We’ve all heard of various sorts of addictions, but an addiction to stress? Yes, you can be addicted to stress, and frankly, most of us are without even realizing it. Debbie Mandel, M.A is a stress-management specialist and author of – you guessed it — Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life. We spoke to Debbie about stress, why it’s sometimes good for you, and how to de-stress your life. Sort of.
Debbie, really, who doesn’t have stress?
So stress is unavoidable. Would you say it’s a necessary evil?
Yes. We need acute stress because it makes you perform better. You’ll feel alive and alert. Your immune system benefits from acute stress; it keeps it vigilant. If I have to give a speech, I need to be a little bit on edge to give myself that adrenaline. But chronic stress for women is a killer.
It definitely makes your immune system weaker.
It compromises your sleep; it depletes you. It upsets your memory so you start to get confused and distracted. You’re always rushing about and accomplishing less. It’s dangerous for your health. You’ll get aches and pains and you won’t know why. Your body is telling you it’s not good for you.
Is it possible to become addicted to that lifestyle?
Definitely. Like any addiction, you get a high. You feel powerful and then you crash and you need a fix. Women, especially mothers, need to feel validated, and you feed off of that. Inside, you feel like an impostor and you want to be graded. You become addicted to the busyness. You’re living for the future; you won’t be present. It’s a lack of focus. It’s an endless to-do list that never gets finished. You think, “I can’t relax and have fun. Let me sew my daughter’s Halloween costume now.
Oh God. This is me.[laughs] I hear all the time from women, “I’m crazy busy.” That’s not healthy. There’s great productivity in rest. I encourage people to become what I call “healthy narcissists”. We all think that’s bad, but it’s not. Women feel responsible for everyone’s happiness. They don’t have enough time for themselves. The narcissist will never beat herself up; she won’t let others steal her time. She’s not the last item on that to-do list.
Are women more addicted to stress than men?
Yes. As women, we can accomplish on so many fronts. With this economy, many women have to work more hours and they are doing it because we are capable. It comes at a cost when you don’t take your down time, though. When you rest, you come back better. You come back sharper. You come back happier.
What can women do to break the habit?
Women have to reclaim their identity; it is almost like identity theft. When you know who you are, you have self-worth, which is empowerment. Learn how to become a healthy narcissist. You will become resilient and optimistic instead of depressed. You have to eat well and rest well. Sex is a great way to de-stress and a crucial way to get back in touch with the hidden girl within. It’s important to not take yourself so seriously. You have to view your life like a movie. What kind of movie do you want to live? Personally, I prefer a romantic comedy! [laughs] I say that stress will always knock at your door. The key is to not always answer the door and let it in.