Many men and women today experience a certain panic disorder that greatly affects their lives. It is brought on by the over-excitement of the body’s stress-response system. This over-excitement can be caused just as easily by doing something pleasurable as by experiencing something painful or unpleasant. The thrill of getting married or watching the home team win can produce as much stress as struggling to meet a publisher’s deadline or facing an angry boss. Strangely enough, the body really can’t tell the difference.
In fact some experts believe that the “happy stresses” in life are more likely to lead to highadrenalin flow. This is significant since many challenging, pleasurable demands (such as a high-pressure job or the competing needs of our children) stay with us a long time. We even come to depend on them for a sense of fulfillment. But like water dripping on a stone, they may eventually wear us down.
This dependency on certain “exciting” activities, hobbies, and challenges has something in common with well-known addictions such as alcoholism and drug abuse. Excitement is a drug addiction –only the drug is from within, not outside, the body.
That is, it’s actually possible for us to become addicted to our own adrenalin! The addiction starts when the body produces large amounts of adrenalin and related hormones under conditions of stress. This adrenalin creates a surge of energy to help the body respond to the stressful challenge; and this surge often feels good! Pain is suppressed, and we feel excited and powerful.
Because the adrenalin response can be intensely pleasurable, however, it is possible for us to actually become hooked on the “adrenalin high” to the point that we crave it again and again. We learn to psych ourselves up to a high level of adrenalinarousal with certain actions and attitudes just to feel good.
The idea of adrenalin addiction has important implications for how we respond to stress, because the very adrenalin that gives us a high is also the drug that causes us distress when used to excess. If we do not learn to back off from our adrenalin highs, the very pleasure we derive from even healthy endeavors can be a slow form of self-destruction.
Many people would be shocked to discover that they are hooked on their own adrenalin. They abhor the idea that some medication or artificial stimulant would ever bind them in its clutches. Yet they are oblivious to a dangerous addiction that can develop without their even being aware of it.
How do you know when you are addicted to your own adrenalin? A good sign is having one or more of the following reactions concerning a specific activity:
• You would rather engage in your activity than sleep.
• When you stop your activity you feel unhappy.
• You feel excited or encouraged only when you engage in your activity; at other times you feel “low.”
• Whenever you feel depressed you turn to your activity to make you feel better.
• You fantasize a lot about your activity when you are away from it.
The more you can answer “yes” to the above statements, the greater the likelihood that you are hooked on the adrenalin high that activity gives you.