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Stress Addiction

For many years I lived in a mindset that the more stress I was under, the more powerful I was. By telling people how busy I was, I felt important. With a stress addicted life comes many negative behaviors. Being overly stressed meant I self-medicated more. For a long time that self-medication was alcohol. The only positive thing that came out of being a stress addict for me was eventual sobriety and finally learning mindfulness. Once the pain was no longer worth the power I thought I was getting out of being “busy,” I found solutions to living a more peaceful, balanced life.

Origins of stress

Our oldest ancestors, the hunter-gatherers, lived in communities, which was necessary for survival. Around 12,000 years ago, the agricultural shift started, which allowed us to stay in one place, but still requiring community for survival. A couple of hundred years ago the industrial revolution came into play and that is where the demise of community began. We don’t have villages to support us any longer. We basically exist in boxes and drive boxes and work in boxes with our 2.5 kids, our 40 plus hours a week behind a desk, and the things we use to numb out from it all. When survival is no longer a culture’s primary goal, the connection to our most basic human need becomes disconnected. Humans are capable of great things, but as a society we’re trying to balance that which is not meant to be balanced. It’s like taking a cracked foundation and trying to build a three-story house on it. The results will not be successful until we repair or rebuild that foundation.

Why are we chronically stressed?

The autonomic nervous system comprises two antagonistic sets of nerves, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, our resting and calm state. This is the place we want to operate out of most of the time. Our bodies thrive when we’re relaxed and in conjunction with other behaviors like optimal eating habits, good sleep, appropriate fitness, and mindfulness, we can live very healthy, peaceful lives if we stay in parasympathetic mode.

Now let’s discuss the sympathetic mode. This is the fight or flight state, which releases Cortisol into our bodies when the stress response is triggered. If acutely triggered, this nervous system response is manageable. For instance, you narrowly escape having a car accident. Your heart races, a flood of endorphins rushes into your body. Maybe you breathe heavy for a few minutes. This is not a great stress on our body because it mimics behavior our ancestors would have to save them from predators. We’re evolved over millions of years to respond in this way.

Problems arise when we are chronically stressed. Much of the population is living in fight or flight mode and isn’t even aware. Imagine you’re sitting in traffic and you’re getting angry because it’s not moving or someone cut you off. You’re worried about being late to the next place you’re going. All of those behaviors are dangerous to your health. Unfortunately our culture breeds this behavior. The media is constantly in our face either with televisions, computers, smart phones. The constant input of information perpetuates the belief that we need more information at our fingertips than we already have. It also tricks us into thinking we need to always be doing more, working more, impressing more.

Modern Day Causes of Chronic Stress

Illness Difficult relationships with family, spouses, coworkers, & friends
Unhappy work environment Debt
Poor nutrition Working too much
Unemployment Raising children
Not sleeping enough Lack of exercise
Too much exercise Perfectionism
Engaging in debates on social media Watching the news
Drinking and eating stimulants Being a victim of life
Anger in traffic  Depression

 

There are many other sources that can cause chronic stress but these are common examples that we should take into consideration.

What about those people who just take life as it comes and seem to never get up in arms about anything negative? They are a fortunate minority. For the rest of us suffering externally and internally over what’s happening in life, we have to find some solutions to change our behaviors and thoughts so they don’t end up making us sick.

Risks of Chronic Stress

Depression Anxiety
Diabetes Hypertension
Weight gain especially in the midsection (spare tire) Addiction
Sleep issues Digestive dysfunction

 

Putting perfectionism pressure on our selves is not conducive to living a healthful life. We do not need all of those things we think are so important. We do need to learn mindfulness and create supporting and loving communities to lean on. We need to stop living to work and start working to live. We need to smell the roses literally and figuratively.

Overcoming the perils of stress addiction will look different for everyone. Here are some tips to get you started!

Community:

If you’re in recovery, you’re in luck! There is a community of people just like you working to overcome the same struggles you have. Find a twelve-step group that fits your needs. Go to meetings early, often, and stay late. Get lots of phone numbers and ask people to join you for conversation and food, two of my favorite past times!

If you’re religious or spiritual, join a church.

Join a local group of people who have the same interests or hobbies that you do. Meetup.com is a great resource for that.

Host a potluck and invite your neighbors. Get to know the people who live in your built in community.

Volunteer for a cause close to your heart. This is a great way to not only join a community, but to also get some service work in.

Most of all put yourself out there to invite others into your life. The internet does not count. We need face-to-face connections with people to release the healthy chemicals into our body that benefit stress management.

Slow Down: 

Breathe! Such a simple exercise that so many of us take for granted. We all breathe, but do we really BREATHE? Just stop what you’re doing this moment and take three deep breaths. Notice how you feel. Now do that throughout the day and anytime you feel stressed. This simple task alone can change your life in great ways.

Meditate. Don’t be a perfectionist about meditation. The practice of trying to clear the thoughts is the key, not the actual clearing of the thoughts that come in while you’re in the middle of your meditation. That’s why they call it “your practice” versus “winning.” Pick whichever method is most desirable to you. There are guided meditations, quietly sitting meditation, and many others. Do some research and try them all. The scientific studies of the mental and physical benefits of meditation are numerous so get some of those benefits for your self today. We offer free guided recovery based meditations when you sign up for our email list.

Nutrition and Digestion:

Your body needs good fuel to function. Eating inflammatory foods will not improve your stress management abilities. Refer to our Evolved Recovery podcast for the foods we recommend. Proper digestion is just as important as what you put into your body. Get relaxed before you put that first bite into your mouth. Let the worries of your day wash off of you. Take deep breaths and sit in a comfortable, calming environment to enjoy your meals.

In addition to these tips make sure your sleep is dialed in, which means no less than 7-8 hours a night. Move your body, get safe exposure to sunlight when possible, balance your workouts, and make sure you play. The best medicine for stress addiction is feeling like a child without worry so go out there and enjoy yourself!

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