Stress is something that's sort of baked-into today's fast-paced American culture. If you aren't constantly "doing," then people look at you like you're crazy. And if you aren't totally stressed out by your job, then you must be lazy or unambitious. Unfortunately, these are dangerous ideas and speak to just how bad things have become in corporate America.

The Connection Between Job-Related Stress and Unhealthy Addictions

It's important to start this conversation by pointing out that stress is natural. The human body is designed in a way that stress initiates a fight-or-flight response that sends more blood to the muscles that are needed in order to take action. But while momentary stress is fine, chronic stress is unnatural and dangerous. It's a byproduct of the culture we live in and incredibly evident in the workplace.

Workplace stress can be brought on by any number of factors and is often present in occupations where the individual is exposed to intense circumstances - such as social work, law enforcement, military, or healthcare.

"The stressful event or circumstance itself is not harmful. What matters is how the person appraises (interprets) the stressor and how he or she copes with it," psychologist Shahram Heshmat explains. "One can use reappraisal as a coping strategy by viewing situations differently (e.g., it is no longer a big deal). One can also cope with stress by smoking, drinking, and overeating. What is important is the meaning that the event or circumstance has for the individual."

Substance abuse is by far one of the most common responses. People turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of feeling something different and numbing the pain. The problem is that it's hard to do this in isolation. All it takes is one exposure to substance abuse in order to rewire the way you deal with and confront stressful situations in your career.

"Substance abuse causes changes in the brain. What starts as a euphoric experience becomes a 24/7 effort to simply feel 'normal.' The brain's rewired to compulsively seek that 'high,'" Kerry Nenn writes for Rehabs.com. "Even when faced with negative consequences, the addicted brain instinctively dismisses these events; it's consumed with the goal of getting more drugs. For anyone who's struggling with chemical dependency, the focus is avoiding withdrawal sickness at all costs."

It's not just alcohol and drugs, though. Work-related stress can push people to a variety of crutches. These can include caffeine, eating disorders, sex, pornography, smoking, excessive physical activity, abuse, bullying, or even cutting. And while it often feels like there isn't a way out, you need to be honest with yourself and realize that you're doing far more harm than good. Thanks to new legislation and awareness of the dangers of addiction, you don't have to do it alone.

"When work stress leads an employee down a path of addiction, in many cases, it's time to seek professional help. Unfortunately, too many employees avoid recovery treatment because they fear they will lose their jobs," Robert Yagoda writes for U.S. News and World Report. "However, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act include provisions that make it illegal for employers to fire or discriminate against employees for undergoing addiction treatment."

It's important that those going through stress - whether you or your peers - don't just gloss over the severity of the issue. While it may seem innocent on the surface, it has a dangerous and lethal underbelly.

Discover Optimal Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is something we all strive for, yet few of us ever take practical steps towards achieving. There's plenty of advice on how to manage this issue and you have to be proactive about implementing these steps. If you don't, then your chronic exposure to high amounts of stress will eventually lead you down a slippery slope towards addiction. It might not be drugs or alcohol, but that doesn't mean your crutch is any less serious. Now's the time to act.

Published on: Nov 29, 2017