Is Addiction to Drama Fuelling your Stress?

By amandaalexander | Stress

 How do you react when you feel aggrieved? Perhaps you’ve discovered that you’ve been the object of some unpleasant gossip? Maybe your boss has behaved in an objectionable way yet again? Your partner hasn’t answered is phone and you’ve tried several times?

So you work yourself up into a frenzy, imagining the worst.

It is easy to become addicted to drama and trapped in a vicious circle of our own making, where drama begets stress and stress begets drama.

Let’s take gossip as an example, something to which we’ve all either been on the receiving end or  – dare you admit it – the giving end! People gossip because it fuels their addiction to drama:

  • “Who on EARTH does she think she is?”
  • “She did WHAT?”
  • “Well, I think it’s shocking, don’t you?”

It’s no coincidence that if you do a Google image search on the word “gossip” you’ll find image after image of people (mainly women, alas) whispering to each other and looking, well… looking EXCITED!

We watch soap operas and thrillers because we get that same frisson of excitement, not because they relax us and make us feel at one with the world! When people gossip they are simply propagating their very own soap opera, without the expense of purchasing a TV license.

Drama is what makes the World goes round. Human beings are programmed to be able to deal with short rushes of adrenaline and cortisol. Back in the day as cavemen, we might have experienced that adrenaline rush whilst hunting a saber-toothed tiger or defending our cave from the marauders in the next cave who wanted to nick our freshly casseroled tiger.

In other words, that was how we got our drama fix. But after those short intense bursts of adrenaline and cortisol, we recovered.

But how do we get those adrenaline rushes in modern life?

Most of us don’t hunt tigers any more. We might go to the gym 2 or 3 times a week, but this isn’t going to satisfy the need for a primal rush. Most of the time, we are sedentary and safe.

So we seek other ways to get the rush. And herein lies DRAMA:

It seems that modern men and women are most likely seeking their adrenaline rushes in all the wrong places… 

  • By sending a furious email to one of our suppliers who has failed to meet an agreed delivery date
  • With that 5pm crisis meeting in the office
  • With the cycles of extreme highs and lows we get from addictions
  • By getting hooked on creating little “dramas” in our life by over-focusing on a “hiccup” and blowing it up into a “nightmare
  • By waking up at 3 am in the morning chewing over and over on a problem, even though you know you’re not going to solve it by doing so

And the dangerous thing is, when we propagate drama in these ways, we are experiencing a continual drip of adrenaline that is extremely corrosive because we elevate our cortisol levels. Which means we get stressed. And we stay stressed. And then we pile on some more stress.

By fuelling drama in our lives in such unhealthy ways, our bodies and minds are literally not getting the rest-bite they need. This means we experience things like chronic fatigue, weight gain, depression, depressed immune system. This is just the start of the list – you know where it ends.

Confession from a (recovering) drama addict

Here’s a little story: A while back I discovered a “friend” had approached my son, whilst he was staying at his dad’s house. She had given my son her full and unfettered opinion on his mother. Needless to say it was inappropriate behaviour for an adult.  Naturally, my first reaction was anger that anyone would do this to my child. However, for the purposes of this article, that’s irrelevant.   What IS relevant is that, after the adrenaline surge of the anger, how addictive the “drama” of the situation became.

I repeated the story in my own head (especially in the wee small hours lying in bed) and to those close to me. I justified this to myself by saying that I needed to “talk it through”.  In fact, I was fuelling the drama.

It’s generally good to talk things through when you’re hurt and this is a typical “tend and be-friend” reaction that women have to stressful situations.   However, the benefits of talking it through do not increase the more you talk about it the event!

After a certain point, it’s not getting it off your chest. Instead, you get infused with the drama. By re-living the anger/hurt/upset again and again, you are effectively creating CLONES of the upsetting event.

And here’s the dangerous thing:

Your poor subconscious doesn’t know that you’re “just” relating a tale.   It thinks it’s happening for real. The physical reaction is the same as if it has just happened: Raised adrenal levels, raised cortisol levels.

The more you fuel the drama, the more your hormones go CRAZY, because the amygdala, that little bit of your brain that governs the flight or fight response, thinks you need to stop the neighbours from stealing your sabre-tooth tiger casserole!

If you’ve been reading my posts for any length of time, you will have heard me use the phrase:

 “Awareness is the precursor to choice”.

In other words, once you are consciously aware of your behavior – and the reasons for it – you can make choices that help you rather than choices that hold you back.

So I invite you to take an honest look at how you might be fuelling drama in your own life:

  • How might it be harming you to allow yourself to get carried away by drama?
  • What could you do to break the cycle and get off the drama merry-go-round?
  • Would you rather be right or happy?
  • Where do you need to expend energy in your life now? Where’s the priority for your energy?
  • What are 3 healthier ways of getting your temporary adrenaline fix?
  • Who are you without drama fuelling you?

Let me know in the comments below. And if you like this post, please share the goodness by hitting one of the “share” buttons below!

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sarah June 16, 2015

Great article Amanda, I recognised a lot of these things in myself straight away. Its scary how the body reproduces the same physiological response when you re play the story, either in your own head or to friends -The stress kicks up a level again and rather than improving your state of wellbeing, it takes you back to square one. The challenge, as you say – is getting of the merry go round and stopping it in it’s tracks, re framing the situation or focussing your energy on changing it in a positive way. Easier said than done though 🙂

    amandaalexander June 16, 2015

    Hey Sarah, thanks for sharing this! Yep, you’re right, it is easier said than done. Like any habit that we want to change, it takes constant reminders and often we take the comfortable path, even when that path is actually extremely uncomfortable! What works for me is having my OH tell me to stop engaging in the drama.

Evan Peterson June 26, 2017

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. This topic is especially relevant to my life right now.

You have given me a reaffirming and fresh perspective on what could be the main source of my ever present psychological deficits.

Thank you!

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