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Are You a Stress Addict?

Jul 14, 2008
What did you think when you read the title of this article? Was it something like "Why would anyone want to be addicted to stress?"

Or was it more "Yeah, hey, I guess I am," proudly? Or both?

Either way, you could be a stress addict because stress addicts tend to move back and forth between denying their state of stress and reveling in it.

If you simply thought "What's a stress addict?" or "Gee, I don't know, whatever," then don't worry too much. You probably feel stressed now and then, as appropriate, but not too often.

Still, you are acquainted with some of these folk, I assure you. Some might even clock you as a calm person and try to shake you up. (They like doing that.)

Even while complaining about stress, stress addicts believe that if you aren't stressed, you: A) are too dumb to notice what a terrible state everything is in, B) just took a tranquilizer or C) need to be educated by someone who "gets it" before you experience the dire consequences of your lack of awareness.

So wherever you are on the stress-addiction scale, it's absolutely okay.

Extreme stress addicts have already abandoned this article because it reminded them of the fifty things they need to get done immediately. Or they ran off to take a Paxil or a Xanax, or maybe a Celexa, all the time wondering if they should have stuck with Prosac.

Yes, I'm being facetious, but one sign of stress addiction is worrying that any choice you make is the wrong choice.

Another sign is in the careers stress addicts choose.

You'll find them in work situations where one must be poised to turn on a dime; mistakes (appear to) have huge consequences; there is high turnover; and the rewards (emotional or monetary) are often generous, but every single moment is a moment to prove, or disprove, one's competence.

Some job careers offering these characteristics are: emergency medicine, advertising, traffic control, piloting planes and spacecraft, running massive computer systems whose moment-to-moment functionality will make or break the company or country. Brain and heart surgery, certain military functions, and many, although not all, legal careers.

Sometimes stress addicts find themselves in less demanding occupations. But not for long. They either become de-motivated and make a switch or they transform a benign function into a life-or-death situation every chance they get.

If you know the expression "making a mountain out of a molehill," you might also recognize the stress addict's penchant for making a nuclear attack out of a soda can exploding in the basement fridge.

A stress-seeking friend (similar to a "heat-seeking missile" and almost as deadly) did that very thing twice in the same year.

If you recognize yourself or someone you know, and perhaps love, you may now be wondering what to do about it.

Identification of stress addiction is the first step.

Next is understanding--not why the stress addict is one--but what he or she is getting out of it.

There is always a benefit. Even if that benefit appears rather negative.

Some benefits of stress addiction are:

1-You're never entirely wrong

If you always think something bad might happen, it often does, eventually. And you will surely be among the first to notice. In fact, small inconveniences happen all the time, so if you express the possibility that things might not turn out perfectly, you will be right. At least a little right. Certainly you won't be completely wrong.

Even if your imagined scenario doesn't play out as specified, at least you had prescience that others did not. That's got to be worth something, right?

2-You always have something to do

If you're addicted to tension and unease, you are vigilant: there are always concerns to ruminate about and try to prevent. If some of them seem rather baseless, even to you, that's okay, you're simply alert.

There's always some threat to consider. Pre-planning to take care of. If you feel bored, you can call your insurance agent to check on the level of coverage on your life, car, home, boat.

Regarding insurance, maybe you want to be sure that you are using the best insurance company available. After all, that friend of a friend of a friend discovered her insurance company had gone belly up the day before the flood took her home. What's to say your insurer won't do the same?

3-You usually appear intelligent

In the fatalistic world of today, expecting the worst is a mark of prescience, especially if it leads you to taking precautions. Perceiving the possibility of future threat shows deep intelligence because it usually requires a great deal of news watching, article reading, and discussions with other smart and paranoid people.

The guy who wraps his head in aluminum foil because he believes radioactive waves surround us may not be welcome in your social circle, but he may not be completely wrong either. (Except, of course, for the foil part.)

4-You feel good being in the know

Real stress addicts find it frustrating, and rightly so, when they perceive a real threat and no one pays attention long enough to take action. To some though, a situation like this serves mainly to underline their brilliance and point out others' stupidity.

Feeling smarter than everyone else is its own reward. Sounding the alarm that no one seems to hear is painful. But being right at the end is lovely. Being wrong can always be explained away with details others missed when you described the subtleties of the issue in the first place.

5- You never have time to fix old problems because there's an, ahem, situation

Stress addicts always have something to worry about, and often those items are not real threats. That way they manage to ignore real and present dangers.

If you are worrying about a continent sinking into the sea and a dozen other scenarios that are unlikely or at least not imminent, you may be ignoring dangers that are building--and getting closer--day by day. Pollution issues and concerns of overpopulation are among these.

In one's own life, future money issues and destructive habits that are slowly damaging health are often ignored in favor of worries about something we read about in an overblown news story. We're all guilty of this once in a while.

In the final analysis, it's a good idea once in a while to ask yourself if you are a stress addict. Here's a simple test: Did you read most of the words in this article?

The bad news is you are a stress addict. The good news? You are a stress addict. And the best news? You can use it to your advantage.

Creating an Action Plan
Reap the benefits and avoid the disadvantages of stress addiction with these five simple steps:

1-Notice feelings of stress, concern or worry the moment they appear.

2-Define the feeling(s) for yourself. Ask: where in my body am I feeling this? How real is it? Is there a basis for my intuition? How do I know?

If you don't have enough information to determine the answers yet, seek them out sensibly. Watch for clues. Ask the smartest and sanest around you. Note: Smart and sane are best when it they appear in the same person--but it doesn't always happen.

3-Notice if the news is picking up on this. Your favorite commentators, critics, and whistle blowers. If they are, pay attention to any information they uncover based on their resources.

4-Continue seeking additional information and weighing it. The more you educate yourself, the better you can determine the threat to you.

5-Use both logic and intuition/instinct in your exploration.

If you determine that alertness is valid, but the threat is not imminent, handle unnecessary worry with well-reasoned self talk and relaxation techniques including creative visualization, guided imagery, hypnosis, and the Emotional Freedom Technique.

Or you could consider mentoring from friends who drive lonely highways well past midnight with a gallon left in the tank and 100 miles more to go. 2008 by Wendy Lapidus-Saltz. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Wendy Lapidus-Saltz is "The Optimizer." Helping you optimize how you use mind and heart to get what you want--faster, stronger, with more joy and less stress. She works with clients in person and by phone. Reach her at ILAPSAL@aol.com or 312-640-1584. Visit http://www.hypno-attraction.com and http://nonsmoker4life.com
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