Book Review: Stressaholic by Heidi Hanna

Hi my name is Holly and I’m addicted to stress. Or so I recently learned while reading New York Times bestselling author, Heidi Hanna’s newest book. In Stressaholic, Hanna explores what stress is, what it does to our brains and our bodies and how we can become so addicted to stress that we believe we are thriving when in reality we are wreaking havoc on our every system by operating at full throttle on ‘survival mode’ and causing unnecessary damage to ourselves and those around us and in turn limiting our ability to learn, grow or produce our best work. I am not afraid to admit, I used to be one of these people. I would wait too close to deadlines and I would let everything pile up, the mail, assignments, bills, chores…you name it because I was under the impression that I worked better under stress, I strived in the pinch. Ever since I could remember I was always overextended and hyper involved. I belonged to probably 30 student groups between high school and college, a member of a sorority, I (almost) always made time to work out, tried to see friends, had a job (or two), and finished school. I thought I was getting the biggest bang for my buck and taking advantage of every opportunity. Well…maybe, maybe not. In reality I was barely getting by. Sure I still met deadlines, and I still had good enough grades but what toll was it taking on me? What was happening inside? I was running on empty. I was gaining weight, I was unhappy, sure I felt important and needed but at what cost? I was addicted to my stress. It was what gave me “energy” (or so I thought), it was the propellant that got me from one scheduled minute to the next. I’ve since learned that that isn’t really true at all. Essentially I was running on a sort of primal fear, my brain was perceiving danger and firing accordingly. I was wearing myself ragged because I was powered by stress not rest, not repair or any of the other motivators Hanna discusses. Like many of us, I was “neurochemically dependent on sources of stress to provide us with the stimulation we need to maneuver through life.” (xx)

Luckily for me, college was a few years ago and I’ve gotten much better about taking time for myself. Because of these experiences and the fallout I learned how to deal and recognize what a body needs to truly be happy and healthy but in a time of great personal change and responsibility in my own life, Heidi Hanna’s book couldn’t have come at a better time. I believe this 161 page owner’s manual, if you will, will be a helpful tool in my next period of high demand while I take on an internship opportunity and continue to write and maintain my full-time job. Now I know I can do it because relaxed, organized people who have a ‘full tank of energy and a positive attitude’ know that they have enough; enough time, enough patients, enough support, and enough energy to find time to get work done and take care of themselves.

From the very beginning you can tell that to Hanna this is personal, this is her recovery too, she isn’t another hack just trying to sell you something. Hanna is trying to help you because once upon a time, she was the one that needed this kind of help and as she says, like any other addiction, recovery is a lifelong battle. Stress is Hanna’s demon and she walks you through five steps to take back your life and assert yourself into a place where you finally can take a breath, feel good, and do what you need to do to be the best and most efficient you. Hanna shares many stories from her past and her personal struggles with stress as well as her own personal coping style that help the reader feel not so alone in her journey to a healthier relationship with stress and really, themselves in general. During the introduction Hanna explains that there are two main adjustments that must be made in order to “break free from stress addiction. First, we need to recalibrate our operating system by replenishing necessary energy at the most basic levels: chemical and cellular. We must then reprogram our lifestyle by rewiring our habits of thought and behavior.” (xx) It certainly doesn’t sound easy ‘recalibrate your cells’ but as you read on it becomes clearer that the basic root of the idea is that you must stop. Take a deep breath and do it often. You need to demand time for yourself, you need to believe you are worth it and you deserve to live a life fueled by positive energy, good food, healthy relationships, fulfilling work…you must change your mindset from always searching for more; like you don’t have enough of the things you need because that is what causes stress. People respond much better to someone who knows how to take care of themselves inside and out. If you’re on the fence about whether you have the time or the desire to take hold and change your life for the better, remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish, it is critical. “…We are better able to serve our friends, families, clients, and communities when we are healthier and happier. It is essential that we be responsible for the energy we bring to each moment.” (50)

In order to become that healthier and happier you, you must make a commitment to openly completing the five steps of recovery: Rest, Repair, Rebuild, Rethink, and Redesign. One of the great things about this book is that not only does Hanna walk you through why each step is important but she also tells you how to execute it. Each step comes with options and ideas you can try to find what works best for you. To go along with the steps, Hanna incudes ‘stepping stones’ to help you with your success, these are each a meditation that you can either read and perform yourself or you can visit her website for a guided version. Imbedded throughout the text, Hanna also includes helpful links to websites and smartphone applications you can download to keep tools you need right at your fingertips. Don’t forget to look in the back of the book as well, there is an entire section devoted to further reading and more information on many of the topics covered earlier in the book.

In her chapter on Repair, Hanna includes something I think is so important and often times underrated in the fight against addiction; she includes a section on diet. And no, not the kind where she is trying to get you to lose weight for vanity sake or because excess weight is another thing causing your body stress but she gives suggestions for the kinds of foods that power your brain and send the right chemicals through your system to keep you focused and relaxed. She explains, “If you eat healthy, real foods most of the time, you are getting greater return on investment with regard to quality nutrients.” (93) Plus dark chocolate and red wine are suggestions so how can you go wrong?

There is so much information in this book and it is presented in a very accessible way, but for me the part that struck the most was Step 5: Redesign. This is where I believe the heart of the book lies. Step 5 is where you take what you have learned and you firmly cement it in your life, this is where your power comes from. Hanna writes, “If we wait to make changed to our personal routine until life makes it easier for us, then it’s never going to happen. We must therefore take responsibility for doing the best we can despite our circumstances.” (140) In this step you put it all together, and by doing this for yourself you are allowing others to do the same and encouraging a shift in the way people live and work. She helps you establish personal BEATs, or Boundaries, Expectations, Attitude, and Time to help you “…create a healthy rhythm that supports our energy replenishment strategies to keep our tank full, our brain out of conservation mode, and our system strong enough to be resilient to stress.” (143)

Once you have ‘filled your tank’, a metaphor Hanna often uses, you can use your overflow to help your friends, your family, your clients, and your community better. It may sound like a dream but you may be able get there (or get closer) with the right attitude, personal commitment, a willingness to try, and this book. Between Heidi Hanna’s steps, meditations, mantras, and exercises I am sure you will find something you will relate to, to help streamline and enhance your life by giving you new tools and strategies to help you cope with and learn from your stresses.

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