Stress, like love or beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder. In perhaps it’s most simple definition, stress is simply a stimulus for change. Positive experiences such as a family vacation, getting married or even winning the lottery all come with their share of stress and stimulation. And while it’s easy to blame our stress on what’s going on around us, a significant part of our relationship with stress is based on the hidden internal stress we deal with each day — eating too much of the wrong foods or too few of the right ones, living a sedentary lifestyle or overtraining at the gym, being a perfectionist or lacking motivation to get up in the morning.

So how do you know if you have an unhealthy dependence on stress? The following few questions may help you figure it out:

  • Do you thrive on tight deadlines?
  • Do you often leave things until the last minute?
  • Do you have a difficult time doing nothing at all?
  • Does it take you a few days off to feel like you’re on vacation?
  • Do you spend much of your vacation time thinking about work?
  • Do you constantly worry about what you might be missing?
  • Do you feel stressed when you’re disconnected to your cell phone or computer?
  • Do you find it difficult to turn your brain off at night to sleep?
  • Do you feel as though there is never enough time to get things done?
  • Do you ever feel as though your work for the day is not enough?
  • Do you lack time to see your friends or participate in hobbies you used to enjoy?
  • Do you feel as though you’re constantly running from one thing to the next?
  • Do you find yourself finishing, or wanting to finish, other peoples’ statements?
  • Do you wish I’d stop asking questions so you can get on with the blog already?

If you found yourself saying Yes more than once or twice, you might be a stress addict. Another way to tell — close your eyes for a few moments and try to relax. How comfortable are you with doing nothing at all?

Remember the advertisement “this is your brain on drugs”? It certainly made a lasting impression. Unfortunately, it’s not just drugs that can cause our brain to feel scrambled. Chronic stress might be just as dangerous.

Stress (and drugs) have been shown to have the following side effects: increased heart rate and blood pressure, increase in blood sugar, breakdown of muscle tissue, decreased digestive functioning, ulcers, blood clotting, migraines, skin problems, premature aging, loss of brain cells, social isolation and loneliness, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, substance abuse, relationship problems, lack of focus, multitasking and disengagement. Several studies suggest that unmanaged reactions to stress are a more dangerous risk factor for cancer and heart disease than either cigarette smoking or high-cholesterol foods. And stress may even be as addictive as drugs.

In addition to the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline, stress also releases dopamine, a “feel good” chemical. Dopamine encourages repeat behaviors by activating the reward center in our brain and may be at the heart of many addictive behaviors and substance abuse issues.

Thinking back, are you able to notice any times where you felt you thrived on stress? Have you ever tried to take time off only to find it takes days just to get yourself to decompress? One of the challenges in stress management is fighting our tendency to be pulled back into the rush. It’s important that we recognize the significance of what a stress imbalance does to our system, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Recovery is not an option. It might be difficult to schedule into our busy routine, but we can train our brain to become more comfortable with stillness through practice. Simple techniques that balance out stress hormones include deep breathing, guided imagery, massage, aromatherapy, music, humor and meditation.

For more information, check out my book Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress, (Wiley, 2013) or sign up for my 8-week Stress Mastery Course.

Originally published at on November 30, 2012.

Originally published at