September 2022

What to know about adrenaline

4 min read

We hear about adrenaline rushes when we talk about extreme sports, but adrenaline is something that flows through our bodies, everyday, regardless of our interest or disinterest in risky activities. At the right time, adrenaline can feel like it propels us forward and allows us to enjoy an active daily life.  But in excess, it can hold us back. How can we tell the difference? Read on to find out.

What is adrenaline?

Adrenaline is a neurotransmitter which controls our nervous system, signalling the fight or flight response when it is secreted. However, it is also a hormone –the first to be discovered– as it is secreted in the bloodstream where it travels and reaches cells throughout the whole body. Lastly, due to its potent effects, it is a powerful medication that saves many lives every day. 

Our bodies naturally secrete adrenaline when a situation exceeds our ability to cope with it in any way, which we usually refer to as stress. In stressful situations, our brain sends signals that cause the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, to secrete adrenaline. Initially, we can perceive adrenaline as excitement, fear, or even anger. In the body, adrenaline results in faster heart beats and a boost of energy. But let’s dive deeper into what actually happens. Adrenaline causes changes in every part of our body:

  • It makes the blood vessels narrower in the skin, digestive system, kidneys, brain and other areas. Goose-bumps on our arms are caused by this contraction of the blood vessels in the skin which makes the hair stand up.

The contraction of blood vessels in these parts of the body redirects blood to the heart, lungs and muscles. Because the bronchi get wider, oxygen levels in the blood increase, fueling the muscles. This is a remarkably effective mechanism to energise and prepare the body for, well, fight or flight. 

Is adrenaline good or bad for you?

Adrenaline plays an essential part in a healthy lifestyle. Our bodies have evolved this intricate mechanism to help us survive danger either by fighting or running away. Today, a healthy increase in adrenaline gives us enough energy to enjoy a workout, finish house chores before dinner, wrap up a task before the deadline or get excited for a rollercoaster ride, if that’s something we are into. However, daily stress and worries can cause adrenaline to be released even when it's not physically needed. In the short term when this happens, we can experience some adverse effects that range from tension in the muscles to anxiety or panic attacks. In the long term, it can lead to chronic stress and burnout.

The narrowing of blood vessels in the skin, digestive system, kidneys, brain and other areas such as reproductive systems coupled with the widening of the bronchi in the lungs allow blood pressure and heart rate to increase and support muscle contraction. This is useful in physical settings. However, stress and worry often arise when we sit or lay down which means our heart starts beating faster and our body tenses up. If this period of stress and tension is not followed by traditional or active relaxation, physical and mental tension may carry onto the following moments of our day. Having a daily or weekly routine where once a day we make sure to include a moment of relief and relaxation can help prevent this compounding effect of stress and support our well-being.

But what if we use this stress and energy from adrenaline to help push us even further and harder on our pursuits, be them personal or professional? Could this impact the normal functions of any organs which are part of these systems reprioritised in the adrenaline pathway such as the digestive and reproductive systems? If trying to conceive, could chronic exposure to situations that increase adrenaline send the wrong message to the reproductive organs, sabotaging our efforts? Prioritising functions necessary for survival allowed our ancestors’ bodies to survive numerous dangers while those not necessary for survival become less active. For example, pregnancy could have made a woman back then very vulnerable to predators and diseases. Today, this mechanism means chronic stress may negatively impact fertility.

What can I do?

The rule of thumb for adrenaline would be to make sure it has an outlet in the form of physical activity. If you indeed need it to run or fight in competitive sports, then take a moment to thank your body for this amazing result of evolution. If you notice yourself experiencing any physical symptoms of increased adrenaline as a consequence of stress or worry, try scheduling something even as gentle as a walk when you have a spare moment. This will help calm your thoughts, release tension from your body and prevent it from building up.

Such a practice can benefit both the mental and physical health in wonderful ways. Additionally, it can help build healthy habits and allow any unhealthy habits that might have formed as a result of stress and worry, like rumination. The post-exercise endocannabinoids, or feel-good molecules, paired with a calm mind allow the nervous system to enter relaxation. 

At Harper, we understand the importance of a practical and flexible well-being routine and we are here to support you — backed by science. Our Plans can provide you with the toolkit to build an actionable well-being routine while our Coaches are here to support, understand and be an accountability buddy for each step of your journey 

Sign up to our email newsletter

Stay up to date with all things Harper

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.