Quitting Your Addiction to Stress
When you think of things you might be addicted to, stress is never on your list, is it? Some people might put alcohol or nicotine, caffeine or even social media – but stress isn’t even considered.
However, many people don’t realize it, but stress can become an addiction over time. It’s all due to the subtle scientific reactions within your body, when the stress hormone cortisol floods your system and allows you to deal with harrowing situations.
Your adrenaline increases and you find yourself powering through tasks and completing projects with ease. When you’re not under pressure, you find yourself dragging on, procrastinating and struggling to the finish line.
Some people laugh this off by saying they “work better under pressure,” and this is why. It’s an addiction to the stress from a chemical standpoint. It’s not just a mental preference.
The problem is, when you start suffering from chronic stress, it not only puts your health at risk, but it also affects your personal and professional relationships. Over time, your quality of life diminishes and you reach a point where you’re unable to accomplish anything without stress – a very sad way to live your life.
What Does It Mean to Be Addicted to Stress?
Stress is something that can give you a reaction in the brain that’s a similar feeling to what you get from taking drugs or drinking alcohol. This kind of high is a result of the brain releasing chemicals that make you feel good.
Some people may not realize their stress addiction until they start analyzing their habits. If you tend to procrastinate until something happens that puts pressure on you where you get a dose of stress and use it to fuel your productivity, that’s a stress addiction.
You feel good because have a lot of energy and your feelings are high. All of this occurred because of whatever stress that happened. You can also tell if you’re addicted to stress by what your life looks like.
There’s rarely any peace within it. In fact, your life is like an advertisement for stress. You’re rarely calm and you’re always frazzled. You don’t find it boring because there’s always something going on.
There are rarely any down moments because you’re too busy racing from place to place. It feels like you practically live in your car because you’re never getting any down time.
Relaxation isn’t something that’s in your vocabulary. You might think about it every now and then, but you don’t ever get to do it. Or, it could be that you’ve got a full load of pressure.
There’s drama and stress and it always seems like there’s a personal or professional fire to put out. You might be stretched too thin, feeling like you’re burning the candle at both ends, but it doesn’t really bother you.
Life isn’t bad, you tell yourself. It’s just hectic and when you handle all the stressors that come your way, you end up feeling empowered, like you’ve accomplished a lot. An addiction to stress also manifests itself by what you reveal about your life to other people.
One way that people do this is by putting stuff on social media. For you, social media isn’t really a place you go to in order to see how your friends or family are doing. It’s usually all about you – how other people made you mad, hurt your feelings or took advantage of you in some way.
You’re always posting that kind of stuff on social media and the topic centers around your stress – how hectic everything has been for you or what’s going on in your day and how that turned into stress.
You might talk about why you feel so stressed out – because you didn’t sleep, haven’t eaten, aren’t making enough money at your job, had a fight with your friend and how you’ve always been the one compromising and not her or him.
Or you might mention how angry or anxious you are because of what you went through in the past or because of emotional issues now. On your social media, you get online and bemoan often in detail what’s going on in your intimate relationship or with your family or coworkers.
You talk about what awful thing was said to you or what bad thing you had to deal with, like you had to do more than your fair share of work. You talk about the pressure that put on you and how you worked late and rushed home and didn’t even get to eat.
Stuff like that happens to everyone because life itself can be hectic. But the thing about a stress addiction is that you post things like this all the time and it’s a huge deal to you. You talk about putting gas in your car and it becomes an effort comparable to running a marathon.
Or you mention going to the grocery store and what the store was out of and how someone cut you off in line or failed to return their shopping cart. You might talk about the effort it takes to pay the bills or get the dog to the groomer.
Nothing that you talk about is ever a simple task or enjoyable. There’s always drama and stress associated with it. Whatever you do can’t just be a normal thing. It always has to be bigger and more stressful than the situation calls for and much worse than what anyone else is dealing with.
What you don’t realize is that others on social media who also deal with stress will start to view you as a drama magnet. They’ll think that nothing in your life can ever be simple – that it always has to be bigger than it really is.
People who are addicted to drama are usually posting negative things or complaining non-stop about their life. When you talk to people at work or your friends or family, your life is all about the stress and you don’t really feel bad about all that because to you, your stress isn’t a bad thing.
It’s something that’s part of your life and you’ve become used to enjoying the high that it gives you to be a fighter. Be aware that when you begin garnering that kind of reputation, people will avoid you. This adds to your stress, but you’ll just use it to fuel your fire even more.
Consequences for Failing to Break Your Stress Addiction
You know how life goes. There’s always something that interrupts your plans and it happens on the day when you can least afford to encounter a stressor. You might be on your way to work because you have to go over a project with your boss before the client gets there for a scheduled appointment.
But the next thing you know, you’re trapped in a traffic jam. There’s no way around it and you can’t turn back. You’re just stuck. When this happens, your body reacts and floods your system with stress hormones.
The reaction from your body is based on the fight or flight response and it’s meant to be a help to you. However, when the situation isn’t life or death, this response isn’t needed.
When this is an occasional circumstance where you get a flood or stress hormones, it’s not a big deal.
But you start to have it even when you’re dealing with a mundane stressor because you don’t know the right coping techniques to turn to. When your body is constantly getting this flood of hormones, it affects you by giving you that brain chemical high.
