Is stress an addiction of the brain?

Is stress an addiction of the brain? by Patt Lind-Kyle, MA

Lately, I have become fascinated with the notion that stress is a habit. Stress is addictive as we become dependent on it and we feel lost when it goes away. We find some quiet and peace in our lives and then quickly turn on a violent movie, talk on the phone, text or email someone or watch the news or feel pressured in some demanding circumstance. Do we like stress that much? Is our intention to have more mental or emotional strain? Buddha calls this addiction suffering and we call it stress. He also said, “What I teach is that there is suffering and there is an end to suffering.”

To really know how to end this addiction to stress is impossible if we hold tight to the physical and emotional tension and pain without even realizing it. More importantly we do not know how to identify stress in order to reduce or change our sources of the stress. Thus, our stressful reactions in our brain–mind, and body can create a negative loop that keeps repeating itself. There are two ways the brain responds to our reactions. One is via the nervous system (electrical system) and two is via the endocrine system (our chemical system). Every reaction such as a thought, emotion, perception and sensation are all run by this electro-chemical system.

As we wear our habits like gloves they are what and who we are and they become our electro-chemical addiction. We have an arsenal of neuro-chemicals in our brain and body such as dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, and serotonin. These chemicals in the neuronal pathways have been reinforced by our repetitive behavior, which keeps us “addicted” to the same habitual pattern. For example, Peter has a regular routine, which reinforces his sense of orderliness. He gets up meditates, makes his coffee, reads the paper, has his exercise routine, showers etc. This pattern of chemical and electrical impulses gives Peter great comfort and familiarity. This pleasurable situation of routine triggers Peter’s brain to produce the chemical neurotransmitter dopamine that activates the brain’s reward center of pleasure.

One summer Peter’s sister stayed with him for a month. She and her family took over the house with her kids toys spread everywhere and with new activities, making the baby’s food and lots of screams and chatter. What happened to Peter’s brain electro-chemical system when the sense of his order is “messed up?” At first Peter’s reaction to the change triggered the brain to release emergency chemicals to prepare for the defense of his orderly system. The evolutionary flight and fight chemical of cortisol and adrenaline quickly flowed into his blood stream triggering the emotional responses of fear, anger and anxiety. These addictive substances kept him locked into automatic emotional behaviors. These behaviors kept him asleep to what was actually happening to him.

Fortunately, Peter woke up in time. He was present to and aware of what was going on inside of himself. He knew he had to make a more healthy choice of responses and chose to break the stressful addictive automatic pattern. Peter had practiced self-reflection through daily meditation and the use of his EFT training to break the negative pattern of automatic thoughts. Both of these practices relax the mind-brain, and body which in turn switches off the cortisol/adrenaline response. When Peter entered into the relaxation of these practices dopamine was released and the brain produced an inner feeling of well being.

Our brain is begging us for a chance to recover from our addiction to stress. Training our mind is a way to release our automatic repeating stress patterns. The practice of mind training and Emotional Freedom Technique (http://www.eftuniverse.com/) is a major contributor to the brain’s evolutionary process. It is a way to shift our inner world from conflicted addiction devastation within ourselves to compassion for our self and others.

Patt Lind-Kyle holds an MA in East/West Psychology and a BS in Biological Sciences. She is a therapist, consultant and author. She is also a co-founder of Lind & Kyle Consultants, an executive development company that applies neuro-monitoring tools for stress management, health, and peak performance. Her research, writing, and teaching in the mind/brain field center on using an EEG brainwave monitoring system to help individuals maximize their brain-mind potentials.

Patt is the author of the new book Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain: Applying the Exciting New Science of Brain Synchrony for Creativity, Peace and Presence. (Energy Psychology Press, 2009) She also has created a companion set of practice CDs that accompany the book by the same title. Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain won the Independent Publishers gold medal award in the Health/Wellness category for 2010. She has written a chapter in Audacious Aging: “Building Community from the Inside Out” (Elite Books, 2009), and is also the author of When Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up (SwanRaven, 1994, BookSurge, 2008).