I have been thinking a lot about stress lately. Mostly because I have recently been introduced to a new concept: stress addiction.
Those of you who know me, know that I have always considered stress as the number one enemy of my patients’ mental and physical health. After all, 75% of all GP consultations, in one way or another, has something to do with stress.
I have always accepted that a certain amount of stress is essential if we want to realise our potential. It is only when the amount of stress exceeds our ability to use it to our advantage that stress becomes our enemy rather than our ally.
Stress addiction, however, is a concept I have not come across before. It appears that there are now people who are getting high on stress. People who wear their high stress levels like badges of honor, drawing their peers’ attention proudly to how little sleep they are getting, how their downtime is spent racing to meet deadlines and how they are too busy to take time off.
When we find ourselves in stressful situations, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released and circulate our bodies. However, when cortisol and adrenaline remain present in our system for prolonged periods of time rather than reducing once the perceived threat has passed, this hormonal “high” can get us hooked — and looking for more. We find ourselves craving additional boosts of adrenaline on top of the adrenaline already chronically present in our bloodstream.
This lifestyle seems now to have reached epidemic proportions. In an attempt to escape boredom and make themselves feel more important, people are getting addicted to stress. The problem is that chronic stress causes a variety of long-term physical and mental problems, that much has not changed. The only difference is that where we in the past were the unwilling victims of stress, we are now actively chasing it.
Obviously, I shall have to adjust my stress management workshops with horses to address this new trend. I have no idea what our horses are going to think about this – hoses use the release of the stress hormones to help them escape dangerous situations – it is essential to their survival and in that sense more of a friend than an enemy. I have been teaching workshop participants these last 5 years how to manage stress so that they can use it to perform better than ever before.
This approach will certainly not help anybody who is addicted to stress, quite on the contrary!
So I have decided that it is time for a major and in-depth update of my knowledge of stress. I had barely formulated this decision when the perfect solution landed in my lap: attending The Global Stress Summit. According to the host, Dr Heidi Hanna, “during this summit, 35 thought leaders will teach you about the “new” science of stress.” I have to admit, she has gathered together a most impressive group of people who shared their knowledge with us from the 24th of April to the 1st of May.
I have attended many virtual summits in the past – there recently was an excellent mindfulness summit. My problem is that it is just too much information to take in at once, so for the first time ever, I am actually going to pay to have access to all the videos online so that I can listen to each in my own time and digest the information in bite-sized portions.
So everyone attending our stress management workshops with horses this summer is going to benefit from my up-to-date knowledge. I will be teaching participants how to
- Recognize stress-related signs, symptoms and conditions
- Understand historical and present-day stress/resilience research
- Learn how stress can be harmful or helpful
- Practice important stress-management skills
- Gain simple, practical tools to build a more resilient brain and body