It’s easy to get addicted to wanting to get that boost of chemicals. You feel good to some degree when you first get it, but over time, this constant cycle of having a stress response within the body wreaks havoc on your physical health.
Over time, the overuse of your stress hormone starts to take a toll on your immune system. This happens because your body has something known as natural killer cells. These are designed to battle against serious conditions such as cancer, but these cells are also designed to fight things like bacterial or viral illnesses.
They work to protect your immunity. Stress weakens the ability of these cells to work the way that they’re supposed to, leaving you with little protection so you’re constantly catching whatever is going around.
It’s not just illnesses that you’ll face more often when you fail to break your stress addiction. You’ll be at a higher risk for developing conditions that are related to stress such as diabetes.
When you get stressed, it raises your glucose level – even if you don’t have the disease.
Stress can make you more likely to have a heart attack because when you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up.
The flood of stress hormones that you get are supposed to temporarily narrow your blood vessels. But when you’re addicted to stress, these blood vessels can be constantly narrowed, which restricts blood flow and oxygen to the heart.
When you’re stressed, it can also affect your digestive health. You can develop nausea, stomach cramps and suffer from diarrhea or constipation. You can also suffer from heartburn.
People who are addicted to stress can develop reproductive problems. Women might skip a monthly cycle or they might notice that their periods last longer, while men can experience lower levels of testosterone, which is linked with impotence.
But it’s not just your physical health that will show the signs of stress. You can also struggle with mental health. For many people, prolonged exposure to stress, such as with a stress addiction, can cause depression.
This happens because the stress hormones linger, and you don’t get that break from them that you’re normally supposed to get. It’s common for stress to have an impact on your emotions and when you constantly get that flood of stress hormones, it brings out negative feelings such as grief, which can lead to depression.
Anxiety is another consequence of not dealing with a stress addiction. You don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to develop anxiety. This is something that happens as a result of whatever stress you have in your life.
When you have anxiety, it can show up as both physical and emotional symptoms. When it has to do with your mental health, the anxiety that you experience usually reveals itself through a feeling of dread.
You might feel nervous at random times or consistently. Sometimes anxiety can show up as feeling like something is just off. You feel wary. This mental reaction can happen whenever you’re about to face a situation or when you think about that situation.
It can also happen because you fear the results of a situation. When stress is what’s behind your anxiety, then what you’re experiencing lingers and doesn’t just go away. Not dealing with stress can also lead to panic attacks.
A panic attack is what happens when you get a feeling of overwhelming fear or you experience a deep anxiety. Panic attacks can happen with or without physical side effects.
Many people who have stress and develop panic attacks have these because of something in the past that they haven’t dealt with, stress addiction, or something that they’re afraid of that might occur that hasn’t happened yet.
A panic attack is a sense of impending doom, even if nothing bad is going on at the moment or they’re not in any danger. These attacks are a clear sign for the person who has them that something needs to be treated so that it can end.
When a panic attack disrupts your daily routine and you have difficulty being able to carry on, this a severe episode and may need professional treatment. As a result of your mental health suffering because of stress, you can start feeling dissatisfied with life.
You just feel like something is missing. This can happen when you’re not happy with the person you are. You might experience self-doubt along with this dissatisfaction. You might also have low self-esteem and you don’t like what you see when you look in the mirror.
You don’t like your job, your relationships, or where you stand in life. It’s at this point that many people start turning to coping addictions to try to fill the void and feel better about themselves and their lives.
Analyze Where Your Stress Stems From
Stress doesn’t just spring up for no reason. There’s always something that drives it and it can come from more than one direction at the same time. But if you know where it comes from, then it can help you know how to deal with it.
Work is a big cause of stress. You might get overworked because you’re working too many hours. This happens to a lot of people when they work long days, long schedules without a day off or overtime.
But it can also happen when you work on projects or tasks that require a lot of mental focus. You might have work stress because of the relationship you have with your coworkers or your boss.
It might be that there’s no cohesiveness and no one really works as a team. There might be infighting, bickering and blaming going on. But it could also be that at your job you just don’t feel fulfilled.
You’re not happy there and this can cause you stress. Lack of time is another cause of stress. This happens when it feels like you’re so on the go – whether physically, mentally or both – that you can barely catch your breath.
Your schedule is packed from morning to night. You don’t have time to eat right or exercise and you’re always having to juggle things. You can’t get everything done, so you have to put it off and then you end up feeling guilty.
Money, or rather the lack of it, is a huge area of life that can cause stress. This kind of stress usually occurs when there’s not enough money to cover even the minimum that you need to live.
You might struggle to be able to pay your electric bill or other utilities. There might be times when you have to choose between paying a bill or buying groceries. This kind of stress can cause a lot of mental and physical damage because it affects your instinctual survival mechanism.
It’s easier to feel more fear or anxiety when you don’t have enough money to take care of your basic needs. Maybe you don’t have enough money for the things that you want to do.
You can’t go on vacation because the funds just aren’t there. Or you can’t spruce up your home. Sometimes this lack of money can make it difficult to do fun things in life so you don’t really get to have a way to de-stress.
You might even feel like all you do is work, go home, sleep and wait for the cycle to begin again the next day. Relationships could be what’s causing your stress – especially if you’re in a toxic one.
