Are You Addicted to Adrenaline?
ByDr. Randal Dick | OneAccord Nonprofit Principal
Dr. Harvey Milkman of the Metropolitan State College in Denver says, “You are addicted if you cannot control when you start or stop an activity.” This post is about a potentially deadly form of addiction that is endemic in the marketplace — the addiction to our own adrenaline.
Before you pass judgment on the relevance of this issue to you, consider that of this article’s several thousand potential readers, more than half are calling on and managing adrenaline in an unhealthy manner. Statistically, at least a handful of readers will, over the next decade, drop dead of a surprise heart attack — it didn’t run in the family. The autopsy, however, will reveal very enlarged adrenal glands.
The role of adrenaline and damaging cholesterol is well documented. Adrenaline used properly is not harmful to us and plays a critical role in keeping us alive. It is not toxic — unless it is allowed to continue to roam around in our system for long periods of time or is chronically over-recruited and used as a stimulant drug to make us perform better.
Identifying an Addict
How can you tell if you are addicted to adrenaline? One of the most telling aspects of this addiction is that, like all addictions, there are withdrawals. According to one of the leading experts on the role of stress in adrenaline addiction, Dr. Archibald Hart, the symptoms of adrenaline withdrawal are easy to recognize. These include:
A strong compulsion to be “doing something” while at home or on vacation
An obsession with thoughts about what remains undone
A feeling of vague guilt while resting
Fidgeting, restlessness, pacing, leg kicking or fast gum chewing, an inability to concentrate for very long on any relaxing activity, feelings of irritability and aggravation
A vague (or sometimes profound) feeling of depression whenever you stop an activity
As a recovering adrenaline addict myself, and one who occasionally has to pick myself up and climb back on the wagon, I have become pretty good at recognizing fellow addicts. With the fast pace and demanding nature of the tech sector in the Seattle/Eastside region, it’s more uncommon to find someone who is not abusing their adrenals. Just walk into any coffee shop downtown, in the Amazon corridor. Look around at all the people who are concentrating on their screen. Now count how many are still and relaxed versus how many are stressed, leg-bouncing, tapping, in bullet conversations. Or, more dangerous but just as revelatory, be strategically located near the Microsoft campus at shift change and watch the number of people who drive with a surfeit of adrenaline.
Our bodies are amazingly resilient, allowing us to initially go symptom free and subsequently to ignore or downplay the onset of symptoms. However, any of the following symptoms should be taken as a sign of impending anxiety attack or adrenaline exhaustion:
Intense depression of short duration (say, three days to one week) that occurs every few months
Unusual difficulty in getting energy going in the morning
Being overcome by great tiredness whenever there is a “let down”
Strange body sensations (tingling up and down the arms or across the chest) or strange aches in the joints and muscles
Exhaustion that occurs very easily or frequently
Feelings of panic triggered by activity or exercise
The Making of an Addict
So how do we become addicted? An interesting read that more than a few people I know have credited with saving their lives is "Adrenaline and Stress: The Exciting New Breakthrough That Helps You Overcome Stress Damage" by Dr. Archibald Hart, published by Thomas Nelson.
The blog-sized explanation has to do with three automatic reactions in our bodies: alarm, activation and recovery. When we are alarmed, we automatically go into activation mode — the “fight or flight” response produced by adrenaline. When we give ourselves over to Hurry Up Disease, we bypass recovery to be able to have the extra performance edge. When we ignore recovery long enough our body becomes depleted, and our brain will “helps” us by stimulating the alarm — reaction cycle. In my case, my brain was making up alarms that I wasn’t even aware of, and did not consciously want, in order to keep the adrenaline flowing throughout the day.
In part three we will focus on the cure for adrenaline addiction. The good news is that not only is this addiction curable, you have a perfect drug available to you that will help you avoid or end your addiction. Like any addiction, the first step is always to recognize and take responsibility.
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About the Author
Randal is a results-driven, development and execution-oriented leader with more than 25 years of experience leading high performance teams. He’s a proven business professional, capable of leading change in both the boardroom and on the frontline, with a strong track record leading strategy development, entrepreneurship, performance and evaluation globally across a variety of social enterprises and functions.
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