Are you one of those people who only
feel productive when the deadline gets close enough to hear it ticking
like a time bomb? Or one of those managers who goes after high productivity
by promoting the Chaos Theory? In short, are you convinced being
under the influence of high doses of adrenaline is the only way
Well, This Is Your Brain. Welcome
to this article about your brain on adrenaline.
Fact: Brains Constantly Running on
Adrenaline Can Take the Capital Right Out of Your Human Resources.
Don’t believe it? Too hooked on your
adrenaline fix to find out more? Let me throw a few quick facts
at you. Constantly running on adrenaline can:
Bring on emotional
Increase blood pressure
Lead to loss of memory
Create feelings of
paranoia, anxiety and fear
Lower your immune
systems ability to respond
Decrease your life
span by up to 30 years
Syndrome, Addison’s Disease, and a host of other illnesses
Now that I have your attention, take
a deep breath, relax, and keep reading so you can learn more about
adrenaline and how to kick a bad adrenaline habit.
Adrenaline, that surging burst of
energy we feel when stressed, happens as a defense mechanism when
our brains sense we are under attack. It increases our blood pressure,
cardiovascular function, and amount of energy sent to our brains.
It even thickens our blood so we can bleed more slowly if wounded.
Truly this necessary function of the body has saved many a human
with a momentary endowment of superhuman strength to escape the
lion stalking us on the Serengeti Plains or to lift the tornado-blown
car pinning our neighbor’s dog with its monstrous weight… Okay,
so most of us only see lions behind zoo glass and the path of the
tornado from the comfort of our living room complete with surround
sound TV. This is my point exactly! Adrenaline is a natural and
necessary human function, but, when used at abusive continuous levels,
it can be deadly.
Here’s how it works. On a normal
average day our adrenal glands, which hang out near our kidneys,
function to regulate our use of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
while regulating our cardiovascular and blood pressure rates. To
do this, our adrenal glands create a hormone called cortisol (also
spelled cortizol), which in turn leads the release of fatty acids
and the breakdown of muscle protein. The released fatty acids are
an energy source for muscles, while the breakdown of muscle protein
causes the release of amino acids into our blood stream. As the
amino acids travel through our blood stream, our livers pick them
up and convert them to glucose, raising our blood sugar level to
provide our brains more glucose for energy.
When our brains perceive a threat,
whether real or unreal, physical or mental, they send a message
to the pituitary glad, which resides at the base of our brain. When
the pituitary gland hears our brain’s battle cry in the form of
a hormone called corticotropin (CRH), it revs up its production
of the hormone adrenocorticotrophin—affectionately referred to ACTH.
(Try that word in your next Scrabble game!) The secretion of ACTH
rallies the adrenal glands to step up the secretion of cortisol.
These secretions increase our heart rate, blood pressure, blood
sugar, and fatty acids to insure our body and brain get all the
energy needed to handle the threat.
The amount of cortisol pumped out
of our adrenal glands is directly related to how severe our brain
perceives the impending threat to be. The more cortisol we pump
out, the more work we force our bodies to do creating and receiving
energy. And, like an over loaded washing machine forced to run 24/7,
eventually things start to go wonky or simply stop working from
abusive and constant use.
Overworking your adrenaline response
places a tremendous amount of stress on your internal organs that
can lead to a host of problems, syndromes, and diseases, as well
as a significant lowering of serotonin levels. These lowered serotonin
levels hook most of us on a continual adrenaline high. Sure, once
we start pumping adrenaline we feel almost invincible, able to take
on anything with a sharper mind, with better reflexes, and more
energy, but when we come down from the rush we crash to an all time
low of serotonin.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that
moves from neuron to neuron attaching to their receptor sites to
communicate or stop the communication of messages in our brains
and bodies. Scientists believe that serotonin’s role in communication
is to mediate between emotion and judgment. It is often referred
to as our bodies’ natural “feel good” drug. Research has linked
low levels of serotonin to various kinds of anxiety and depression.
To crash from a relatively consistent adrenaline high to a depleted
level of serotonin shocks our emotional systems and often spurs
our desire to jump right back into an adrenaline high. This jump
back gives us a superhuman feeling, avoiding the low felt by less
adrenaline and low serotonin, but continues to make our bodies work
hard for the extra energy required to make adrenaline.
So how can we kick our bad adrenaline
Congratulations! You’ve done the
first step; you’re aware. Awareness is one of the most important
steps, since adrenaline production is directly related to our brain’s
perception of a threat. Often, when we feel our stress levels rising,
taking a moment to breathe, cool our heels, or whatever calms, can
lessen the number of or avert those ACTH hormones from presenting
our adrenal glands with a declaration of war that sends all the
troops into action.
Most of the other steps to kick a
bad adrenaline habit are all the things your mother always told
you to do:
Get enough sleep;
everyone regardless of age needs eight hours and naps count.
and moderately to keep your body in good condition and promote increased
Eat well; high protein
foods such as red meat, whole dairy products, nuts, and caffeine
lead to increased adrenaline while vegetables, fish, and skinless
chicken help to lower adrenaline levels.
Use proactive planning,
delegation, and prioritizing to prevent creating a false need for
When you feel stress
coming on, take long deep breaths or do some other exercise for
a minute or two so you can evaluate the situation calmly.
Make sure your day
includes breaks and moments of still and quiet relaxation, especially
a few moments at the start and end of each day.
If adrenaline addiction or
low serotonin levels are a problem, talk to your doctor about lifestyle
and other management techniques.
There you have it. If your adrenaline
kicks in every now and then, you are now armed with knowledge for
sparkling cocktail party conversation. If, on the other hand, you
cannot get enough of the adrenaline rush or find yourself promoting
the adrenaline rush in your employees, you might be ruining your
best asset, your human capital!
Kellee K. Sikes
is a contributing editor for LiNE Zine and Principal of Pioneer Technologies, a consulting company
focused on business development and project management based in
St. Louis, Missouri. Despite what she knows, she’s burned through
more than a little adrenaline while working too hard and getting
too little sleep Tell her your brain-raising story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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