To those who make the world go round, the achievers, the movers and shakers, the driven, the unstoppable, the determined, those who strive for excellence in all they do, and those who live life to the fullest … a warning: You may have an addiction problem – one that threatens to shorten your days on earth drastically.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie!” is a boast that tends to draw more admiration than condemnation these days. Hopefully the next few lines will dispel that unapprised swank and help those of us who feel this way to keep our cravings to ourselves.

Adrenaline in the Emergency Room is a great drug. It’s used to restore cardiac rhythm in cardiac arrest; it’s an immediate intervention for acute life threatening asthma and the treatment of choice for deadly allergic reactions. Our bodiesproduce Adrenaline naturally as the fight or flight hormone in response to stressful situations, allowing us to respond swiftly (often before our brain does) and physically fire on all rockets in the face of threats and challenges … like when the spear you just threw at that Saber tooth tiger, didn’t kill the hungry carnivore, but alerted him to your whereabouts … and the hunter becomes the punter. The human race has survived perilous times through the ages largely because of adrenaline.
So it is a good thing – but as they say in the kingdom of clich�-dom Too much of a good thing is bad for you … From my own childhood experience adrenaline once saved my life today… it’s killing me.
Adrenaline and stress are bosom buddies, joined at the hip. The stress response (adrenaline flooding your system) is a natural high you experience a heightened sense of well being with an excess of energy, a reduced need for sleep and overall euphoria … no wonder it’s addictive – who wouldn’t want to feel that way all the time? But like ice-cream and all the other nice things in life, it’s good for you only in moderation (yet another clich�!) A continuous or prolonged high (caused by adrenaline) can lead to stress disease, in much the same way that putting your foot on the accelerator, revving an engine into the red and keeping it at full throttle will damage it. Keep your motor running baby I was built for speed croons a once popular pop idol – if only that were true. Research has confirmed that hyper-arousal of the adrenal system is the primary cause for coronary vascular disease – that early and forced retirement ticket that we’re all trying to avoid. It’s the story of the high flying young executive who works all hours, retires at 40, has a heart attack at 42 and spends the rest of his hard earned cash on surgeons and physios. The bitter irony here is that although modern science with all itsadvancement allows us to survive critical infectious and invasive diseases today, we lose our lives to the destructive effects of stress, a disease that we bring upon ourselves.
At the heart of the stress problem is our Westernized culture. Driven by the need to succeed, we live life at full tilt, leaving little room for R&R. Has it always been that way? Juliet Schor, professor of economics at Harvarddebunks the myth that work through the ages was always this arduous. The industrial revolution triggered longer and more stressful working patterns and we’ve been on a slippery slope ever since. But what about those who love what they do and can’t wait to get to the office every morning? (Yes, they do exist!) Don’t be misled into thinking that because something energizes you that it isn’t stressful. Adrenaline excitement brought on by pleasant experiences can also lead to stress, especially if there’s no letting up.
Our stress response is activated by anything that challenges us. Though we don’t face the daunting task of bringing down woolly mammoths today our stressors are no less real. In fact the stress response cannot distinguish between real or imagined threats and reacts in the same way in both instances. Whenever we’re threatened (physically or psychologically) a chain reaction called the fight or flight response takes place and prepares us to deal with the situation at hand. Problems arise when the threat is un-abating or when we live in a state of continuous crisis. At this point, what was designed as a protective mechanism begins to harm us and do itssilent damage.
Most, but not all stress is bad. Athletes use the stress response and subsequent surge of adrenaline as a performance enhancer prior to competing. In other environments it can enhance concentration and productivity, though it never has a positive influence on creativity, ever – that’s been scientifically proved. Good stress (banish the term) is only good if it’s short lived. Periods of high demand must be followed by intervals of low stimulation – the rise and fall of adrenaline is crucial for an effective and healthy lifestyle.
The science behind stress is complex and often quite perplexing. Take the fact that good things can cause bad stress for example, or Holmes and Rahe who discovered that change, regardless of whether it’s good or bad, causes stress. Then there’s the postulation that we can turn bad stress into good stress … and the web gets even more intricate.
The bottom line is this: Anything, agreeable or disagreeable, that stimulates your adrenaline system and ignites your body into fight or flight mode over prolonged periods, predisposes you to stress disease. Instead of warning bells ringing though – your body adapts to life in this perpetual state of emergency. You get used to it, no longer recognize it, and it feels pretty good while it’s all happening so you get addicted to it. Until one day the wheels will come off, and then it’s too late. There is no cure for end stage stress disease, there’s only prevention.
So what are the implications? For you as an individual they’re obvious (only if you’re planning on surviving to a ripe old age of course), and you’ve already taken the first step … education and awareness. The ultimate goal is managing the source of your stress and learning to balance adrenaline production – watch this space.
As business leaders in an environment where talent is hotly contested, and where people are not just your greatest asset… people are all you have you need to ensure their survival. Squeezing the life out of them with high demands and constant deadlines, then casting your staff aside when they’re no longer productive is short-sighted. Success may surface initially, but it’s not sustainable. A balanced approach is essential, and you need to be especially attentive to your Bright Young Things. They’ve grown up on adrenaline, and thrive on it. Constant change, challenges, extreme pursuits – that’s the world they know and love. But as much as adrenaline moves them, it’s also killing them – and if you want your talent around in the future, youre going to have to change their approach and lead by example. Teach them to take time out after high performance, reward those who relax, and discipline those who refuse to stop working. Yes were chasing the clock, we live in the world of the nanosecond – but “baby we weren’t built for speed”.
Life’s too short to live it at high speed. Maybe, just maybe, we should laud Africa time rather than ridiculing it.
This was not meant as a how to beat stress (volumes have been written on the subject), but rather a heads upabout stress, and it’s addictive partner in crime, adrenaline. Whether you’re a workaholic, a chocoholic or an alcoholic – beating your addiction starts with admitting your condition.
“Hi, I’m Michael and I’m an adreno-holic” … and I’m not alone.
Dr Michael Mol, michael@tomorrowtoday.bizConcepts from The hidden link between Adrenaline and Stress Dr Archibald D HartMichael is a medical doctor by training and passion, a media expert and business consultant. He has a passion for holistic personal and organisational wellness. He is a sought after MC, presenter and transformational speaker, and has in recent years been shifting his emphasis to assisting people and organisations understand the basis for truly significant living. “From success to signficance” is a phrase you will hear often from him.

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