How do you feel about reducing your stress? Most of us automatically respond that we’d love to have less stress in our lives. Many times we state proudly that we’re working on getting rid of so much stress. Yet the stress hangs on. And on. And often, it rises. Do you find this happening to you? Is it possible that the idea of letting go of even some of your stress creates anxiety? Is there a small chance that you might be afraid of reducing stress?
The notion of stress reduction causing anxiety might at first seem absurd. Stress reduction, after all, is supposed to reduce anxiety. Sometimes, though, changing our lifestyle to create opportunities to relax legitimately increases anxiety and inspires a sense of fear. Owning up to needing and/or achieving stress relief is difficult, especially for us Type A’s (or, more accurately, those of us with more Type A traits than Type B traits, as nobody is strictly one or the other — we’re far more complex than that).
We currently live in a society that is coming to value a lifestyle that incorporates more than work, drive, achievement at high costs, and other behaviors and attitudes that create stress and anxiety. This is evidenced by such things as self-help books, retreats and programs, webinars, inspirational quotes, and an entire industry dedicated to self-care and self-care products. We are a world focused on mental- and physical health and wellbeing. By extension, we increasingly value stress relief.
Despite this, though, many of us remain stressed. Honestly, many of us could, if we were honest with ourselves and made a little effort, reduce stress. So why don’t we? For many, frequently without consciously realizing it, the idea of letting go of some stress creates anxiety. We’re often afraid to relax. It makes sense when you dig a little deeper than stress’s surface.
Why Reducing Stress Can Cause Anxiety
- Stress can be linked to performance and drive. This often reaches unhealthy proportions in the form of performance anxiety among highly driven, naturally tense people. Anxiety says that easing up on stress could weaken our performance where we need it. That anxiety feeds on itself, creating more anxiety and tightening our grip on stress. We believe we need stress in order to do well.
- Fear of failure keeps us stressed out. We’d love to let go a bit, but lightening up on stress could mean certain failure. Again, we believe we need stress to avoid failure.
- Social anxiety and a sense of perfectionism get into the mix, too. High-achievers are often afraid of being judged as lazy or incompetent. So taking a break and relaxing cause more anxiety than they relieve.
Is Stress a Badge of Honor?
When it seems that stress and anxiety prevent failure or negative judgement from others, it goes to reason that we need stress. That’s why we’re sometimes reluctant to reduce it. What will happen if we let up? We’re often afraid to find out. Stress is easier to live with than failure.
Further, stress might just be a badge of honor. If we pride ourselves on performance, achievement, and success (no matter how each of us personally defines these things), and if we think that stress both helps us get there and can, in reduced amounts, keep us away from our dreams, then having stress can be something to be proud of, in a way. It also can be an outward sign to the judgmental world that we are, indeed, doing good things. Our self-concept becomes enmeshed with the amount of stress, and thus success, we have.
Could all of this–our fear, our anxiety, and even a bit of pride in our level of stress–mean that we’re addicted to stress? Perhaps not in the medical definition of addiction, but it is possible that anxiety and fear are keeping us tethered to this unhealthy state of being. As with true addictions, awareness is important. It’s also crucial to know just what the substance, behavior, and mind-set are doing to your health and wellbeing.
Check out How to Reduce Stress When Reducing Stress Causes Anxiety to see how stress affects us and get some tips for reducing it when lowering it increases anxiety.
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