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Fight or Flight: The Adrenaline Factor

Posted by Bhavana Bhim on
Fight or Flight: The Adrenaline Factor

As a child the thought of going to the airport got my heart racing. It meant that 

A) I was going to be going somewhere exciting 

or

B) I would be welcoming some distant relative from a faraway kingdom.  

There was one other reason I got excited (and still do as a matter of fact). That reason  was to see the aeroplanes and jets taking off from the runway. Even now as a 20 something year old I am still a child at heart (aren’t we all?), and no matter what airport I am in, I will eagerly run to the window to glance at all the glorious planes. 

Little did I know that my festering obsession with aeroplanes would lead me to co-pilot a (tiny) plane around Wellington Harbour - aka the windy capital city of New Zealand.  What an experience that was! My heart was pumping with excitement - even though I could have plunged myself and my instructor into the ocean or hills below! I guess the excitement came from the classic old adrenaline rush. You know, the thing that makes us want to do kind of crazy, but also ridiculously fun, things like skydiving, driving speed boats or race cars, jumping from a tall structure… you get the picture.  

But what’s all the fuss about adrenaline? What is it? How does it work? And why do we (well, some of us) crave it so deeply?  

Adrenaline , which is also known as Epinephrine, is a stress hormone secreted from the adrenal glands on top of the kidney. It factors into producing the bodies “flight or fight” response which is often prompted in exciting, difficult or threatening situations. 

An adrenaline rush is the sudden burst of energy from the increase in the hormone and neurotransmitter adrenaline. When you think something is exciting or threatening the brain signals the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline. The adrenal gland then converts amino acids into dopamine. You know how dopamine is the “feel good” chemical in the body? Well, this oxygenates to form adrenaline. Once adrenaline is formed the hormone binds itself to the heart, arteries, liver and fatty tissue. Your heart rate increases, along with stimulation of sugar and fat within the body. When this happens, the body increases its energy to fuel the famous “fight or flight” response. Whether you’re in an exciting or threatening circumstance adrenaline has your back and helps get you through. 

On the morning of my co-piloting experiencing, my heart beat faster and my palms were slightly sweaty (gross but true). At first, this was a combination of both nerves and excitement. I mean who wouldn’t be nervous about flying for the first time?! But as I got to the aeroclub, got in the plane and took off from the runway, I found that my nerves disappeared, and my heart rate increased. Thanks to Adrenaline I was pumped and my body was in flight mode (literally).

After my flight experience I was energised and super excited with what I had just done. Ever since, I have felt the need… not for speed, but more flying. I want that adrenaline rush again! As our old friend Leonardo da Vinci once said:

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return...

I guess all those adrenaline junkies out there crave it so much because of the positive effects. Adrenaline makes you feel good with an increase in energy. It heightens senses and improves brain function.  You’re alert and have more muscle strength. In fact, you’re almost like a pumped-up superhero, think Hulk, Wonder Woman or Batman. You can do anything! 

Of course, adrenaline isn’t for everyone - some people don’t appreciate the sudden increase in heart rate, and react differently. Thus, an increase in adrenaline can have negative effects on the body. An extreme adrenaline rush can be detrimental to people with heart conditions or anxiety as it can prompt increased levels of stress and even heart attacks. If this is you, I’d suggest you avoid booking yourself into a bungee-jumping or similar sort of experience. 

I guess you can’t control every adrenaline induced situation you face in life. So if adrenaline is not your thing but you find your adrenaline levels rising, just remember to take a moment and try to calm your heart rate down with some breathing exercises.

But, if you’re like me and lust for the skies, or the ocean or the ground for that matter it might be time to book in your next adrenaline infused adventure. 

And remember kids, whether you crave a sky dive or want to dive into a Netflix binge session, live your life and enjoy all the experiences you want, ‘cause if it makes you happy that’s all that matters.

#adrenalinejunkie #staywild 

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