or less of stress is good for you because it keeps you from getting unfocused or even lethargic. However; if a specific project you are working on is causing you to be heavily stressed out then break away, call a time out or even abandon it. Personally, I wrote 36-only articles for my Blog. My articles require significant time for research activity because they are not just based on personal opinion. Doing research work where there are fewer sources of information caused me a lot of stress. To combat my affliction I decided to take a sabbatical from my blog writing. What a stress relief this decision has been for me!

Another fact is entrepreneurs must consider the extremely high failure rate of 90% or higher that their own small businesses or projects will fail. As a result, this will produce an extra ordinary amount of stress. If the right decision isn't made here it's a well known fact that health issues can appear, which will probably compound the amount of stress for the entrepreneur. The key is managing your stress level for optimum success in your entrepreneurial endeavor.
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