In the last post, we saw how adrenaline can become addictive. But adrenaline addiction comes at a price....your long term health. Here I want to look at how you can become more aware of the signs in your body that tell you that you are stressed and what you can do to help manage it. Keep in mind, the people who are the most stressed, are often the ones who deny it and don't realise just how much adrenaline is pumping through their body...(hands up all the Type-A personalities!).
There are some physical changes that take place when your body is experiencing an increase in the flow of adrenaline. Some of these include:
a rise in blood pressure
increased heart rate
an increase in tension in your muscles
vasoconstriction in your hands and feet (the capillaries and arteries shrink in size in your hands and feet reducing blood flow) causing a drop in skin temperature
These physical changes give 4 tangible ways of monitoring your level of adrenaline and stress.
If you have a blood pressure machine, it is relatively easy to keep an eye on any changes to your blood pressure during the day, but this also has its drawbacks. Some people will find their blood pressure rises when they have it taken due to the fact that it's being measured, and this can have a psychological effect, causing it to rise.
Monitoring your resting heart rate is also something that can be done without the use of expensive equipment. You simply need to learn how to take your own pulse. Just put 1 or 2 fingers (not your thumb) over the artery that runs through your wrist and count the pulses over a period of 1 minute. You will need a clock with a second hand or set the timer on your phone. A typical healthy person will find their resting heart rate somewhere around 70 - 75 beats per minute. As a rule, the slower it is the better, but always consult your doctor if you have any concerns. Athletes usually have a slower rate than others.
Muscle tension can be a little harder to monitor, especially if you don't even realised you are stressed. One of the best ways to learn if you are holding extra tension in your muscles, is to learn the practice of progressive muscle relaxation. This is where you lie down and tighten groups of muscles and then release them. You can learn about it here.
When you are stressed, adrenaline is released and sent to the hands, where it acts on the blood vessels, causing them to constrict, reducing blood volume in the fingers. This leads to a drop in skin temperature at the area where the blood flow is restricted. When you are relaxed, the skin temperature is warmer because the blood vessels open up again, increasing blood flow. In other words, stressed = colder hands; relaxed = warmer hands.
You can monitor the temperature of your fingers by holding a thermometer between your thumb and first finger. Normal hand temperature is somewhere between 32 - 34 degrees Celsius. Monitoring hand temperature over a period of time will allow you to see your own normal temperature and any variations that occur. A couple of things to remember here, is that room temperature can have an effect on your own body temperature (e.g. air conditioned rooms), and if your hand is above your head, the blood will drain away affecting the temperature, and exercise will also cause changes. Another way to check the temperature of your hands is to hold them against your cheek. If they feel cold, it is more than likely that your adrenaline is surging.
So what do you do once you have recognised that you are stressed and your adrenaline is pumping? In the next post, I will show you how to start to use some management techniques to get your stress and adrenaline under control. Until then, practice recognising your own body signs of elevated stress and adrenaline arousal.
Enjoy your journey to health and wellness,
Hart Dr AD, Adrenaline and Stress, 1991, Word Publishing, Dallas