Between feeling peaceful or stressed, what’s your choice?
On the surface, the answer seems apparent, yet we can become addicted to stress and may not even know it.
I know, because I was a stress-addict. For many years, I was running high on the stress chemicals of adrenaline, cortisol, and dopamine coursing through my brain and body. I was so used to this feeling, it felt foreign and uncomfortable for me to be without it. If it wasn’t there, I’d create it. I’ve learned I’m not alone in this.
Much of the stress I experienced was self-generated. I constantly felt time-pressure when none existed outside my own mind. While I thought I was thriving, the truth is I was uncomfortable with the alternative. I craved the “high” offered to me by the stress response because I was so used to it.
In recognizing I felt restless or bored when not feeling stressed, I realized what I really missed was the flood of stress-chemicals flowing through my body. I thought this was feeling alive, when I was doing anything but really living and enjoying life as I rushed from one thing to the next.
The stress response is an evolutionary capacity to keep us out of harm’s way, causing us to act quickly on a temporary basis. We encounter problems when this response becomes habitual and we live everyday life like it’s an emergency. It becomes a problem if it starts to negatively impact our lives.
Over time, the cost of this stress is experienced as:
• Sleep problems and fatigue
• Cardiovascular changes
• Digestive upsets, such as indigestion, heartburn, constipation and diarrhea
• Inability to concentrate
• Kidney and adrenal challenges
• Impaired immune function
• Changes to our DNA and cellular health
• Shrinkage of grey matter in the brain
• Inability to be present in the moment
• Difficulty with relationships
• Loss of happiness
Research has revealed a correlation between time-pressure and negative effects on health and quality of life. Research has also revealed our ability to make the best decisions is compromised when we feel the pressure of time.
In a constant state of hurry, not only was my immune system compromised, causing me to be sick more often, my mind did not work as well and I missed simple, obvious solutions. I grew more irritable and unhappy due to living in a habitual state of time-stress.
A key to freedom came when I recognized my habit of hurry, how pervasive it had become and the effect on my quality of life.
What we practice grows stronger, according to psychology professor Shauna Shapiro. When we’ve practiced the stress response day-in-and-day-out, it becomes hardwired in our brains and bodies. It becomes our norm, and learning another way takes awareness and practice.
Feeling bored, sad or anxious when you’re not stressed may offer a clue you’ve been hooked by the habit of time-pressure and stress. You’re certainly not alone and it’s possible to practice a different way of living.
It’s helpful to check-in with yourself periodically throughout the day. Sitting in traffic is the perfect place to begin. Pause and notice when the sense of hurry is present and how it feels in your body, mind and emotions. Do you feel your best-self when you feel in a rush? Then, consciously relax, take a few deep belly breaths, soften your shoulders, jaw, hands and abdomen and notice how that feels. Mentally compare the feelings of tension with the feelings of relaxation.
The next step is to ask yourself if there is really a need for speed.
What is the worst think that could happen if something took a few seconds longer? Ask yourself whether spending your physical, mental, and emotional health on hurrying is worth it to you and your loved ones.
We actually become more efficient and effective when we lose the sense of emergency, allow ourselves to feel a sense of calm, thereby deactivating the stress response. Even when time-pressure is real, as we simply take a few deep, slow breaths and check in with our senses, we are no longer victim to the stress response that is activated by the perceived need to hurry.
While time can be a real pressure, the sense of needing to rush can also become a habit that pervades life. A habit of hurry prevents us from savouring the simple pleasures of life and from being able to think clearly.
There’s always time to pause, take a breath, and relax rather than rush through life and miss the joy of living.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.