How To Tell if You’re Addicted to Stress
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No one is immune to the effects of stress, but what happens when those feelings of tension become a longer-lasting cycle? Research indicates stress levels have been rising for many Americans over the past decade, and the pandemic’s effects worsened these trends. We often think of stress as something we want to avoid, but what happens when it becomes an addiction? A stress addiction isn’t an official diagnosis, but there are indications that, as counterintuitive as it may sound, you can become addicted because of how stress affects your brain.
Stress is the experience of physical or emotional tension. We can experience stress as the result of anything that causes us to feel nervous, frustrated or angry. Our body responds to demanding or challenging events with stress, which can be positive in short bursts. For example, short bursts of stress help us finish a project to meet a deadline or avoid potentially dangerous situations. Stress is part of our fight-or-flight response, allowing us to take on challenging situations. However, longer-lasting or chronic stress can damage your health and well-being.
Acute stress is short-term stress that quickly dissipates. We all experience acute stress at different times. Chronic stress lasts longer and can stem from relationship problems, challenges at work, financial difficulties, health worries or other issues. Stress that’s ongoing for weeks or months is chronic. Unfortunately, people become so used to experiencing chronic stress that they may not realize how it’s affecting them.
Can You Get Addicted to Stress?
When you experience stress, it triggers chemicals in the brain. These chemicals include cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, and dopamine. These chemicals impact our mood, and they’re what lead someone to feel happy. For some people, stress effects on their brains could lead them to seek out stressful situations. The release of dopamine and cortisol in the brain can create a pleasurable surge of feelings.
It’s also possible that stress addiction can stem from growing up in an environment where there was always a sense of high stress. You could, as an adult, get to a point where your natural or comfortable state is feeling on edge. Consistently high cortisol levels keep us in the fight, flight or freeze mode. The more stress we experience growing up, the harder it is to manage as adults. Stress creates a natural high and activates our attention and arousal systems. Stressors, like drugs, can trigger the neural circuits that play a role in craving and wanting.
Signs You May Be Addicted to Stress
How do you know if you’re addicted to stress? For some people, physical health problems may be the first clue. Symptoms of excessive or chronic stress can include:
- High blood pressure
- Appetite changes
- A compromised immune system
People with high-stress levels on an ongoing basis are also more likely to have other addictions, including substance use disorder. You might also find that you’re frequently complaining. When you’re addicted to stress, you may spend a lot of time focusing on how stressful your life is because that’s what feels natural for you.
Other possible signs of stress addiction include:
- Behaviors that have adverse consequences or are harmful
- Seeking out things that create stress
- Feeling bored unless feeling stress
- Continuing to put yourself in situations that are stressful even though you’re experiencing physical symptoms or other issues
- Not practicing self-care
- Physical pain, such as back pain
- Being unable to recall the last time you weren’t stressed
Long-term Effects of Stress
Long-term or chronic stress can lead to a greater risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Menstrual problems
- Skin problems like eczema or acne
Glucocorticoids, including cortisol, help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation. When you experience chronic stress, it can lead to impaired communication with your immune system. That may be associated with several physical and mental health conditions, including chronic fatigue, depression, immune disorders and metabolic disorders. Stress is also related to changes in your gut bacteria and you may experience gut dysfunction or diseases. This can especially affect people with chronic bowel disorders.
The effects of stress over the long term can also impact the reproductive system. Chronic stress can affect sperm and testosterone production in males, leading to lower libido and erectile dysfunction. In women, ongoing stress can reduce sexual desire, impair the ability to conceive and worsen premenstrual or menopausal symptoms.
How To Overcome Stress Addiction
If you feel you’re dealing with stress addiction, there are steps you can take. One is to try psychotherapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy. Therapy can help you explore the root causes of your thoughts and behaviors. Other options include:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Prioritizing sleep
- Eating high-nutrient foods
- Engaging in activities that emotionally recharge you
- Practicing self-care
- Setting boundaries to promote balance in your life
- Meditation or mindfulness
- Participating in a support group
If you’d like to explore how you’re experiencing stress and how it might be impacting your life, the Nobu app is a mental health tool with everything you need. Set goals, track your progress, schedule appointments and attend teletherapy within the app. Download the Nobu app at the App Store or Google Play store.
Take Control Of Your Mental Health
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