The first thing to acknowledge before we start trying to fix your stress is that you may well be addicted to it. This might seem rather counterintuitive seeing as most of us hate feeling stressed – but the sad reality is that our modern lifestyles are designed in such a way as to make stress almost a requirement.
As we have already seen, the average American is happy to work for the equivalent of six extra hours without pay. Why would we willingly subject ourselves to this?
The answer is that we are very much rewarded for behaviors that lead to stress. We are rewarded when we take on extra work, when we beat the deadline and when we don’t complain about our workload. This could even lead to a pay rise!
What’s more, some elements of stress can actually feel quite good. When we are stressed it can make us feel more focused, it can make time seem to pass more quickly (which is handy seeing as most of us find our jobs boring) and it can help us to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Actually, being stressed produces the reward hormone ‘dopamine’. This is the same hormone that makes things like eating and even taking drugs addictive. And it’s released in even greater quantities when we complete a task on time or tick something off that to-do list.
Another problem is that stress tends to creep up in small increments. We start off with a reasonable workload and over time we become desensitized to that amount of work. We become more efficient at completing those tasks too and eventually this puts us in a position where we feel able to take on more and more. Going backward suddenly feels too easy and the only real option we have is to keep adding more and more to our pile.
The result is that you become actually addicted to your workload and unable to switch off.
The society also places a ton of pressure on us to work harder. We celebrate people who work harder for the ‘common good’ and we punish people who are perceived as lazy. Being called ‘work-shy’ is one of the worst things that anyone can call us and generally we’re made to feel awful if we don’t keep taking on bigger and bigger responsibilities.
In reality, this is something we should look at critically. Are the heroes really those people who are willing to work longer hours without pay? Is it really such an amazing feat to spend more time filing papers? Is it really so bad to want to spend your life doing things that you enjoy?
A culture of working harder, longer and faster has emerged because it’s good for the country as a whole. But it is not good for the individual. And it is not ‘wrong’ to put your health, your happiness and your family ahead of corporate objectives.
Next time someone calls you work-shy? Say ‘Hell yeah!’
And finally, technology is somewhat to blame for our current state of hyper-arousal and stress. The role of technology is to make life easier for us. In other words, it’s supposed to be a ‘force multiplier’ meaning that theoretically, it should allow us to accomplish more with less work.
So you would think that this would mean we could go home earlier. Only there’s a problem: the competition also has that same technology. And as such, you now need to put out even more.
Technology has allowed us to do more in less time but in doing so it means we’re now required to do much more in total. Throw in the fact that we’re now constantly connected and always reachable by our bosses, clients, and colleagues and you have a recipe for serious work-related stress.
Signs You May be Addicted to Stress
So let’s say for a minute that you are addicted to stress… How would you even know if that was the case?
Here are a few signs that stress addiction might be a problem for you:
- You feel as though you thrive under pressure
- You are constantly checking your phone or computer for updates/e-mails
- You often leave work late
- You can’t ‘switch off’
- You struggle to relax and don’t know what to do with your spare time
- You enjoy spending all your time on your business