Nearly 30 years after founding The Bridge to Recovery, co-founder Carol Cannon published this article on stress dependence. Released in 2001, it is interesting to read about a breakthrough technology that was catching her attention, but what struck me the most was her prediction that our then-growing interest in high-stress television and video games would severely impact the generations ahead. Non-reality reality television, crime dramas, and violent video games are accepted and normalized as part of our modern culture. Are we as stress-dependent as Carol predicted? Potentially even more so?  

Here is Carol’s article on stress dependence:

According to the April 2000 issue of Shift, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are developing a virtual keyboard that will allow people to type anytime, anywhere. It employs ten minuscule silicon chips glued to users’ fingernails that track their fingers’ movements on a nonexistent keyboard, transmitting the information to a processor via low-power radio waves.

Just thinking about this invention makes my fingertips tingle. The one thing an adrenaline junkie like myself probably doesn’t need is a mechanism for doing more, better, faster! As a compulsive over-doer of everything, I’ve always had a tendency to make life as complicated and demanding as possible. I’m an incorrigible complexifier. When I go out for lunch with my husband, I have an AGENDA: “Honey, on our way to the restaurant, could we stop by the second-hand store to look for a

used eyelash curler? And, since we’ll be only a block from the card shop, could we swing in and pick up a get-well card for Aunt Agnes? Maybe we could drop off the dry cleaning on the way back. We’ll have to hurry. My lunch break is only an hour.”

This kind of behavior is variously known as busy-aholism, workaholism, excitement or adrenaline addiction, or stress dependence. People who are stress

dependent go to great lengths to create intensity and drama in their lives. They operate at a fever pitch all day long and half the night, little realizing that chronic stress can become an addictive process that produces endogenous addictive chemicals in the same way compulsive gambling and spending do.

Linda, a career consultant, fails to plan ahead—which generates intensity through chaos. She never shows up where she says she’ll be when she says she’ll be there. One of her friends told me recently, “Linda brings such an aura of unmanageability with her wherever she goes that I no longer enjoy being in her company.” Her chronic disorganization has affected her personal and professional relationships; she’s losing friends and business because of it.

Jane has a different way of feeding her excitement addiction. She tracks the drama in her friends’ and cohorts’ lives as if she were gathering data for a tabloid article. She spends hours on the phone keeping abreast of everyone’s problems

acting as a clearinghouse for all the gossip in the church and community. Roslyn has another unique twist. To keep her stress levels high, she obsesses constantly. Her mind is awhirl with worry about the past, present, and future.

Lance’s way of keeping his adrenaline pumping is procrastination. He takes on too many assignments, waits until the last minute to get started, fails to allow enough time to finish a given task, and then has to go into hyper-drive to get it done. Jason, a young husband and father, has his own variation on the stress theme. He indulges in dangerous sports. Even his profession keeps him in a state of emergency. He’s an EMT.

These individuals illustrate several symptoms of stress dependence: (l) overextending, overworking, or overcommitting oneself, (2) chronic worrying, (3) procrastination, (4) failing to allot adequate time for specific tasks, (5) reckless

behavior in general, and (6) attraction to highly stressful or physically

threatening situations.

One mental-health expert suggests that the neurochemical response triggered by stress provides relief for people suffering from chronic physical or emotional pain. When a person is bored, sad, or anxious, stress stimulates endogenous neurotransmitter activity that provides a thrilling euphoria. “Now we understand what we already knew,” she adds. “Fear is fun. This is why kids ride

roller coasters, young people watch horror movies, teenagers drive too fast, and adults enter and stay in difficult or unpleasant situations at work or home.” Parenthetically, I sometimes wonder about TV shows and video games for children that generate high levels of tension. Could we be creating a whole generation of little intensity addicts?

For adrenaline junkies, reducing stress factors in their lives may be as uncomfortable and difficult as it is for an alcoholic to give up alcohol, Yet the psychological and physiological impact of stress dependence is as profoundly damaging to the body and mind as alcohol and other drugs.

Carol Cannon, Co-Founder of The Bridge to Recovery


• Originally published in Signs of the Times • June 2001