It’s happened to everyone. It begins when you are startled, frightened or angry. Your heart pounds, your breath is shallow and you sweat profusely. Your intestines shut down. You feel tense, apprehensive and ready to respond to danger. The substance responsible for all these changes is adrenaline, a hormone, that your body secretes to give you the strength and alertness to fight off or escape danger. It’s the classic “fight or flight” response, and it worked great when most of the dangers humans faced were physical. By fighting or running away, people both resolved the problem and worked off the tension that adrenaline produces.
Adrenaline also causes the jitters when you are under stress, whether that stress directly threatens your safety or not. These stressful events could be being stuck in traffic, having a deadline to meet or conflicting with family members. Even positive stresses, like a promotion or getting married, can affect you. Unfortunately, you can’t respond to most stress by running away or fighting.
Adrenaline is necessary for survival, and a certain amount of adrenaline can make you feel good. That’s why stress – the right amount of stress – seems to make some people feel more alive. But constant stress produces constantly high levels of adrenaline, and that may affect your health.
Excess adrenaline can raise your blood pressure and your blood sugar. Although no one knows for sure how adrenaline affects your overall health, high blood pressure and blood sugar can weaken the heart and many other organs.
Adrenaline may be responsible for the chronic disorders people under constant stress suffer: sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, tiredness and digestive problems.
Getting Around the Adrenaline Response
You can’t cut out all the stress from your life, and you wouldn’t want to. A certain degree of stress keeps you alert and involved in your life. But you can take steps to eliminate those stresses that are unnecessary and you can learn to control the adrenaline response to stress. For instance,
- Learn techniques such as relaxation, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, all of which help counter the production of adrenaline.
- Stay away from excessive alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, which may all increase your adrenaline.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise gives you a mild jolt of adrenaline while allowing you to work off the extra energy it produces. And your body becomes more adept at processing the adrenaline that’s in your bloodstream during times of stress.