Everyone has their drug of choice. Mine is stress. Nothing gets me going more than having a lot to do, lots of projects on my plate, running around from place to place, trying to do anything and everything, always saying yes. I feel most alive when I feel like there’s no way I can finish everything I have to do, but somehow I find a way to do it all. I thrive on stress.
But I don’t thrive on stress at all. It’s like any other addiction: you think you need it to live, you think it makes your life better, you think you control it…but you don’t. It controls you, makes your life worse, all the while putting the wool over your eyes and convincing you that you need it.
If I take the time to reflect, my life of stress has taken a toll. All the projects that I said yes to? I may have found a way to get them done, but am I proud of my work in all of them? No. Really, there are more times I’m ashamed of the work I did. I think back to all the things I could have done better if I had given myself the luxury of time and my full attention to those projects. Many times, I feel like I wasted everyone’s time, especially my own. No sense of accomplishment here. Only a sense of regret.
And like any drug, stress has taken a toll on me. I mentioned the emotional effects stress has had on me, but I’ve also paid a physical price too. All the years spent running around meant that I never took care of myself like I should have. I didn’t exercise, I grabbed crappy convenience meals on the go, and I never got enough sleep. Now I’m saddled with high cholesterol, a weak heart, and diabetes. Seems like a huge price to pay for such little reward.
I don’t mean to dwell on the negative. No one likes a perpetual Debbie Downer. The one good thing that came from having a stress addiction is the realization that I have to get off it. It’s really made me change my thinking. Before, I used to think that being stressed and feeling overwhelmed was a sign of being busy. Now I know different. Being busy is a good thing, but being busy is not the same as being stressed. Being busy is having a lot of things to do, but also knowing that you can stay on top of all them and be proud of the work you actually do.
Now I know that it’s okay to say no to things. I have a huge problem saying no. First, I hate disappointing people when they ask me for something. I’m a perpetual people pleaser and I always think that if I say no, they will never ask me to do something again. Second, it’s flattering to be asked to do something. It shows that others want to work with you and like the work you’ve done before. It’s an ego boost, and how can I say no to an ego boost? But now I know that it’s better to say no when you don’t have the time to do something. Now I know that people may be disappointed if you say no, but they’ll be even more disappointed when you say yes and do crappy work. Nothing ruins a reputation more than doing crappy work. It’s always better to do good work and saying no to one project doesn’t mean you won’t get asked to do another one.
My health problems also made me realize that it’s okay for me to take care of myself. Before, I actually felt guilty if I had time to go home early, eat a balanced meal, and get some sleep. It felt like I had forgotten to do something or like I was neglecting another thing I had to do. Now I know that taking care of myself only leads to good work. I work so much better when I’m well rested, and, after making some changes in my diet, I now know I work so much better when I’m eating well and getting some exercise.
Change is hard. But as I’m looking at the changes I’m trying to make to stop being a stress junkie, I’m realizing how beneficial they really are. My stress addiction told me for a long time that being overwhelmed, barely treading water, was good. I know better than that now and seeing how much better I feel, how much better I work when I take care of myself and not feel stressed, makes me feel more motivated to continue this change. I can’t guarantee that I won’t relapse, but now at least I know how to get past it when I do.