If you’re in an intimate relationship and there’s a lot of resentment and criticism, that can be a sign that it’s toxic. Or maybe you can’t trust the other person. There might be little or no communication.
You can have a toxic relationship with your parents that might be the source of your stress. Some signs that this is what’s going on could be that your parents are constantly criticizing you or your decisions in life.
They may be demanding and want money or excessive attention. They’ll send you on a guilt trip if you tell them no about anything. If you make them angry, they might give you the silent treatment.
Your friends can be a source of stress, too. Your friendship is filled with drama. They don’t listen to your boundaries and take more than they give. They might put you down and act like they were just joking with their unkind statements or behaviors.
Children can also be a cause of stress. They can be disrespectful, uncaring of your opinion, unwilling to listen or to change behaviors that are emotionally damaging to you. If they’re adults and have children of their own, they might use their children as a control method.
They might start by saying something like, “You don’t get to see the kids unless you do…” whatever it is they want. Or they’ll freeze you out of their lives if they don’t like something you say.
You might feel like you’re walking on eggshells. Anytime you feel like that, it’s a sign of stress as well as a sign of a toxic relationship and something needing to change. Parenting can be a huge source of stress.
You might have kids who are out of control. They might be disrespectful and manipulative. They might shout and argue, call you names, fight with their siblings and never follow the rules.
Or it could be that you’re all alone in parenting. This can happen to single parents, but it can also happen to parents in a relationship when one is the only person taking care of the kids.
It can be stressful to feel like you have no help dealing with the kids. Health woes can be a cause of stress. If you’re always in pain, this can cause you to become anxious or depressed.
You might worry about how you’re going to be able to function. Maybe you have headaches that steal a lot of your energy as well as cause you frustration. Or maybe your health is bad because you have something more serious, such as diabetes or cancer.
Living with a disease, especially if it’s a scary one, causes you stress because the mental effort it takes to deal with the care and worries about the future. Superficial stress is the kind of stress that happens over small things.
This might be something like the paperboy throws your newspaper too far or hits your door with it. It could be that someone in your house has an annoying habit like not putting the cap back on the toothpaste or leaving wet towels on the floor.
Even though these seem insignificant, they can still stress you. But if you track what’s behind your stress, you can find relief. Write down what caused your stress and what was going on with your emotions during the moment of stress.
Once you know where it comes from and what triggers it, then you’ll have the knowledge that you need to create a plan to attack the stress and get rid of it or manage it whenever it occurs.
Figure Out What You Can Quit Cold Turkey
It’s important that you don’t allow your stress to continue. There are some things in your life that you can do right now to stop it. Look at the things that you can quit cold turkey to change your stress levels in order to gain peace.
Work might be one of these things. It’s true that you need to work in order to be able to take care of your financial needs, but it might be that you don’t have to work at that particular job – the one that’s always causing you stress.
It isn’t worth that paycheck because you’re surrendering your mental and physical health. No amount of money can buy that for you. It could be that you can stay with the same company, but you just need to change the position that you’re in.
When work is the source of stress, talk to your boss or HR about it and see what can be done. If that’s not possible, or doesn’t help, then find a different company. Time is a big source of stress for a lot of people.
You might be running to and from errands, always on the go with very little time for yourself. You rarely ever relax and you can’t even recall the last time that you went on vacation.
Everyone has 24 hours in a day. When a lack of time or overextending yourself is the culprit behind your stress, easing up on your commitments can give you some breathing room.
Look at all of the events that you engage in on a weekly basis. You’ll find that not everything is essential to your survival, or to your happiness. Cut out extracurricular activities that take up too much time, and that aren’t really at the top of your enjoyment or priority list.
When you’re at work, don’t try to be the person that shoulders everything. Let others do their own work and delegate tasks that you can and should hand off to someone else. Do the same thing when you’re at home.
You’re one person. You can’t work, run errands, take care of home responsibilities, be there for a significant other, raise kids, spend time with your family and manage finances alone.
You’ll break before you ever run out of items on your to do list. When there are more responsibilities than there are time and energy, get others to share the load. Someone else can pitch in with the home responsibilities, and with the kids.
Divide up whatever needs to be done and get the entire family involved. When you want relief from stress, you need to break any habit that might be fueling that stress. If you have money issues, you need a budget and you have to stop wasting money on things that aren’t absolutely necessary.
If you set a financial goal and tighten your belt now, then you’ll find that the money stress eases. This might mean that you have to give up wasting money in areas that aren’t imperative to your needs, such as paying almost $5 or more for a cup of coffee.
It might also mean that you need to stop spending money on eating out. It’s cheaper and healthier to eat at home anyway. With the money that you save by not eating out or spending on impulse buys, you can pay off debt, start a savings account and eventually have the money that you want to have to do what you please.
Giving up things to get rid of stress might mean that you need to make some relationship changes. If you’re involved with someone who’s toxic, get rid of that relationship.
Stop hanging out with that friend. Break up with that intimate partner. Sometimes, you can’t or don’t want to cut ties with a bad relationship because you’re related to them. If that’s the case, work on that relationship or set boundaries.
Establish some changes that help you deal with the stress. Learn to say no. Limit the amount of time that you spend in that person’s presence. Go to therapy if you need to so that you learn the coping skills needed to deal with the words or actions of the other person.
