Do you know what a stress-habit is? Neither did I, but mine’s been holding me back for quite a while and it’s time to face the elephant in the room. We've all experienced those overwhelming moments that seem to follow us around like a stubborn shadow. But did you know that stress can become a habit, one that needs to be fed no matter how far that pushes you towards the brink? In this blog post, we'll explore how this little-known habit can get in your way, hinder your personal and professional growth, and what to do about it.
The Vicious Cycle of Stress
Stress is a natural response to challenging situations, and in small doses, it can actually be beneficial, pushing you to perform better. However, when stress becomes a habit, it can create a vicious cycle. The more stress you experience, the more your body and mind becomes accustomed to it. Over time, you may start seeking out stress-inducing situations, perpetuating the cycle and hindering your ability to find peace and balance. That’s not to say you are at fault for being stressed, like many habits it’s often something you don’t even realize you have, particularly at work.
When stress becomes ingrained as a habit, it can impair your decision-making abilities. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that affects cognitive functions. Chronic stress can cloud your judgment, making it difficult to think clearly and rationally. This can lead to poor decision-making, both in your personal and professional life. You may find yourself making impulsive choices or getting stuck in analysis paralysis, unable to make any decisions at all. You may also get exhausted from decision fatigue, making it impossible to say “no”, or just easier to say “yes”. It can also mean that even if things do become less stressful, it causes emotional discomfort (an unease, because of the marked change between your super busy schedule and a more liveable one). When this happens, you may automatically fill your day to over-capacity because your stress-habit demands to be fed in order to make you feel like you’re doing “enough”, being involved or making a difference.
Negative Impact on Relationships
Stress can take a toll on your relationships, particularly when it becomes a habit. Constantly being in a state of stress can make you more prone to irritability, impatience, and less emotionally available to the people closest to you. You may inadvertently push away the people who matter most if they get in the way of getting everything done, as stress becomes something unconsciously guiding you in every situation. The inability to relax and be present in your relationships can strain connections, causing misunderstandings and creating distance between yourself and those you care about, the people you need to support your emotional self-care (unintentionally creating… you guessed it, more stress).
Of course, we all know that long-term stress can have significant health consequences. When stress becomes a habit, it can lead to chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and compromised immune function (all signs of burnout). Additionally, it can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression (also signs of burnout). Neglecting self-care and relaxation in favor of constant stress can have severe implications for your overall well-being. While that’s not news, knowing how to break an stress-habit isn’t something we talk about enough and it’s time to break the silence.
Catching a Stress-habit in the Act
There are certain things that keep a stress-habit fed. A fear-of-missing-out (FOMO), wanting to be helpful to others (constantly putting their needs before your own), or trying to control outcomes through over-work and hard work (or perfectionism) are just a few of the ways a stress-habit keeps itself fed. You may not even know your stress-habit is doing this; you just know you’re stressed and don’t really see a way out. One way to catch a stress-habit in the act is to put off making a decision, or saying “yes” to something for a few hours (asking for time to think, or to confirm when you’re available to help). If you find putting space between yourself and something that is likely to create stress for you hard to do, you have a stress-habit.
Breaking the cycle of stress as a habit is crucial for personal and professional growth. Recognizing the negative impacts it can have on decision-making, relationships, and your health is the first step. By knowing when your stress-habit is in play, cultivating healthier habits, coping mechanisms, seeking support, and prioritizing emotional self-care, you can overcome your stress-habit and create a more fulfilling and balanced life.
Remember, it's never too late to break free from the grip of stress and regain control of your well-being. Take small steps each day towards a more stress-free life, and you'll be amazed at the positive changes it can bring.
And if you’re really stuck, get help. You’re never alone on this journey.