You might have a vague inkling that adrenaline is the hormone behind the “rush” people feel during an extreme sport – after all, we often refer to daredevils and adventurous types as “adrenaline junkies”. But what about the role adrenaline plays in your day-to-day life? How does adrenaline help you, and can it be harmful as well?
As discussed in the book Performing Under Pressure (by Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry), a study showed that when top NBA professionals were put under additional stress, their free throw success rate dropped by 8%. This proves that although some pressure is “good” for performance, nobody performs better under intense pressure. If stress impacts the world’s best basketball players so significantly, just imagine the effect it has in your daily routine!
By applying Gary and Michelle’s BE GREAT Principles to your everyday life, you’ll be able to MANAGE your pressure to perform with optimal energy and productivity. If being happier, healthier and more successful is your aim, then the BE GREAT tools are for you.
Before we look at these principles in greater detail, it’s helpful to understand a bit more about what adrenaline does for your body, and why.
Where Does Adrenaline Come From?
Adrenaline, sometimes called epinephrine, is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands. These two glands are situated just above your kidneys. They’re quite small – each one is roughly the size of an acorn – but they can have a really powerful effect on your whole system.
The adrenal glands produce a range of (essential and non-essential)hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, which help your body respond to stress.
Adrenaline & Fight or Flight Response
Adrenaline is the hormone needed to activate your body’s “fight or flight” response, or acute stress response. That means you need it to prepare your body for action in situations that are dangerous, stressful or exhilarating.
When you perceive something as threatening or exciting, the hypothalamus in your brain sends a signal to your adrenal glands that it’s time to start secreting adrenaline and other stress hormones.
The “adrenaline rush” you experience as a result causes the following changes in your body:
- Your heart rate increases
- Your body temperature rises
- Your respiration (breathing) increases, providing your muscles with more oxygen
- Your pupils dilate, letting in more light and sharpening your vision
- Energy and blood flow are redirected to your muscles, heart and lungs
- Extra glucose (energy) is released
- The production of insulin in your body is halted
- Sugar and fat synthesis increases, to provide your muscles with fuel
- Your physical strength and mental focus increases, to help you respond to a crisis
- Your senses are heightened but you are less likely to feel pain
After the panic or excitement has passed, these effects can last for up to an hour.
The fight or flight response originally helped humans to defend themselves from life-or-death threats like predators. Today, you’re more likely to feel an adrenaline surge when you’re chasing a big deadline, enjoying an extreme sport, watching a scary movie or even telling someone you love them for the first time! But of course, your body’s adrenal glands are still ready to respond if you experience real danger.
The Downside of Adrenaline
Adrenaline plays an important role in your survival, but if it’s not being put to good use, this hormone can have detrimental effects on your health too.
When you’re feeling constantly stressed-out at work, school or home, your body will read your feelings of anxiety as a cue to release adrenaline and start up the fight or flight response – despite the fact that you’re not actually in any real danger.
This means chronic stress causes your body to experience consistently high levels of adrenaline for no practical reason, which isn’t good for you at all. The effects can include:
- A weakened immune system
- A release of excess glucose with nowhere to go, causing restlessness and irritability
- Poor quality sleep, bad dreams and chronic insomnia
- Peptic ulcers, digestive problems, changes in appetite or weight
- Strain on your heart, leading to cardiovascular damage
- Psychological problems like depression and anxiety
Other effects of elevated, unneeded adrenaline can include dizziness, light-headedness and vision changes.
Managing Pressure & Preventing Chronic Stress
The key to curbing unnecessary adrenaline surges is to manage the stress you experience on a daily basis. By looking after your physical and mental health, you can protect your body against the potential negative effects of adrenaline.
You need to work on constantly balancing any excessive adrenaline and cortisol surging through your body. You can achieve this by getting your daily DOSE: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins. Boosting these four naturally occurring hormones is a healthy, sustainable alternative to drugs, alcohol and antidepressants.
Start by establishing a realistic routine, getting enough sleep and eating a balanced, healthy diet. Spend time with people who support and inspire you, but avoid over-committing; be sure to take time out for yourself, so you can recharge.
The BE GREAT Principles can help you to keep stress in check:
- The principle: Breathe deeply in to the count of four, hold for four and breathe out for four
- The payoff: Breathing deeply lowers stress in the body and sends a message to your brain to calm down
- The principle: Expectation is a mental tool you can use to avoid increasing your stress and pressure unnecessarily
- The payoff: Keeping your expectations positive and realistic will help you to avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety
- The principle: Focus on what you are grateful for throughout the day
- The payoff: Releases regular amounts of dopamine, a “happy hormone” and the enemy of stress
- The principle: Look at a difficult situation from a positive perspective
- The payoff: Releases serotonin, a hormone that calms and balances the mood
- The principle: Exercise daily and make good food choices
- The payoff: Reduces cortisol, builds up your energy levels, releases endorphins
- The principle: Words have immense power, so use positive and appropriate words
- The payoff: Helps to produce oxytocin, a hormone that boosts optimism and self esteem
- The principle: Increase your support by observing how those around you behave when they’re under pressure
- The payoff: You can provide help where appropriate, and receive help from them in return
When you have your stress under control, the only time you should be feeling that surge of adrenaline is when something is truly life-threatening (like a close-call bumper collision), or better yet, when something thrills and excites you!