Estimated reading time: 24 minute(s)
Amidst working hard, taking care of others, and fulfilling daily responsibilities and chores, life can easily become stressful. Feeling stressed is quite natural and almost every person suffers from it every other day. While most people try to avoid these stressful thoughts and feelings as much as possible, others may begin enjoying them. For them, feeling stressed becomes the new normal and experts label them as cases of stress addiction.
As surprising as it may sound, it is possible to develop stress addiction. People with this disorder experience a recurring pattern of seeking situations in ways that boost stress, even when they are aware of the negative consequences and wish to stop.
What is Stress? An Overview
Stress is a critical part of the fight-or-flight response that humans have as a built-in mechanism from birth. This response is nonspecific and can occur due to any demand, whether due to unpleasant or pleasant stimuli. Biologically, once the stress response kicks in, the body starts pumping hormones, including the infamous stress hormone cortisol along with dopamine and adrenaline, into the system. This rush of hormones can help people gather maximum strength by turning off nonessential functions and redirecting all energy toward the brain and muscles. The fight-or-flight response also increases the nervous system activity, including blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, so a person can take on the underlying challenge with high focus and attention.
When stress occurs due to a negative event, such as war, financial trouble, or a natural disaster, it starts pumping the activating hormones into the body to help a person get through the tough time. Once the threat is over, normal body function may restore. At a lower threshold, stress is normal and a crucial part of daily living. For instance, feeling stress before the first date or a job interview. It can also push a person to make positive life changes that allow them to grow as a person.
Stress and Addiction: Can You be Addicted to Stress?
When a person gets into trouble frequently, their body may constantly remain under stress. For such people, the stress response may become so habitual that they start seeking more and more stress, such as by overworking. With time, they become addicted to this heightened state and continue craving it. It is very much possible to get addicted to stress as stress is not only a mental reaction but also a physiological one and for some people, it can also cause a high by activating the attention and arousal symptoms. Sometimes, stressors also work like drugs to awaken the neural circuitry and even cause cravings.
Once a person becomes habitual of a higher degree of stress, they may feel the need to feel like it all the time. The brain tries to seek out the feel-good hormones in a way to maintain the same stress levels. Just like addiction, people with cortisol addiction may also require this hormone at progressively higher levels to feel the same effects as the brain develops tolerance after some time. In such circumstances, such people deliberately try to increase their stress levels, such as by taking on more projects than they can handle or doing a job at the very last minute. Such activities fuel the adrenal glands, which in turn, release stress hormones.
Remember that millions of people remain under high-stress levels in everyday life. However, such people must not be labeled as stress addicts. Experts have warned people not to use this term indiscriminately as it only applies when stress is causing serious adverse effects on a person’s daily living.
What Can Stress Addiction Look Like?
Following are some signs indicating what cortisol addiction can look like:
- Engaging in behaviors that may be dangerous or lead to unwanted consequences
- Enjoying drama and repeatedly trying to seek it out
- Feeling bored without having an ongoing factor of stress
- Deliberately putting yourself in stressful situations
- Continuing to put yourself in stress-provoking situations despite experiencing the physical and mental consequences
Most people may also find themselves:
- Saying yes in situations where they wished to say no
- Being unable to last time they were stress-free
- Experiencing any physical pain
- Lacking time to spend in self-care
In some people, stress can replicate the symptoms of addiction in terms of physical issues, such as the following:
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Insomnia or issues with sleep
- High blood pressure
- Feeling physically and mentally fatigued
3 Signs You Are Addicted to Stress: What to Ask?
People who are dubious about their underlying cortisol addictions can perform the following three steps to find out if their suspected diagnosis is true.
Check if you can stop the behavior
If you feel like you cannot stop engaging in stressful situations, you might become dependent on the feelings you get by being in these situations.
Ask yourself what will happen if you stop
Do you feel anxious or sad when not going through a stressful situation? Carefully assess your feelings, behaviors, and thoughts when you think about trying to stop stressing out. If it makes you uncomfortable, you may be addicted to having high cortisol levels in the body.
Reflect on yourself and your life
Write down the following questions on a piece of paper and reflect on them one by one.
- Is your life balanced? How balanced do you think it is?
- What are your beliefs regarding stress?
- Do you think you lose time by constantly stressing?
- Do you like surrounding yourself with people who are also constantly under stress?
Tips for People Addicted to Cortisol
Stress addiction can take a toll on a person’s life, leaving them incapacitated in different aspects. Untreated, the condition can not only impact their relationships but also hinder their professional capabilities, putting them at risk of losing a job too. Hence, people addicted to cortisol must take steps and keep their condition under control.
For this purpose, consider the following tips:
Regular workouts have been known to help individuals reduce their levels of anxiety and depression. Professionals agree that exercise triggers the body to synthesize endorphins. These chemicals act as natural painkillers in addition to lifting mood and improving the quality of sleep. Together, these effects can significantly ease stress. The optimal levels of endorphins can also help people with stress addiction keep away from other harmful cravings and addictions while adopting a more positive outlook during treatment and after it.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Research has demonstrated that mindfulness and meditation can significantly lower stress, pain, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Additionally, engaging in meditation can also help people remain calm even in the most chaotic situations to avoid piling up stress and manage it in healthier ways.
Different therapies are currently available to help people struggling with cortisol addiction. One of the most famous ones includes cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people identify their negative behavioral patterns and responses that generate stress. As an individual learns more about these patterns, they can eventually find ways to modify their responses to them without experiencing stress. A special form of CBT, known as trauma-focused CBT, can help people whose stress addiction is secondary to a stressful event in the past. Each case is different and an expert typically evaluates the specifics before suggesting a treatment plan.
Peer support is available in different forms, such as 12-step groups, and has been shown to greatly help people addicted to stress. It can also promote motivation, commitment, and accountability, which allows patients to recover with minimal risk of relapses. Additionally, peer support can also decrease the levels of perceived stress in patients.
Can I do anything to limit the production of cortisol and control stress?
People with stress addiction can manage the disease primarily by changing their lifestyle and including healthier activities. For instance, sleeping well is one of the biggest stress busters as a lack of sleep can increase the daily hormone levels and induce stress. Exercise has also been regarded as a good way to achieve a healthier mind and body. However, remember that not every type of exercise can benefit people with stress addiction. Aim to engage in mild to moderate exercises that involve up to 50 to 60 percent of maximum effort can help with mood regulation without increasing cortisol levels.
Is there professional treatment available for stress addiction?
People with stress or cortisol addictions can seek help from a professional rehabilitation center. These treatment centers have highly trained staff members who may make use of one or more of the following therapies to help patients gear up for recovery:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Group therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Meditation and mindfulness training
- Relaxation techniques
- Music therapy