If your social life revolves around work, if you can’t disconnect from your phone or computer, and if you’re still thinking about to do lists as you lie in bed, you might be a “stressaholic.” Heidi Hanna, renowned author, CEO and founder of SYNERGY, a consulting company that specializes in performance solutions for organizations, describes the classic stress addict as “having a mindset that ‘I thrive on stress and don’t need to manage it.’”
There are reasons to love stress. The chemical cocktail of cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine that stress releases in our bodies causes our hearts to beat faster, instantly raises blood glucose, and gives us a big burst of focus and energy. While we’ve evolved from escaping lions, that cortisol-stimulated rush lets us multitask and get things done in a hurry.
But what happens if you’re addicted to stress and living from invigorating burst to burst? It turns out that just like that old public service announcement showing the egg on a pan, our brain is also getting fried. It's also wreaking havoc on the body. The long term impact of too much cortisol can be catastrophic, leading to high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and a host of other ailments.
Aside from the long term health risks, stress in the short term doesn't really deliver the benefit as a stress addict assumes. Much like a drug, the “boost” you get as a result of stress is very short term — only about 18 minutes. Afterwards, your blood sugar drops, your energy disintegrates, and you don't feel like a rock star anymore.
How can you train your brain for the sprints that it requires but also be prepared to run the distance? The good news, according to Hanna, is that you don’t have to completely give up the bursts of energy you love, you only need to learn how to manage it.
To kick the habit, she recommends picking up a few new ones. For starters, find ways to incorporate exercise into your day. Since aerobic activity is the number one way to burn cortisol, regular workouts can help the body recover between bursts (leave the phone at the office). Eating smaller meals more frequently is a great way to maintain an ideal blood glucose level. And finally, make time for socializing. Not only will it help you stay balanced, it actually increases endorphin levels, which in turn balances cortisol and improves your mood.
So, for the stress junkies, there’s hope. Making a few simple changes will get you off the energy roller coaster, giving you the sustainable energy you need to handle the highs without hitting the lows.