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Cortisol: The “Stress Hormone” M.C. Stöppler, MD. About.com

Are You an Adrenaline Junkie?” M. Church. The LiveLife Institute

Serotonin and Judgement” The Society for Neuroscience

Happy and Stressed Out” C. Henning. About.com

Noisy Toys Interview with Dr. Mitchell Gaynor” Noisy Toys.

Lifestyle Makeovers” with Dr. Tracy Gaudet on the Oprah Show

Woodlee’s Mia Livingston Studies ITI and Brain-Body Connections” The American Community School, Heywood Newsletter

Sounds of Healing: A Physician Reveals the Therapeutic Power of Sound, Voice, and Music. M. Gaynor, MD. (Broadway Books, 1999).

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 to work?

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:

    Cause moodiness

    Raise cholesterol levels

    Bring on emotional slumps

    Increase blood pressure

    Lead to loss of memory recall abilities

    Create feelings of paranoia, anxiety and fear

    Lower your immune systems ability to respond

    Decrease your life span by up to 30 years

    Develop Cushing’s 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 habit?

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.

    Exercise regularly and moderately to keep your body in good condition and promote increased serotonin.

    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 urgency.

    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 kellee@linezine.com.

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