Neuroscientist and addiction specialist Jim Pfaus says that stress can cause a natural high by activating the arousal and attention centers in our nervous system, according to this article in Business Insider. Pfaus explains that “stressors can also wake up the neural circuitry underlying wanting and craving — just like drugs do.”
This could shed light on the reasons why in 2015, the American Psychological Association reported that 24 percent of Americans experience extreme stress regularly, which can lead to such mental health issues as depression and anxiety. Might those who latch on to stress do so not least because they are addicted to the satisfaction they get from accomplishing work-related tasks under pressure?
Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress, thinks so. A stress management specialist, Mandel says, “like a drug addict, you need a bigger fix all the time.” She adds that those who are addicted to stress do so in part because obsessing over work allows people to avoid self-reflection and “run away from their own unhappiness.”
But how to get out of the quagmire? Time management expert Laura Vanderkam might have the answer. In her article “How To Let Go Of Your Guilt And Actually Enjoy Your Downtime,” Vanderkam thinks that it’s a matter of tricking your mind into thinking relaxation is just another task to be accomplished.
“Once it becomes an assignment,” Vanderkam writes, “it would be out of the realm of guilt, and more into the realm of duty.” In other words, you have to deliberately budget mental time for relaxation and turn downtime “into something you judge yourself on.”
If you start feeling restless during your free time, remind yourself that being unproductive is just another task to check off.