Addiction to Stress

While we tend to acknowledge that addiction to alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and gambling are prevalent in our society, there are other forms of addiction that have come to permeate our lives in ways that many of us do not see, let alone admit to.

Our culture idolizes the extroverted, multi-tasking, Type-A personalities, the persons who are characterized by competitiveness, urgency and hostility. Therefore, many of us are tempted to have a mindset that inclines towards a Type-A personality, an addiction to stress. Americans are well known for our constant on-the-go way of life. We speak of doing it all and having it all with no regard for the toll this desire takes on our lives until we find ourselves suffering from burn out and worse. Our work lives, home lives and relationships can suffer when we are addicted to stress.

Priests and laypersons alike can suffer from addiction to stress as we go about our lives trying to do everything and be everything to everyone around us. As one priest wrote to Albert in an email where another priest commented about his own addiction to stress as he prepared for Sunday services at his church: “we can become addicted to anything – to take a natural passion and make it into something distorted and ultimately harmful.”

What is the difference between legitimately becoming energized for work and being addicted to stress? The answer is simple. The answer is the amount of anxiety associated with the process. Is there anxiety or not? Is there peace or is there not? When we go about our daily lives with a focus on God, we will feel peace regardless of what the day brings. Being addicted to the mental drama that the average day can bring produces a dopamine effect that needs to be fed over and over.

When we are addicted to stress, we will produce situations that will give us that “high” of being stressed over having to much to do and not enough time to get it all done. We hate feeling stressed but, at the same time, need to feel that we are doing something. A quiet day at the office or enjoying a relaxing day at home becomes impossible because we need the satisfaction that compulsive behavior brings such as constantly checking our cell phones, our Facebook feeds and our emails, lest we miss something important. The need to feel “connected” actually causes more disconnect than we may care to admit.

How then can we heal ourselves from the addiction to stress or, prevent ourselves from becoming addicted in the first place? By making Christ the center of our day, every day. We can begin our morning with a moment of quiet prayer, eat a nourishing breakfast to give us healthy fuel for the day, learn how to ask for help when we need it so we do not become overwhelmed by our tasks and, above all, learn to be still. It is in a moment of stillness that our stress can melt away.