Hi. My name’s Nicole and I’m a (former) stress addict.
I put the former in parentheses because it’s a daily struggle for me to not fall into my old pattern of making bad decisions that bring more overwhelm into my life (and then complaining about HOW STRESSFUL everything is to everyone I know). My former stress addiction is also why I’ve become so passionate about helping other women figure out ways to stress less… because when you learn how to stress less, you bring a lot more fun and enjoyable experiences (and people) into your life!
I’m honestly not really sure when my addiction to stress began, but for a long time I believe life needed to be HARD in order to make myself feel like I mattered or was important in this world. What would I talk about if I couldn’t complain about how little money I had or how hard my job was or how no one else could possibly understand how tough it was to live my life? I needed to be miserable and misunderstood at my job so I could go home and rest and reward myself with hours and hours of (often bad) TV shows, so that I had a reason to avoid exercise, cooking healthy meals, and anything else that would actually help me combat stress.
I was always a worrier, but I think my stress addiction really intensified after grad school when I lived in NYC. After all, it is the city that never sleeps – you’re supposed to be working a lot, and then socializing all night, and then waking up and doing it all over again (while looking your very best and squeezing in time for the gym!). Self-care was not a part of my world at that time and if I did anything nice for myself, I obsessed over the cost and I felt guilty about the time spent on it!
In my mind, I somehow believe that my life wasn’t going to be good unless I struggled first and for me that struggle meant being stressed out (and often unhappy) most of the time.
When I lived in NYC, I was a new social worker in a dreary neighborhood in Harlem helping underprivileged kids while I struggled to pay my ridiculous rent and enormous grad school loans. Living in NYC sounds like a lot of fun, but when you can’t really afford a good quality of life it isn’t very exciting at all. People in NYC are moving in and out all the time, so it was hard for me to develop a stable group of friends and I always felt like I was on my own. For the first year or two, I didn’t even realize how stressed I was because I just thought that was the way life was supposed to be! I’m also really good at tuning out how I really feel and ignoring what’s going on when I want to, especially if I think I need to make changes (because I always considered change a bad thing back then).
Eventually it all caught up to me and I hated getting out of bed in the morning. I hated struggling to pay my bills. I hated that I never got to take vacations anywhere nice. Lots of good things happened to me, but I never really focused on them. If someone brought them up, I would then stick a “But….” into the conversation and proceed to bring up some problem that I was having.
I never allowed myself to appreciate or enjoy the things in my life that were going great.
When I finally accepted how stressful my lifestyle really was, I dealt with it in a pretty dramatic way — I made plans to quit my job and moved back to NJ so I could save some money and then I decided to take off and travel and volunteer in Venezuela for a few months (just look how happy and stress+less I look in that picture above). Traveling in Venezuela by myself was an amazing experience that I would never take back (yes it was a bit stressful traveling in a country where I didn’t speak the language alone but that’s a good type of stress and a whole other story), but it really just put a band-aid on my stressed out lifestyle. I thought that when I returned home I would feel amazing and my lifestyle would completely change. But it didn’t— at least not overnight, and this was a bit of a shock because of course I want immediate results.
I kept working at changing my habits and over time I developed healthier habits that led to less stress.
I chose jobs that allowed to me do the work that I wanted with the clients that I wanted. When I outgrew a job, I would leave it instead of forcing myself to make it work. I figured out that learning to go with the flow when it comes to change makes a lot more sense than resisting it (ok just because I figured it out doesn’t mean that I do it all the time, but I try!!!). I learned about mindfulness, which means actually being in the present moment and not always trying to live in the past and future. This has probably had the biggest effect on my stress level as I spent way too much time obsessing over things I couldn’t control and ignoring my feelings in an effort to make them go away (they never do!).
I also got smarter about recognizing that I can’t always try to change people to who I want them to be, and that I can only work on changing how I deal with things.
I don’t want to paint a perfect picture of my stress+less life — there are days when I fall back to my horrible habits of comforting myself with junk food or wasting a beautiful Saturday on my couch watching TV, or working on 10 different projects at one time instead of focusing on what I really need to. There are nights where I realize I never paused or took any deep breaths throughout the day. But now I notice those times more often and instead of getting mad at myself, I work on getting back on track with being more aware and setting better intentions of living a life with less stress.
Stressing less is now something I’ve become passionate about helping others learn how to do.
We’re living in a world where we want everything to happen instantly and we spend a lot of time time with our heads buried in our iPhones and laptops without ever really giving ourselves a break from work. We lose out on opportunities to connect with our friends and family. We feel that working hard and taking fewer breaks makes us successful. We struggle to not feel guilty when we take time out for vacations and fun times with our friends! I want everyone to be able to slow down and experience life as it’s actually happening.
I wanted to confess my stress addiction story to you so that you know you’re not alone in your struggles with stress and overwhelm and your need to feel busy. You can learn ways to work through it. There are different strategies that work for all of us and I would love for all of us to share our struggles to stress less. I’ve been interviewing other women who also identify as (former) Stress Addicts and I’m excited to start sharing their stories here on my blog. I hope that you’ll continue to join me in reading “Confessions of a (former) Stress Addict” so that we can continue to learn new ways to stress less and live more.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with stress. Do you identify as a stress addict or (former) stress addict? Share your story in the comments below!