While nobody wakes up in the morning with the goal of stressing themselves out, many of us have a knack for doing it anyway. We overpack our schedules, race from one appointment to the next, and then have zero idea what to do with ourselves once it's all said and done. If this is you, it may even begin to feel like you're addicted to stress — which very well may be the case.
Since it's not an actual addiction, though, "it might be more accurate to say 'habituation,' meaning [you've] formed a habit that [you] do compulsively and are uncomfortable without," licensed psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW, tells Bustle. "People don’t set out to habituate to stress, but it serves a function for them: because they don’t feel they deserve to relax, believe that it’s better to be productive than non-productive, are overachievers, feel guilty when they’re not moving at warp speed, keep busy to avoid internal upset, or experience inner emptiness and self-devaluation when there’s nothing for them to do or no challenges ahead."
In many ways, stress can start as a positive thing, but eventually can be used as an unhealthy coping mechanism, until it begins to feel normal. The reality, though, is that it's necessary to find a better balance and take good care of yourself. Here are a few signs you might be addicted to stress, according to experts, as well as how to break the habit.
1. You Feel Immensely Guilty Whenever You Relax
If your on-the-go lifestyle has become such an engrained habit that you experience waves of guilt whenever you try to kick back and relax, take note. It may be a sign that this has, in fact, become an "addiction."
But the good news is, it's one that's possible to break. "People can stop stressing themselves out by tolerating the anxiety of what it feels like to cut back, relax, do nothing, [or] have nothing planned," Koenig says.
Sure, you may feel the need to leap up and start checking things off your to-do list. But don't give in. Being able to truly relax takes practice, so give yourself time to get used to the feeling of just "being."
2. You Chase That "Rush"
If you're "addicted" to stress, you might notice that you seek out thrilling activities or that you secretly live for the moments in your day that are a bit stressful — all because they give you a rush.
But it is possible to go overboard. "Even though this feels good at the time, the human body isn't meant to be stressed for longer than a few minutes to an hour," Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Your adrenal glands get fatigued and you end up grumpy, cranky, exhausted, and sick."
It can help to find enjoyment in soothing activities, too, and create more of a balance between the two. "To break the habit, take a yoga class," Ziskind says. "In yoga, you will learn breathing techniques to de-stress, while still feeling good about yourself."
3. You Set Arbitrary Deadlines For Yourself
It may also be a sign if you create stress where there isn't any, possibly by adding strict due dates to projects that didn't initially have any, as one example.
"It’s common for people who rely on the stress and pressure to create tasks [and] to assign a deadline to the task, even if it isn't time-sensitive," Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD, LCSW of Ambrosia Treatment Center, tells Bustle. While this may be a healthy way of getting your work done, remember to create some balance.
4. You Frequently Overbook Yourself
Not everyone with a busy schedule is "addicted" to stress. But you may want to check in with yourself if you frequently overbook your days, and can't seem to keep up. As therapist Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT, tells Bustle, stress addicts tend to add multiple tasks to their plates knowing it's impossible to complete them.
5. You Easily Feel Bored
If you view downtime or relaxation as "boring," it may also be a clue that you're addicted to stress — or at least used to the busy life you've created for yourself.
"You can’t find any joy in peace and quiet," Patrick Di Vietri, a licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle. "You feel bored when you have nothing to do [...] If you're always busy, then your brain is always going — you can’t enjoy the small things in life, like a walk or a good book because your brain is always going and thinking."
Which is why the remedy may just be doing those activities more often. To go from running down the street, to sitting quietly at home with a book, can be a big adjustment. But if you make it a part of your daily routine, relaxation can become a habit, too.
6. You Frequently Feel Irritable
Many people who are addicted to stress view their busyness almost as a facet of their personality — and may even make excuses for things like irritability.
"Stress tends to make people irritable and edgy," Dr. Raichbach says. "But, our fast-paced lifestyle excuses, and even encourages people to feel that pressure. If you find yourself using your stress-level as an excuse when you become angry or frustrated, it might be a sign that you have an unhealthy relationship with stress."
That's something you can certainly work on yourself, by becoming more aware of it. But it may also help to go to a therapist.
7. You Tend To Attract Drama
If it seems like everything's always going wrong in your life, take note, as many people with stress addiction are "drama magnets."
"Drama seems to find you, [and] if it doesn’t find you, then you [might] create it and you enjoy it," Di Vietri says. This might take the form of gossiping to friends, or picking small fights with your partner — anything to get a rise out of people.
When you're used to the "rush" mentioned above, you may catch yourself stirring things up, just to have something to do. But that's obviously not a healthy way to live.
We all have stress in our lives, and some days are definitely going to be more fast-paced than others. But if you find yourself craving stress, or creating situations that'll bring about more of it, take note. It may be a sign that stress has become a habit in your life — though it's one you can definitely break.