Life is stressful. It doesn’t matter whether you are single or have a family, work as a grocery store clerk or a CEO, have enough money to pay your bills or live paycheck to paycheck., etc. Life is stressful for everyone. Sure, there are times in life when stress increases. Maybe it’s the loss of a job, a broken relationship, the terminal diagnosis of a loved one, etc. It happens. And it is all part of life.
There exists a connection between stress and addiction. It once was thought using a substance a few times can lead to addiction. And, while it can, stress can lead to addiction, too.
The Dangers of Too Much Stress
First, let’s talk about how the body reacts to stress. When life gets really stressful, you may feel the physical aspects associated with the stress – and that is because there is so much more going on within the body. The response comes from your nervous system, endocrine system, immune system, and cardiovascular system. Short-term feelings of stress can result in rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, and pounding headaches. In the long run, however, high blood pressure, insomnia, back pain, gastrointestinal issues and more can stem from stress sustained over a long period of time.
See, when you are stressed, your body releases cortisol. This is the boost that is meant to help you deal with the stressful situation. However, when you have chronic stress in your life, the constant elevated level of cortisol can be harmful over an extended time. This leads to a great number of health issues.
- High blood pressure
- Tension/migraine headaches
- Vascular inflammation like coronary arterial disease
- Chronic fatigue
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Sexual reproduction problems
- Musculoskeletal problems, such as back pain
- Increased risk for heart attack and stroke
Stress has an incredible physical impact on the body that can lead to a lifetime of damage if not addressed — and not learned how to be dealt with properly.
The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction
Think, for a moment, of those addictions that require treatment programs, such as rehab facilities and support groups, but don’t involve a substance. For instance, things like gambling, shopping, sex, online, food, etc. are all examples of things that people become addicted to, but they are not a substance. We call these process addictions.
What does this mean? Well, it means that the perception that people get addicted because a substance itself is magically addictive may not be so true after all. Perhaps there is a deeper reason – one of which is the link between stress and addiction.
Some researchers believe that there is a link between the stress hormone cortisol and the feelings associated with using a substance. But we do not even need to get that deep to see the connection between stress and addiction. It boils down to the way our brain handles certain life stressors. Some areas of the brain lead to greater susceptibility when it comes to addiction.
We put our brains in a vulnerable position when we encounter repeated stressful (most often negative) events in life. However, it is important to note that different types of abuse, as well as mood disorders and anxiety disorders, can lead to the same response.
Our physical actions and how we handle stress also impact addictions. Chronic stress requires a set of healthy, readily available means of managing it, otherwise known as coping skills. Yet, so many of us turn to substances to handle stress. You may spend an evening drinking your cares away. You may seek out various substances as a means of escaping for the day. But once the substance wears off, then more is needed. The stress was never dealt with and then the relief from the substance is no longer there. Since it felt so good, more is needed to keep that peaceful feeling. These cyclical patterns can very easily lead to addiction.
It is important that we point out that substance abuse can lead to stress, too. Which can make it all a very damaging cycle if it is not addressed appropriately. Things like health issues, financial issues, unstable families, relationship issues, and more can result from addiction and put more stress and strain on one’s life.
The Power of Stress Management
The best way to handle stress so that it reduces the chance of addiction is to learn tips and tools of stress management. Don’t choose another hit or another drink. The more you do, the more dangerous it may be. Instead, choose healthy ways of managing your stress. These include:
Exercise. When you feel stressed or anxious, get your body moving. Go for a walk or run. Join a kickboxing class. Ride your bike. Exercise is one of the top natural ways to help your body deal with stress. Not to mention that breathing the fresh air when exercising outside can also feel good.
Eat a well-balanced diet. Eating foods that are highly processed, full of sugar, chemicals, and additives can impact your body negatively and make it harder to feel in control of it. Eat a healthy diet full of whole foods, leaving the processed junk out. Your mental clarity will be stronger and your stress will be easier to manage.
Sleep well. Stress requires sleep. With all that cortisol, your body is on overload. Give it rest – good, quality rest – to help you face the new day.
Finally, if you find yourself dealing with stress and battling an addiction, then it is important you seek treatment. This should not be from just any facility, but one that practices the whole-body wellness of women. Stress management tools should be taught and ways to handle everything life throws at women today should always be part of the program.
Life is full of stress. It’s not going to go away. So being equipped to handle it properly is the best way to a healthy future.