Addiction - a chemical dependency on a substance that, when taken away, causes great physical discomfort.
We most often associate the word 'addiction' to drug addiction or alcohol addiction, but in this post, I want to address a different type of addiction that seems to fly under the radar (so to speak).
If you have been reading my previous posts, you will know that I have been talking about stress and the effects it has on your body. In this post, I want to take it a step further and ask the question, "Are you addicted to your stress?"
Now, most people would simply laugh at that question and say, "Why would I be addicted to something that causes me so much distress?" I would like to answer that question by saying, that it's because on a biochemical level, there is an amount of pleasure derived from the release of the stress hormones in your body, and it is possible to become addicted to your own adrenaline.
So how does this addiction occur?
When you are experiencing what your brain is perceiving as a stressful situation, as discussed in previous blog posts, you start to release adrenaline and other hormones. This brings about a burst of energy, intended to help you either stand and fight, or run away from the stressor. This energy surge can often feel good due to suppression of pain, and it also makes us feel strong and excited.
There can be great pleasure derived from the adrenaline 'hit'....think of when you went on a ride at an amusement park that made your adrenaline surge. When you got off the ride, you felt exhilarated and wanted to get back on and do it all again.
This pleasurable feeling of an 'adrenaline high' carries with it the possibity for you to become addicted to the surge of adrenaline, and you start to crave it. Subconsciously, you can start to live your life in a way that you are always causing the 'fight or flight' response to be triggered just so you get your 'hit' of adrenaline. This can be through always running late for appointments, or leaving things till the last minute and then having to cramb to get it finished, or you might be someone who loves to live life on the edge by pursuing increasingly risky sporting activities, or driving fast cars. Some people even love the feelings they get from being antagonistic and confrontational towards others.
Don't misunderstand me, you need adrenaline and the other stress hormones that your body produces, but when these hormones are in excess, or your adrenals are being constantly aroused to produce them, the potential to become either dependent or addicted to them is a very real possibility. This addiction can lead to some serious health challenges...think adrenal burnout, among other things.
So, how do you know if you are addicted to your own adrenaline? Give an honest answer to the following questions:
What would you rather do...keep doing whatever it is you're engaged in, or go to sleep (at night of course!)?
Do you feel unhappy when you stop your activity?
Doyou feel 'down' anytime you aren't engaged in doing your activity?
Do your problems disappear when you're doing your activity?
Does your activity make you feel better when you're depressed?
When you're not doing your activity, do you find yourself daydreaming and fantasizing about it?
The more times you answered 'yes' to the above questions, the higher the possibility that you are 'hooked' on the high you get from the adrenaline produced by engaging in your activity.
If you are addicted to your adrenaline, you'll find that you experience symptoms whenever your body isn't experiencing the stimulation of the hormone. For example, when you go on holidays, do you find yourself always having to do something or be on the go? Do you get moody and restless when you try and relax and do nothing? These are signs that you are experiencing adrenaline withdrawal. By forcing yourself to chill out and do nothing, the symptoms will soon disappear and you will be able to have a relaxing holiday, but you must allow your body the time to adjust to the lack of adrenaline arousal. For many people, it takes about 1 week for them to start to feel like they are actually on holidays.
Other signs of adrenaline withdrawal that can occur when you're on holidays or having some down time include:
always having to be doing something
always thinking about the things that haven't been done
feeling guilty when you're doing nothing
always fidgeting...never being still
you can't concentrate for long when you're doing some type of relaxing activity
feeling aggravated or irritable
Type A personalities are often the ones that experience withdrawal of adrenaline, but it can be other personality types too. The problem for Type A's is that they typically produce more adrenaline anyway!
In the next blog, we'll continue this discussion by looking at what you can do to help break your addiction to your own adrenaline. In the meantime, try monitoring yourself to see if you are exhibiting any of the signs mentioned above.
Until next time,
Enjoy your journey to health and wellness.
Hart Dr AD, Adrenaline and Stress, 1991, Word Publishing, Dallas