Are You Addicted to Anxiety?

BlogHer Original Post

Do you secretly enjoy being anxious? Do you choose hyperactive and anxious over peace of mind and happiness (even if unconsciously)? If you secretly answered yes, you are not alone. Being addicted to anxiety is surprisingly one way that people boost performance and find comfort.

According to new research reported in Newsweek via The Daily Beast some people are simply anxiety addicts.

In one recent study, psychologist Maya Tamir of Hebrew University in Jerusalem gave 47 undergraduates a standard test of neuroticism, which asks people if they agree with such statements as "I get stressed out easily." The more neurotic subjects were significantly more likely to choose feeling worried before a demanding task.

Apparently the neurotics performed demanding tasks at a higher level if they were able to feel worried beforehand. Non-neurotics did not experience enhanced performance by engaging in anxiety first. So I suppose you need to know for sure whether you are technically neurotic or not to determine if being anxious about the task at hand will help.

Another study featured in the article is by psychology researcher Brett Ford of the University of Denver who found the familiarity of anxiety was more important than its usefulness, concluding:

"Some people," he adds, "get addicted to feeling anxious because that's the state that they've always known. If they feel a sense of calm, they get bored; they feel empty inside. They want to feel anxious." Notice he didn't say "like."

While this may be true, personally I find it is fear, sometimes out-and-out terror, not boredom that is what is really going on. Thomas Leonard, a pioneer in the coaching profession often said "Boredom is the pathway to peace." Because when you silence all the nonsense in your head you are forced to come face-to-face with yourself. And that can be downright scary. However it is the doorway to creating what you really want in your life - the experience you most want to have. Unfortunately most people would rather stay preoccupied with anxiety and worry, mistaking busyness (even if just in their minds) for productivity.

I'm not saying anxiety or panic is not real. Quite the opposite. As someone who dealt with debilitating panic and anxiety in my mid-20's, I know what it feels like to be in a full-blown panic attack or be so anxious that you can barely navigate a situation. It is a horrible and terrifying experience, and the physical symptoms are real.

The National Institute fo Mental Health has a wealth of information about anxiety disorders and ways to treat them. There are ways to manage your anxieties but you have to choose to do something about it and reach out for the proper level of support.

However, for a host of others the desire to indulge in anxiety can simply be a choice, a way to cope with uncertain situations and uncertain times through familiarity. Notice the study says addicted to the state they've always known (meaning - familiar and comfortable) not necessarily what they like (would prefer to experience). The definition of addiction being: Addiction is a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance. Mood-altering is usually an important component of addiction. You do something to feel differently (or numb out to feelings).

What instantly stands out for me when I read all this is -- what is the relationship between a culture obsessed with caffeine and a world where we thrive on being anxious, worried, and busy? Coffee is a socially acceptable addiction and is practically assumed to be required in professional settings. Ask for green tea (even in 2011) and you get blank stares (unless you are in some hip organic setting but that's not corporate life).

Caffeine is an addictive substance. In addition to the bona-fide chemical changes that happen in your body from drinking it, it also screams addiction because people start their day "unable to function without my first cup of coffee" and, when forced to go without, develop physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms. I know this withdrawal pain for a fact because in the early-1990's I went from being a 4-5 (or more) cups of coffee a day drinker to decaf only cold turkey. The headache was pure hell. The irritability almost got me disowned.

Are you in control of your own coffee addiction? Our culture's obsession with caffeine continues to grow unchecked with the arrival of "energy drinks" and substances like Red Bull. Who knows what comes next. Perhaps a return to something natural like adequate sleep and natural energy boosters. Oh, right, that's not as convenient or acceptable.

Given that there is a documented connection between caffeine and anxiety. Are people simply fueling their own addiction to anxiety?

Would love to hear your thoughts about this new angle on anxiety. What do you think? What has been your personal experience?

Photo Credit: JRonaldlee.

Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G Company is the Intuitive Intelligence™ Coach and helps you make wiser decisions in your career and business so you experience more freedom and results. Download 5 Steps to Move from Fear to Freedom (free)

Original for BlogHer


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.