Parenting is one of those things that you can’t just quit. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t let go of some of things in the relationship with your child that are causing the stress.
Not everything with your children has to be a battle. Sometimes by letting go, you actually gain more. If you’re the parent of a toddler and you’re stressed out because they scream and throw a fit every time you try to choose their outfit, then create a strategy that allows you to give them a choice in the matter.
Quit battling over food choices – whether your child is younger or a teenager. That phase of only wanting one dish will change eventually. Don’t argue endlessly with a child over a messy bedroom or bathroom.
They will survive if they don’t clean it the way you want it and so will you. It might be difficult, but ignore that battle and keep the door to their room closed. Give up fighting about the hairstyle that your kid wants to wear.
Kids and teens have preferences that are always evolving, so don’t get hung up on one look. Quit fretting and battling over future plans. You might not like what they’re thinking of doing or the fact that they’re not making any plans for the future, but your kids will figure it out in the long run.
Take a look at your health if that’s what’s stressing you and quit the habits that you’re doing that are causing problems for your body. This might be eating the wrong things or not exercising.
It could be that you’re staying up too late and not getting the sleep that you need. Maybe you have an addiction that you need to let go of. If certain foods such as sugar are causing you headaches, then quit it cold turkey.
If you have a medical condition, stop procrastinating about taking care of what you need to take care of. Quit being lazy about your health because it’s your future. Superficial stress is something that you can quit cold turkey.
When something is insignificant, don’t trade your mental well-being or your physical well-being by putting up with it. When something bothers you, decide once and for all that you’re done with it. Then let it go and don’t look back.
Curb Your Public Complaining
When you curb your public complaining, you’ll discover that you feel more grateful about life. Plus, your stress levels will go down. You’ll want to make changes in this area because studies have shown that your stress addiction is toxic to others.
When you’re stressed, you stress out everyone around you because of something that’s known as secondhand stress. This happens because of the signals that you give out to other people when you’re stressed.
The expression on your face changes into one that’s negative. You might draw your brows in anger. Your lips will turn downward. Your eyes might flash with anger. Others pick up these stress cues.
In turn, their blood pressure rises as a reaction to your stress. They feel angry, too, hearing about whatever is affecting you. If your stress causes you to feel sad, then your face will reflect this.
Your eyes may appear sad and the tone of your voice will come across as dejected. Whatever happier mood they had will dissipate. They’ll feel troubled and down because of the stress they picked up from you.
When this happens, you end up feeling more stressed because you then experience their stress on your behalf. This can become a cycle and solidify a stress addiction. Secondhand stress can be experienced by those that you live with, such as your spouse or your kids.
Your parents and friends can be affected. So can those you work with. When you complain publicly, you steal other people’s energy. Eventually, they may learn to avoid you because of this drain on them.
So before you complain, take a second to consider the effect it might be having on those you care about and then decide if it’s really worth griping about openly. Sometimes, people who practice public complaining aren’t aware that they’re doing it as often as they are.
This is why you need to check yourself to see if this is your issue. Take a look at your social media feeds. Look at what you’ve posted and at what you’ve responded to. Reread your comments in any groups or forums.
See if everything you’ve said is negative. If that’s the case, then people are going to start hiding you from their feeds so what you set out to do, which was to gain support for your stress, isn’t happening.
The reason that people won’t want to see your stuff if you’re always publicly complaining is because you’re reacting. You’re not doing anything to address the problem.
You’re not there to seek genuine change or help. You’re only there to gripe and put more negativity out into the world to support your emotional viewpoint. This does nothing to help you or the people who read your social media posts.
You get tuned out because there are so many collective voices complaining on social media that the majority of users are tired of reading about it. That doesn’t mean that your stress isn’t legitimate.
It only means that you’re better off learning how to stop complaining. When you vent on social media, it doesn’t help to lessen your stress. Whatever is bothering you didn’t go away just because you posted about it and now others may start to think that your life is one big drama.
If you want to change your habit of public complaining, learn to look for the good that happened that day. There will always be something – even if it’s a small thing. Practice being grateful for the little things.
Cultivate the mindset that you’ll change whatever you can that’s bothering you about your life. Decide that you’ll learn how to better cope with the things that bother you, which you can’t necessarily change.
Ask your friends and family if they view you as a glass half full or empty person. When you ask those who care about you, trust that they’ll tell you the truth – even if it’s something that’s not really pleasant to hear.
If they tell you that they see you as someone who’s a glass half full type of person, that means that think of you as a positive person. You usually look on the bright side of things.
You might be someone who does publicly complain, but it hasn’t yet reached the point where it changes the way that you view life. But if your loved ones tell you that you are a glass half empty kind of person, it means that you see the negative and that’s what you focus on rather than the positive.
This affects both your emotions and your actions. It’s why you might be quick to hop onto social media and talk about the problems with the car, the issues with your loved ones and what a pain your job was today.
Discussing something like this with your family and friends won’t be the easiest thing you’ve ever done, but they love you too much to let you continue sabotaging yourself. They may even be able to give you examples of times that they heard or saw you engaging in this behavior and that can help you change going forward.
