Ask anyone anywhere how they’ve felt over the past couple of years and the answer you’ll probably receive is “stressed”. Stress is an emotion we like to talk about a lot – because well, loads of us experience it – and it’s one that many of us struggle to manage. But what you may not be aware of is that stress is also something many people find addictive.
I was only alerted to the fact that I myself may be addicted to stress when scrolling through Instagram one day. As I trawled through the endless sea of humble brags, I noticed an ad for the Calm app that was fitted with the caption, “3 signs you’re addicted to stress”.
The promo video went on to say the signs were a need to keep scrolling, trouble falling asleep and feelings of anxiety. So, I thought I’d dig deeper.
I reached out to Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno and asked her thoughts on the concept of stress addiction. Here’s what she said.
To start, what is stress addiction?
In nutshell, Sokarno explained that stress addiction is “when a person consistently leans in or chases scenarios that will inevitably leave them stressed”. That friend of yours who is always surrounded by drama? They may have a stress addiction.
“Stress addiction works similarly to other addictions in the sense that the addict is chasing those ‘feel good’ chemicals,” she said.
“When we are stressed, our body responds by releasing a flow of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also releases dopamine and adrenalin, both of which can make a person feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation.”
What are the key signs you may be addicted to stress?
Here, Sokarno pointed out six common indicators attached to stress addiction. They vary quite widely, so be sure to pay close attention to your overall health and if something feels off, don’t hesitate to chat with a doctor or mental health professional.
“People addicted to stress might feel extremely tired and fatigued due to their body being in a constant state of stress,” Sokarno said.
“If you feel as though you’re constantly feeling worried, anxious, stressed or on the brink of a burnout, but don’t allow yourself to feel otherwise, you’d likely feel fatigued.”
2. Commonly experiencing high blood pressure or an increased heart rate
There are certain physical symptoms that are often associated with stress. If you notice you’re regularly experiencing these side effects, it may be an indication of stress addiction.
3. Changes in appetite
“Stress can cause changes in appetite such as not wanting to eat as often or over-eating,” Sokarno shared.
If you notice big changes in appetite according to your mood, it could be a sign something deeper is going on.
4. Insomnia or a lack of sleep
Sokarno highlighted here that sleep troubles are often connected to high stress levels. If you find this is consistently worsening, perhaps even to the point of insomnia, it’s absolutely worth chatting to a health professional.
5. Fluctuations in emotions
“Feeling constantly stressed can cause a person to become emotional, irritable and even depressed,” Sokarno said.
If you notice this is happening more often, it may suggest you’re living with a stress addiction.
6. Addictions to other substances
Changes in your behaviour regarding addictive substances or habits are always worth paying attention to. And while they can be indicative of a wide range of things, there is a chance it’s connected to a stress addiction, too.
“A stress addiction can lead to an addiction to another substance (or more than one) such as drug or alcohol abuse,” Sokarno explained.
What to do if you’re worried this is you
First off, know that you’re not alone in this experience. Breaking a stress addiction habit can be a tricky road, but there are tools that can help.
Sokarno explained that the first step is recognising the signs. “Try to be aware of how you’re feeling (both physically and mentally) and recognise when you might be in a state of stress,” she said.
From there, you can make the active decision to change.
“Quitting any addiction is often a gradual process, and one of the earlier steps can be deciding that you want to quit,” Sokarno explained. But you can start the process by scheduling in ‘relax time’ and using exercises like meditation, yoga or breathwork to manage difficult feelings.
And lastly, of course, you can always, always talk to someone.
“While a small amount of stress can be good for us, feeling in a constant state of stress is incredibly unhealthy. Talking to a professional can help you to look at ways to manage the stress and also curb your habits that might be causing you to feel that way,” said Sokarno.
A psychologist once explained to me that when you’ve been living in a high state of stress for some time, your stress baseline will shift. And when that happens, you adjust and almost seek out to fill your life with additional chunks of pressure to maintain this new level of stress you’ve grown accustomed to living with.
We don’t want to do that. Bring the baseline way down, and give yourself permission to take a break. I promise it’ll feel great.