Doing it Better: Adrenaline highs
by Natasha Josefowitz
Jan 24, 2014 | 1155 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.
Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.
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I have my own theory about why some people retire happily and others get depressed or ill upon retirement, about why some people drive fast and like rollercoaster rides and horror movies, and others — like me — absolutely refuse to see anything violent and frightening and have always avoided scary rides in amusement parks.

It has to do with an addiction to “highs.” People with generally low levels of adrenaline need a boost to feel alive, while people whose levels are usually high quickly become anxious when over-stimulated.

I’m of the latter category. Even a scary book makes my heart beat faster, and I get so uncomfortable in suspenseful movies that I want to leave. The feeling of being frightened is deeply unpleasant — I do all I can to avoid being in such situations.

My granddaughter, on the other hand, loves to be scared. She thinks it’s fun. A large number of people must agree, considering how many movies are made just to raise adrenaline levels. Steven Spielberg said in an interview that during a preview of “Jaws,” he saw someone leave as the shark was swallowing a man and thought: “It’s a flop.” Then he saw the person throw up and return, and he thought: “It’s a blockbuster.”

Addictions to emotional highs are not very different from addictions to alcohol or drugs. Without the stimulation, one feels low key, empty or depressed.

Some people can only work under pressure — deadlines are motivators. I’m always several columns ahead, and I handed in reports early in college. Deadlines make me anxious. I can work under pressure if I have to, but I hate the feeling it generates.

Why do people continue working at a hard and fast pace when they could retire and don’t need the money? A newly retired friend of mine recently said to me, “I miss the challenge. I miss risk taking, I miss having the control.”

Another friend, a recently retired CEO, said, “Who am I if I’m not a manager, if I’m not in charge, if I don’t have the opportunity to make important decisions?

What these persons miss, besides their job identities and the daily adventure that work provides, is being looked up to by colleagues and staff, being someone who matters, feeling responsible and being challenged.

Interestingly enough, stress addiction can be harmful to some, leading to heart attacks — but not to all. For some, the release of adrenaline in the blood stream might increase resistance to disease through the production of lymphocytes.

In other words, stress may be bad for some individuals but good for others. They thrive living in the fast lane, getting high on violent video games and extreme sports. People addicted to adrenaline seek ways to get these surges and when deprived of them become irritable or depressed.

I get a “high” when I see a good performance in a theater or have a particularly stimulating conversation, and that’s enough for me.

Seeing a destructive storm on television, hearing someone else’s bad news or a dramatic story also provide a small kick, which explain people’s preoccupation with sensational trials and sex scandals.

After all, what is “having a good time” but a “high”?

Stress is negative when people have little control over their work. Low-level employees with heavy job demands are at the highest risk of heart disease. The workers with least control over their jobs were five times as likely to develop coronary heart disease as were those with the most control.

Job control involves two factors: the ability to make one’s own decisions and the capacity to use a range of skills.

If psychological strain cannot be translated into action, then the cardiovascular system is adversely affected. Even talking to someone about one’s stress is an action that can be helpful.

Being in control and being needed are highs. So how to get that high in other ways is what must be found.

What gives you a high? How much of it do you need and with what intensity? Being aware of one’s needs for adrenaline highs is already half the battle in seeking what one must have to feel alive. This will give you control over your behaviors and not let you fall prey to unconscious motivations and needs.
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