It’s not enough just to have a discussion with them about this, though. You have to be open to hearing what they have to say. So listen to them and then be prepared to accept the truth of their words.
When it’s all said and done, though, be responsible for the stress in your life. It’s not the people on the other end of your social media accounts who need to help you figure things out.
It’s not your family or friends’ place to solve your troubles. It’s yours. Nothing is going to change to eliminate your stress and habit of complaining unless you make a decision to take action.
Replace Bad Stress Habits with Good Ones
Whenever someone gets stressed, it’s common to develop bad habits. Sometimes these habits emerge as a reaction to the stress, but sometimes, they grow as a subconscious way of trying to deal with the stress.
But regardless of why you have these bad habits, it’s better for your mental well-being to learn how to replace the bad habits with good ones. Stress usually influences how a person thinks.
It can cause negative thoughts to take root. What you might not know is that there’s a link between what you think and how your emotions will reflect those thoughts. When you give in to negative thinking, this can cause your stress to worsen.
Consistent negative thoughts can lead to health problems. With this habit, you have a tendency to always see the bad in situations. You also project the worst in things that haven’t even happened yet.
You don’t expect anything good when negative thoughts are your reaction to stress. Bad thoughts are one of the first stress management habits you should work on changing because if you can do that, your emotions will follow.
Replacing bad thoughts with good ones is done through the power of positive thinking. Don’t mistake positive thinking for pretending everything is fine. It’s not a fake way of going through life.
It only means that there is negative stuff going on, but your view on this is different. Rather than taking a worst case scenario approach, you decide to think about the good that could occur rather than the bad.
To get started using the power of positive thinking, you have to watch how you speak to yourself. This means that you don’t let your thoughts have free rein in your mind. Thoughts will pop in and out of your mind.
Positive thinking means that you stay on guard against any thoughts that are negative in nature. It means that you become more aware when any optimism has given way to pessimism.
You stop negative thoughts and figure out what the truth is because many negative thoughts aren’t based on truth. Instead, they’re rooted in misinformation or unhealed emotional wounds.
So you have to question whether or not these thoughts are valid. When you practice the habit of positive thinking, not only does it improve your stress and mental well-being, but it benefits your physical health, too.
You can boost your immune system and lower your blood pressure. You’ll have lower levels of anxiety and depression – plus, you’ll be better equipped to cope when stressful things do happen.
If you look at a situation and only notice all the bad stuff, that’s a sign that you need to work on this. Or if you get fifty good comments on a project at work, but one person said something disparaging, so you don’t remember the 49 good comments – only the one that was negative, it means you need to refocus on what’s important.
If your thoughts lean toward shaming or blaming yourself even when you don’t know all of the facts, that’s a symptom of negative thinking. This usually happens when you’re projecting what someone else is thinking or doing and you decide that somehow it’s your fault.
Perfectionism is another sign of negative thinking. You believe that if you don’t get something 100% right, everything you’re trying is wrong. One way to address negativity like this is by practicing deep breathing when you’re in turmoil rather than shallow breathing.
Your body has two systems that run your body. One is called the parasympathetic nervous system and the other one is your sympathetic nervous system. When you get stressed, your sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear and speeds up your heart rate, jacks up your blood pressure and prepares you to run or fight.
But when you take deep breaths, your stress gets soothed because it taps into your parasympathetic system, which is responsible for releasing stress, lowering your heartbeat and helping you to calm down.
So when you’re in turmoil, turn to deep breathing and you’ll stop that stress response in its tracks. Stress can make you want to go off alone and dwell on the problem. You work it over and over in your mind until your thoughts are in a frenzy.
That’s a bad habit that needs to be eliminated. You can do this by turning to laughter and comedy. You might have heard the saying that laughter is the best medicine. It’s true.
Laughing offers many benefits and by replacing a bad stress habit with this good one, you can find inner peace. Learn how to find things to laugh about even in the midst of chaos.
Deliberately seek out stuff that’s funny. This might be a funny story, a show, a movie, a book, quotes, or spending time with people who make you laugh or smile. Laugh about the mistakes that you make.
See the humor whenever something goes wrong. When you develop this habit, it boosts your mental well-being as well as improves your physical health, too. By laughing, your brain gives you a dose of the feel-good chemicals named endorphins, and this natural high immediately eases stress because it calms the response system.
You’ll end up with lower blood pressure, fewer aches, and pains and a calmer digestive system because laughter relaxes the entire body. You’ll also strengthen your immune system.
Does Stress Give You Permission to Indulge?
Many bad habits are covered under the word stress. Stress can affect you, but it shouldn’t be something that you use to negatively impact your life. What happens when you deal with stress is that you’ll form either good or bad habits.
Some people like experiencing stress because then it gives them an excuse for whatever they’re doing that’s not that good for them. They might say to themselves that they had a hard day or they’re just overloaded with too much on their plates so they’re going to need to have a glass (or several) of wine.
What you don’t realize is that this can become a habit because it’s created a reward pathway in the brain. You’ll develop a link between stress and wanting to do something you enjoy but that can hurt you in the end.
This is also the way that a stress addiction develops. You’ll start to crave the stress because you know what will be waiting for you as a way of soothing that stress. Some people use smoking as their stress excuse.
Office workers who complain about the stress they deal with on the job usually say they need a smoke break. They do this because they want to smoke and stress is their permission slip.
