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Live Life Fully: Could you be addicted to stress?

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Let's face it. Some people just can't relax. It's actually stressful for them.

How can this be? After all, most dreams described by lottery winner wannabes usually include a chaise longue on a secluded beach with turquoise water and a sailboat in the background.

For a number of folks, though, this would be torture. They have to keep moving, achieving and accomplishing. They can't sit still. And they often feel like they're being propelled through space without enough time to do what they really want.

While it's true there are many demands on us these days, this type of behavior can often occur when we're trying to avoid dealing with other issues in our lives. We tell ourselves -- and the world -- we're just so busy! And that's quite a noble excuse. If left unchecked, though, a cycle of negativity can set in with complaints about not having enough time to get everything done.

You know the feeling. You should be grateful for what you have in life and focus on the positive things. Yet, those negative thoughts have such a sneaky way of creeping in.

That's OK -- to a point. It's good to acknowledge our anxieties and feel our feelings. It's just when we allow those negative thoughts to mushroom -- and take over our consciousness -- that we can get into trouble.

Then we start focusing on what we don't want to happen. And those repetitive negative thoughts, coupled with extreme emotional charges, act like a magnet to draw those things toward us, according to the universal Law of Attraction.

Like attracts like. With negative thoughts, the more worried and fearful we become, the more worries and fears we attract. On a physiological level, stress causes the section of our brain known as the hypothalamus to secrete cortisol, the "stress hormone."

For a lot of folks, the experience of cortisol in our system becomes so normal that not feeling stressed results in our emotional discomfort. Yikes -- it's like we're addicted! Maybe not in the clinical sense, but it sure can feel like it.

Negativity has actually been likened to an addiction: It causes a physiological response; it can feel compulsory at times; and it can be very difficult to shake, explains author and life coach Anisa Aven.

Here's a startling concept. When some folks don't feel stressed, they begin to fear they're "not prepared" or not "doing enough" or that they could be setting themselves up for disappointment. These examples represent only a few of the many reasons people become addicted to stress (and, thus, the stress hormone, cortisol).

Aven relates the example of war veterans coming home and having problems readjusting. Unfortunately, this scenario is happening way too often in today's world. When veterans come home -- long after they've left the traumatic battlefield -- they often continue to experience the stress of being on edge and not being able to let their guard down.

When they reflect on what keeps them up at night, it's often a fear that if they're not hypervigilant about all the things that could go wrong, then their families won't be protected. They believe if they're not prepared for negative scenarios and something bad happens, it's because they weren't aware and responsive to the signs of danger.

And, yet, that level of being "uptight" could actually backfire and contribute to negative things happening. You've probably heard about athletes accomplishing great feats when they're "in the zone." It's during these times of being fully present and "in the flow" that we can have the greatest access to our highest level of performance.

We've all heard about the adrenaline rush. Being on "high alert" for too long, though, can really take its toll on our bodies. Too much cortisol pounding through our system over time can lead to adrenal exhaustion.

Once we've reached adrenal exhaustion and feel wiped out, according to Aven, it can be very difficult to maintain a positive thought. This then results in a cycle of negative thoughts and further adrenal exhaustion -- a never-ending loop of more reasons to be negative. And to stay on that emotional treadmill.

Consider the following quote from a self-admitted "stressaholic": "I feel the physical response and even find myself confused when I try not to be stressed. It's like my body doesn't know how to behave if I actually choose to trust and flow with life. It feels like I'm going through withdrawals. My stomach turns and I feel anxious -- like I need a quick anger or fear fix to get myself back to normal."

Wow. That speaks volumes. It's been said that the root of all man's problems stems from the inability to sit quietly in a room with his thoughts. Easier said than done, though.

The first step is acknowledging the behavior. Then there are lots of options for dealing with it. One size doesn't fit all. It really depends on the individual situation and the person involved. Some people find relief from quieting down out in nature or working off their stress through exercise. Others find meditation helpful. Counseling can be effective, as can techniques such as Emotional Freedom Technique and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. And, in extreme cases, the adrenal exhaustion can be treated medically.

The important thing is to find what works best for the situation at hand -- and to stick with a plan. Your habitual stress took years to form. And it won't go away in a couple of weeks.

Who knew a substance produced by our own bodies -- cortisol -- could become addictive? You can definitely break the cycle, though, and loosen the grip stress has on you.

Linda Arnold, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications company specializing in advertising, public relations, government relations and interactive marketing. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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