Ever since the 1980s, there has been an increasing amount of media coverage on stress-related topics. For decades, scientists, researchers, and doctors have been investigating how the human body responds to stress, and whether it is possible for some people to become addicted to stress.
While there are no hard figures to reveal how many Americans may be suffering from stress addiction, experts do agree that people suffering from this problem face varying degrees of danger to their health.
Are you addicted to stress? And if so, does that mean you will be facing serious health problems down the road? Or, will you be one of the few people who benefits from stress addiction?
The Type A Paradox
A bevy of medical experts have noted that there are a variety of human responses to stress, and not all of them have to be negative. In fact, high-strung Type-A personalities may actually benefit from stressful lifestyles based on their genetics and lifestyle preferences.
”Anyone familiar with the corporate world has had experiences with driven executives who seem to thrive on stressful circumstances that most others could not tolerate,” says Dr. Waino W. Suojanen, a professor of management at Georgia State University. ”There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that some executives deliberately seek out the management life because they get a high out of controlling people. Indeed, the making of decisions seems to become addicting.”
So why would someone benefit from stress addiction? Dr. Robert Ader of the University of Rochester, has studied stress addiction for many years, and he explains that stress can actually have some beneficial effects on the body. ”Through our animal work we have hypothesized that it might be possible that some people might need stress because it elicits the release of catecholamines, such as adrenaline, in the blood stream, and this is not necessarily bad because it might increase resistance to some types of disease.”
Dr. Paul J. Rosch adds that because of these unexpected health benefits of stress, prescribing the right medical treatments can be very challenging. “The Type A individual has perhaps become addicted to his own adrenaline and unconsciously seeks ways to get those little surges,” he explains.
“The Type A individual is apt to be irritable and depressed. Thus, recuperating from a heart attack by spending three weeks on a deserted beach might be a perfect prescription for one individual, but lethal for some Type A’s, who would be ‘off the wall’ in a matter of hours.”
Stress and Genetics
Stress, when combined with certain genetic factors, can increase a person’s risk for developing depression or even chronic fatigue disorder. According to Dr. David Mrazek, “People with a genetic variant of the serotonin transporter gene [are] more likely to become depressed [if] they have experienced stressful situations.”
While he notes that the types of stress caused by childhood abuse or major medical are more likely to affect those with the genetic variant, even “the hassles of everyday life [were] associated with an increased risk of depression if a person had this genetic variant.”
Stress While Pregnant
Even if you are one of the rare people who thrive under stressful circumstances, all bets are off if you are a woman who becomes pregnant. Stress is arguably the most dangerous thing a pregnant woman can be exposed to. Stress during pregnancy has been linked to all kinds of ill effects for the developing baby.
For example, stress can cause miscarriages, lower IQ scores for babies, and can affect the development of the child’s immune system. In fact, one Harvard study revealed that children who had mothers with highly stressful pregnancies were more likely to suffer from auto-immune disease, including asthma and allergies.
Stress Addiction Warning Signs
According to Debbie Mandel, author of “Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life”, there are many warning signs that can indicate that a person has become addicted to stress. Mandel says that if you answer “yes” to any of the questions below, you may be at risk for developing stress addiction:
“1. Do you tune out during conversations thinking about other things?
2. Do you feel rushed wherever you are because you feel that you ought to be completing the next task somewhere else?
3. Do you feel uncomfortable, worried, and nervous in your mind or body when you don’t have something you must absolutely do right now?”
Mandel says that clients she treats for stress addiction get hooked on the surge of adrenaline they get when rushing around, frantically trying to check off items on their to-do lists. Many stress addicts, she adds, are also using their stress to keep from dealing with feelings of inadequacy. “In the case of stress addiction, all this busyness stems from the addict’s constant need to prove the self, suppressing feelings of unattractiveness, unworthiness and inadequacy seeping out through the seams of body and soul. It is a case of compulsion versus passion,” she explains.
There are good kinds of stress, and bad kinds of stress. Falling in love definitely counts as “good stress”, and getting fired is unquestionably “bad stress”. No two causes of stress are created equal, and it also seems that no two people will have the exact same response a given stressful event.
Even if you thrive on stress, your addiction may be putting your health at risk. As with everything in life, moderation is best. So, if you absolutely love the adrenaline rush of multi-tasking on 12 urgent projects, you need to make sure you find a little time each day to relax. Examine your motivations for reveling in stress, and make sure you balance your long-term health with your lifestyle choices.