When you’re feeling that frustration or anxiety because of work and you just want to get to that cigarette, it’s become a crutch that you use. You probably already know that smoking isn’t good for your health, but using it as an excuse makes you feel better about this bad habit.
You might have created this permission for yourself because you just had more work piled on you or your hours changed, and everything is more mentally demanding at work. Maybe your boss expects more from you.
Smoking actually induces more stress and heightens the reaction as well as the effects of stress. When you smoke, it raises your blood pressure just like stress does. Your heart rate will speed up because of the cigarette.
Those who use smoking as permission to indulge themselves due to stress experience a temporary break and feel good only because nicotine reacts in your body to help stimulate the release of feel-good chemicals.
So for a little while, you might feel wonderful. But that feeling will go away and you’ll end up feeling more stressed than ever as well as having damaged your health. Overeating is another area where you might be giving yourself permission to indulge.
You’ll find that there are a lot of jokes about eating and stress like eating a pint of ice cream whenever you’re stressed. Though it’s meant as a joke, there’s a lot of truth behind that.
Over-indulging in food is a common way that people use the stress excuse. They want to eat the things that aren’t good for them and may even crave those foods. There may or may not be an emotional connection, too.
This is a reaction that develops as a result of pushing aside the emotions that stress can cause. These stresses can be because of feelings like anxiety or depression, but they can also be because you feel overwhelmed by responsibilities, or you’re dealing with financial or relationship pressure.
When people use overeating as permission to indulge, the food of choice is usually whatever is high in fat, salt or sugar. They’ll eat the food, feel better temporarily and think that this indulgence is helping them cope with stress, but it’s not.
You can end up gaining weight and feeling worse about yourself as your health worsens. Dangerous behaviors is an indulgence that some people use when they’re stressed.
These dangerous behaviors all fall into the categories of things that risk their lives. When people turn to dangerous behaviors, they get an adrenaline high that makes the stress go away.
But as soon as that adrenaline is gone, the stress returns. Some people will turn to drugs and think that the stress they’re going through gives them permission to do this. They believe they’re only trying to find an outlet.
Because the drugs eliminate the stress temporarily, they think they’ve found the right answer. Using drugs causes the body’s nervous system to react. While it might feel like taking drugs eases stress, the act actually increases the stress your body encounters.
Plus, because it works on the brain’s reward system, taking drugs easily causes an addiction. The more stress you encounter, the greater the craving for drugs will be.
Even sex can be used as permission to indulge due to stress.
Some people use this as an excuse to indulge because it does relieve stress. Thanks to the boost of endorphins you get, it relaxes both the mind and the body. But sex used to deal with anxiety or the frustration stemming from sex can also become an addiction.
You’ll end up needing more and more of in order to reach that high feeling that having sex can give you. This can lead to dangerous behavior such as one night stands with strangers.
No amount of sex can fix the emotional upheaval of stress, especially when it’s done with someone that you have feelings for. Driving too fast as a way to relieve stress is another way that some people indulge.
This is because it heightens the emotions. They feel charged up and excited, like they’re living on the edge. This action can make you feel like you’re invincible and have complete control.
But driving too fast means that you’re ten times more likely to have a serious car accident and injure yourself or others. When you drive too fast, rather than boosting your driving skills, it can make you less alert and more likely to make a bad decision when you need to react quickly on the road.
Interrupting Your Usual Stress Reactions
Everyone reacts to stress in their own way. But some of the ways that you might be responding to stress can actually make it worse. Or it can lead you to make choices that are harmful both in the short and long term.
By learning better ways to react to stress, you’ll be able to break the stress cycle and find peace immediately without having to wait. Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT is one of the solutions that you can use to find stress relief.
When you get stressed, it can hit out of the blue and you won’t get to pick the location where you’re at when this happens. For stress that comes on suddenly and catches you unaware, you want a quick fix that’s reliable, yet doesn’t announce to everyone around you that you’re dealing with something.
You can use this technique at home, at the office, or even when you’re in public because it’s a discreet method to use to restore calm. When to use EFT is a matter of personal choice, but most people use it the moment that their stress is triggered because by doing so, they regain control of their emotions.
This enables them to respond calmly to upsetting situations. It can be used when something like anxiety or irritability is present. It can also be used to help you not react in anger or with sadness.
Plus, it can help to restore order to your thoughts so that you don’t react by saying or doing something that you might later regret. When you perform the movements taught in EFT, it might not fix the situation, but it resolves whatever upheaval you’re dealing with on the spot.
There’s no wrong time to use EFT to get relief. You don’t even have to wait until you’re in the middle of a stressful situation and you also don’t have to wait until the stress actually hits you.
It can also be used as a preventative measure. If you know that you’re going have to face a stressful situation or person, you can use EFT to help calm you down so that you don’t let the stress build before you encounter the trigger.
The practice of using EFT allows you to face the situation rather than turning to ways that aren’t working or that cover up stress. By tapping on the right points of your body using the technique, you tap into the energy.
It’s encountering this energy that allows you to be able to direct how you respond to stress. Visualization or guided imagery can also be used to bring you out of a stressful situation.
These resources can give you fast relief from stress by allowing you to picture a more peaceful place in your mind’s eye. This is when your focus turns internal rather than remains on what’s going on outwardly.
