Addicted to Anxiety?

Do you ever feel like you’re living your life on fast-forward? Frantic, frazzled and out of sync. If you are reading this blog you have likely experienced this.  But have you ever considered you could be addicted to anxiety? When many of us think of ‘addiction’ we think of substance use (ie. drugs, alcohol), gambling and/or other self-gratifying impulsive behaviours. Rarely do we think that our brain can be “wired” for or dare I say “crave” anxiety.

Think of your brain like a pot on the stove. If the heat is at the right temperature we are moving from day to day tasks with some ease, what I call ‘simmering’. Imagine now that someone suddenly cranks the heat up. This can be as simple as someone cutting you off in traffic or rushing to an appointment.  We feel this “bubbling over” first in our body – your heart starts to race, your palms might feel sweaty, you become snappy and irritable and most importantly, your breathing becomes quick and shallow. Hopefully once the stress stops you return to your “simmer” state but for many of us this is the not the case.

I know what it feels like to be in the “bubbling over” state for much of the day. Not only did it become my norm, it became my fuel. That is, if I wasn’t in a state of a “fright or flight” I didn’t feel productive.  If medical school and residency didn’t engrain this pattern into me, motherhood certainly did. The funny thing was that the higher my ‘set point’ the more unproductive and exhausted I felt. I just couldn’t run anymore

I know my experience is not uncommon. I know many of you can relate.

What I never realized (and why I’m writing this post in the first place!) is that your brain can become ‘addicted’ to this anxiety. That is, your brain gets a “hit” from accomplishing a task in the midst of chaos; and the harder the ask the more of a reward you receive internally. In essence, chaos breeds chaos.

One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve had throughout my adult life, is that calm people are actually underachievers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Think of someone who is treading water, flailing all of their limb just to keep their head afloat; this is what stress does to you. Wouldn’t you rather be the person who is swimming, and using their energy to actually move through the water with ease.

How do you achieve less frenzy and more flow in your life? There is no simple answer but just a lot of little suggestions that can nudge you in the right direction.

No matter what, if you are reading this you are seeking to improve your life and that is something worth celebrating. No matter what, if you do nothing else, just remember you are not alone in this journey.  And, if all else fails, just remember to breathe.