Taylor Made: Effects of adrenaline
Adrenaline, a hormone linked to the “fight or flight” response to danger, can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels as well as redistribute blood to specific muscles. In medication form, adrenaline can be used to treat life-threatening conditions such as cardiac arrest and severe allergic reactions.
A full adrenaline response typically occurs within 2-3 minutes of the trigger. In extreme situations, people have been known to briefly exhibit near-superhuman responses in order to ameliorate the situation. These instances can be attributed to adrenaline’s ability to redistribute blood flow and alter metabolic rates for the most efficient use in the moment, allowing the necessary muscles to exert what’s known as absolute force (i.e. 100% of possible force). For perspective, the average person exerts up to 65% of their muscles’ absolute force, while trained athletes can reach the 80th and 90th percentiles. Endorphins are also released to suppress the pain that would typically be felt as a result of high levels of exertion.
Stories of adrenaline-induced responses, especially related to moving cars, are numerous. One man was able to lift up the side of a Camaro with his bare hands to free a cyclist trapped underneath. An Illinois firefighter ripped the door off a crashed car to free the driver trapped inside. A woman pulled a BMW sedan off her dad, who had become pinned when the car fell off its floor jack.
My personal experience with this phenomenon came several years ago when my brother had a piece of wood go through his foot. He was not much smaller than me, but all the same I scooped him up like a baby and sprinted him up a large hill to the car without a thought. Looking back on it later that day, I had no idea how I’d managed to do that. As a side note, his foot healed up just fine and the hospital gave him the piece as a souvenir.
It is important to recognize that these responses still occur within each person’s bodily limits. Additionally, exerting to absolute force can require significant muscular recovery even if no pain is felt in the moment.
Adrenaline also works at a quieter level in everyday scenarios. Caffeine actually simulates the adrenal glands, which is one reason why coffee can make you feel jittery. Being nervous often causes a similar sensation that can also be attributed to adrenaline. Stressful situations cause the hormone to kick in, preparing the body for its fight or flight response.
What’s notable is that your body’s initial internal responses to feeling nervous and feeling excited are essentially the same. Adrenaline levels increase when the body identifies stress, more often linked to nervousness than excitement. A common technique for lowering anxiety is to treat it like excitement—some people do this by literally telling themselves they are excited, not nervous. Research has shown that this technique can actually change the body’s internal response, leading to lower adrenaline levels.