You focus on what’s calm and it allows you to distance yourself immediately from the stress. The visualization that you use can be what you consider your happy place. Some people visualize a sunny beach and imagine the warmth of the sand beneath their feet.
They hear the water as it rolls in. They feel the stickiness from the salty water as the wind blows across the ocean. Or they might visualize being in a flower covered meadow and looking up at a bright blue summer sky. They see the white clouds lazily floating past.
Because they make you feel relaxed, whatever the images are that you choose to use, they help to calm the emotions, slow the shallow, rapid breaths and lower the blood pressure.
As you visualize, the effects of the stress drain from your body and you’re able to achieve control immediately. As you interrupt your stress reactions with visualization, you would use deeper breathing to help calm the reaction your body gets from your nervous system.
Guided imagery works similar to visualization, except there’s someone guiding you through what you visualize. Both of these resources can work in just seconds. You can regain control of your stress reaction by mentally picturing your relaxation space and by tuning in to how that space affects your senses.
You would tune in to what you feel and see as well as what you hear. When you need quick peace to alleviate stress, you can also use self-hypnosis or meditation. With self-hypnosis, it just means that you’re redirecting your thoughts and actions so that you’re not focusing on the emotions or the stressor.
Using this therapeutic approach causes you to relax and allows your body to quickly release stress tension. You can use this technique to stop the anxiety that the stress is causing you to feel and when you’re faced with a situation that creates stress, you can use this type of hypnosis to overcome any automated reactions.
Plus, it works to break any cycle of bad stress habits. When you use self-hypnosis, it works similar to meditation by tapping into the subconscious in order to effect a change. To learn how to use this effectively, there are plenty of resources you can use to train yourself.
Meditation, like self-hypnosis, works to relax you in the moment when you’re faced with a stressor. However, they’re not the same thing. With hypnosis, you enter a different level of focus.
When stress is affecting you and your emotions are heightened, meditation can restore calm and it doesn’t take a long time. You can accomplish peace with meditation even with just seconds of use.
It works on the mind-body connection. When you practice meditation, you’re looking inward to halt the racing thoughts that are creating or acerbating the stress. By interrupting this pattern, you break the link between the stress and whatever negative emotion you’re experiencing.
With meditation, you can inhale through your nose, hold the breath for a short count, then exhale. Doing this pushes out the stress and restores calm. Pick whatever method works best for you or use them in a rotation to alleviate your stress.
Learning to Live a Stress-Free Life
The reason people choose to engage in dangerous actions when they’re stressed is because it gives them a dopamine release. This lets them feel good. While they might get a temporary break from the stress, you want to learn how to live a stress-free life rather than constantly seeking an unsafe way to handle your stress.
Find activities or things that you implement that are safe, but which still give you that emotional high you get from heightened emotions. This not only feeds your need for the natural high, but it can help you learn to handle stress in ways that are positive and good for you.
That might mean pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. These new ways that you use to get an emotional high could be either physical or emotional. For example, it could be that you turn to something like learning how to do rock climbing or climbing a mountain.
Or maybe you decide that you want to go skiing for the first time. It might be that you push yourself to take part in regular activities that are made to pump up your adrenaline. This could be something like vigorous exercise.
Or it might be fast-paced dancing. Some people turn to sports and join an amateur league. When you push yourself in ways that are new and make you feel a little unsure, it can raise your emotions and give you that same heightened state that stress once gave you.
A new way could be doing something like beating a clock. You challenge yourself to get something done under a deadline or under budget at work. Whatever you choose to challenge yourself with makes you feel good and excited about the effort.
It could be a relational challenge that you use to feel that emotional high. This might mean something like reaching out to a new member of your community or joining an organization that engages in activities that benefit an area.
Learning to live a stress-free life might mean choosing to find activities in your down time that you can do. These activities could be positive things like hobbies or projects, and they can be in different areas of your life.
Whatever activities that you choose should better your life or give you more quality time with your family or friends. At work, you could learn a new skill such as programming that helps you get your stuff done more efficiently.
Or you could discover how to master a new technology. The challenge of learning something new also increases the level of dopamine in your body, which makes you get that same high you get from stress, but in a better way.
You can attend a networking event or try out for a new position at work. Doing this could increase your value to the company and help alleviate work-related stress because you’re doing something positive as well as being proactive.
At home, you could let go of things that demand your time, but which aren’t all that important and this can free up time for you to do things that help you live stress-free.
You can organize your home.
By getting rid of chaos, you invite in tranquility. You can also engage in activities like painting, drawing, or doing fun home projects that you’ve always wanted to do. With your family and friends, you can take a class that interests you such as photography.
Or you can join an exercise club with a group of friends and work out together. You can spend time with your kids going to a theme park or spend time learning a fun activity like biking or going on a picnic or redecorating their bedroom.
You could take the entire family along and go outdoors for geocaching. Not only are these exciting things to do, but you’ll all benefit from the time you get to spend with each other.
Stress is going to happen because that’s just the way life goes. But that doesn’t mean that you have to give in to it and it doesn’t mean that you have to let it linger. There are coping mechanisms that you can learn so that you’re okay when stress arises.
Understand that stress is something that you have to handle, but it’s not something that’s permanent. When stress happens to you, the first thing you need to do is be wary of how you talk to yourself.
Self-talk that feeds the stress always makes everything seem worse. Plus, it heightens your emotions and can convince you of things that aren’t true, such as a thought that nothing is ever going to get any better.
If you tell yourself that what you’re going through is the worst thing ever, then you’ll start acting like it is and head for a downward spiral deep into the symptoms of stress. Pay attention to what you say.
Try to speak only positive things because what you hear can cause you to believe or behave a certain way. Be calm and don’t overreact. This is the step that usually trips up a lot of people.
They don’t pause to think things through. A stress event occurs and they immediately react to that stress. Usually when stress occurs, if you’ve had a problem dealing with it in the past, it can be really easy to feel that tug to just turn to whatever you thought worked for you back then.
You might reach for alcohol or turn to food as a way of trying to calm yourself. But to live a stress-free life, you have to make up your mind that you’re not going to make self-destructive choices in the moments when stress hits.
Choosing something that’s self-destructive might make you feel better temporarily, but in the end, this decision will only make things worse. Remind yourself that what’s going on isn’t going to last forever, that you will get through it and be okay.
Keep an Eye Out for Old Habits
You’re driving down the road and all of a sudden, a warning light comes on in your car’s dash. You ignore the light and keep right on driving until your vehicle quits and can’t move another mile.
You wouldn’t ignore a warning light on your car’s dash if you knew it was going to lead to trouble, yet many people ignore the warning signs that they’re struggling with stress and emotional upheaval.
Checking in on your emotional health and stress levels is like looking at your car’s dash. The sooner that you spot trouble, the quicker you can intervene and prevent a small problem from becoming a major one.
Evaluate your stress levels daily. Ask yourself how you’re feeling but don’t just settle for that. When you ask yourself how you’re feeling, go beyond that to uncover why you’re feeling the way that you are.
If you’re angry, prod yourself until you uncover why you’re angry. If you’re sad or feeling anxious, keep looking within until you locate the answer. When you know the answer, you can understand what you must do in order to get better.
It could be that you’re feeling down because you just didn’t sleep well the night before. Or it could be that you’re struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed because a project at work just isn’t going right.
Look for patterns in your life that can hint that stress is on the rise. Maybe you notice that you always feel sad after you’ve spent time with a certain friend. Or you have a co-worker that never fails to push your buttons.
You should schedule a check in with yourself regularly until you pinpoint the sources of your stress. For some people, this might need to be once a day. For others, it could be every week or every month.
When you realize that you’ve begun to fall back into the same old habits, distance yourself from that stressor if you can. If you can’t, do something positive to replace the emotional upset from the stressor.
For example, if you noticed that you get stressed after spending time with family and you’ve started emotional eating again, then plan a relaxing lunch meeting or shopping date with a good friend.
What can also be helpful is to ask friends or family to tell you when you seem stressed out. Ask them to alert you if they see any changes in your behavior. This can be helpful because sometimes you can’t see your own issues starting to crop up.
You might not be aware that you’re experiencing changes in your mental or emotional health because maybe you’ve just been too busy or the signs have been too subtle for you to notice.
But family and friends can be helpful because they can be an early alert system letting you know when something is off with you. Make sure that you ask for clarification. If a friend or family member says that you seem down, ask them what they mean – but don’t get defensive.
Because this could be anything from them noticing that you have low energy to them seeing that you’re avoiding activities that you once loved. They might recognize that your sleeping or eating patterns have changed.
By asking them for clarification, it can help you determine what your next step should be and also help you start to recognize the problem yourself later on. Be willing to listen to what they point out.
Sometimes it can be tempting to become defensive, especially if you fall back into an old habit that you enjoyed, like drinking too much. If you get defensive, it shuts down the conversation and keeps you from hearing information that might be helpful.
Ask your family and friends for suggestions. If someone is alerting you to a problem, ask them to help you come up with a solution if you’re not sure what to do next. For example, if you seem to have low energy, your family member might have noticed that you’re skipping out on sleep or that you’re not eating right.
You can keep an eye out for old habits by maintaining a journal. Having a journal can help you decompress each day so that you keep tabs on rising issues. This helps you to get the stress out, but it also allows you to step back from whatever issue is going on.
Sometimes getting the emotion out lets you think more clearly. It can also help you to come up with the right solution as well to be more objective about the stress you’re dealing with.
Review your journal each week or month. Do this to look for patterns that might signal deeper issues. You don’t want to deal with stress just on the surface. You want to make sure that you get down to the roots so that you can remove it from your life.
It could be that you turn to binge eating after having an upsetting conversation with a friend, family member or work colleague. That means that there are issues there that need to be resolved or you need to find a better coping skill so that you don’t let that old habit get reestablished in your life.
Be honest in your journal. Even if what you’re thinking or feeling is dark and ugly, get it out. It’s human to experience emotions and some of those feelings can be quite raw and difficult.
But by being honest, you get to the heart of what’s really going on. Make sure that you recognize your limits. If you’re struggling with your old habits, know when you should reach out for additional help or other resources.
When you can’t handle the stress on your own and the bad habit seems to be the only solution you come up with, talk to someone else, learn a new coping strategy or add more to the solutions that you’re already using.