Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why it's Important to Understand Adrenaline


If you're ever faced with a dangerous situation you're probably going to experience an adrenaline surge.  It doesn't have to be a physical confrontation - it might be something like a car accident, or even just a sudden fright

Whatever the perceived danger may be, your brain is hard-wired to send a surge of adrenaline through your body, and there are a number of physical side-effects that you should be aware of :
  • its function is to make you faster, stronger, and feel less pain - which are survival traits
  • however your vision can become tunnelled in a forward direction - often causing threats from the side to disappear from your field of vision (see top photo for an example)
  • your hearing can also become tunnelled - sometimes preventing you from hearing attacks or warnings that come from the side.

It is thought that this forward-focus is a primal survival response that goes back to a time when primitive man would face an imminent attack from a dangerous wild animal... and become totally focused on that threat !!!

The after-effects of an adrenaline surge are also something you should be aware of :

  • Firstly, your hands can shake, and you can feel quite weak.  This is simply a result of the falling blood sugar that was pumped into your system to provide the energy needed for a flight-or-fight survival response. 
  • Secondly, there can be a sleep-inducing effect from the adrenaline wash-out and endorphin rush, which triggers a cut-out switch in the brain. This sudden fainting episode is simply caused by a drop in blood pressure and heart-rate, and should not be confused with a fear response.
  • Thirdly, an unexpected release of strong emotion that was suppressed during the adrenaline surge.  Most often this erupts in the form of crying - which shocks and embarrasses people when they don't know to expect it. 

All of these points are common, and they can affect anyone at anytime.  As an example, following is frank and honest account of a confrontation from a martial arts Instructor :

I was woken very early on Sunday morning (about 4am) by someone groaning.  At first I thought one of my children had fallen out of bed.  But when I heard two voices, I knew it was coming from outside.

I looked out the window to see a man lying on my drive-way, and a woman standing over him.  I ensured that my family was safe and secure, and went outside into the darkness.

Not knowing what to expect, I approached the couple cautiously, just in case the scenario was a set-up.  I kept a safe distance, and told them to keep their voices down.

The woman apologised and tried to help the man up off the concrete.  He gradually got to his feet, and apologised for the noise.  He staggered around - obviously drunk - then suddenly held out his hand to shake mine.

In response I stepped back to create more distance, and raised my hands into a natural defensive-barrier.  "No" I said to him "It's ok, just leave, and keep your voices down." 

He responded with a drunken "Ok", and they staggered off down the street. Then, as I made my way back to my front door, I started to feel woozy.  I closed the door, and my wife asked if I was ok?  I told her "No", and immediately laid down on the floor.

The next thing I remember I was coming out of a dark tunnel, with very short deep breaths.  Apparently I had been out for about 10 to 15 seconds.

My wife asked me if I had been in a fight, and I told her "No... they just left and I came inside."

I remembered feeling the initial effects of an adrenaline surge as the drunk got up and lurched towards me to shake my hand.  But passing-out after the situation ended was not a side-effect I expected... especially from someone with my martial arts experience.


It wasn't until later that I learnt (from a fellow Black Belt who was a doctor), that my short fainting spell was caused by a drop in blood pressure and heart rate... which is designed to make the body horizontal, and allow the heart to recover its normal function more easily.

So if it ever happens to anyone you're with, simply place them in the recovery position (see below). 


Finally, here is a summary of points about experiencing an adrenaline surge :
  • it will make you faster, stronger, and feel less pain
  • however your vision and hearing can become tunnelled
  • afterwards your hands may shake, and you might feel weak
  • there can be a fainting episode as the body re-adjusts itself
  • or even an outburst of emotion (crying).


For more important insights into Adrenaline, click on the link below.
It will take you to an International Bodyguard Association blog :




It's Primal Protection.


22 comments:

  1. Hi there. I'm glad I came upon your blog. I was looking for information on the effects of adrenaline rushes after a frightening experience I had at work today. I work at a doggy daycare and today there was a nasty, bloody fight between two pit bulls that took all of the energy out of me. It took us at least 3 minutes to separate the two dogs, which is a VERY long time when two pit bulls are literally trying to kill each other. As soon as we got them separated, I hauled one of them into the adjacent pen and I was feeling so lightheaded that I just sat there with him for a few minutes. My heart was pounding out of my chest, I was practically gasping for breath, and I was so afraid I was going to pass out. I moved the dog into another room where I could clean his wounds and where we could be alone, in case I passed out and embarrassed myself. I caught my breath but it took me at least twenty minutes to a half hour to feel completely better. It was very frightening and I contemplated going to the hospital after work, but eventually I was feeling completely normal so decided not to go to the hospital.

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  2. Hi,
    I find that after a confrontation I feel really cold and thirsty, I understand about the adrenaline rush and the fight or flight response, however I never seem to hear about other people having cold sensations, I've always just assumed it was my body returning to normal, is this so or am I just more stressed than the average joe?

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  3. Does it make you angry and loss of sense for a while.and you lost recognition of your family and friends?

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  4. Does it make you angry and loss of sense for a while.and you lost recognition of your family and friends?

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    1. To me that sounds like a combination of adrenaline and shock... with shock causing you to not recognize family and friends. However, if you were struck in the head during the confrontation, you might have been suffering from a concussion.

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  5. I HATE adrenalin rushes. For me it usually takes at least a day to recover ;-( And sadly I don't sleep or pass out by am kept awake, but useless :-(

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  6. Once the anger has subsided I just feel cold, shivery and thirsty, that's just after a verbal confrontation, still have all my faculties, recognition of loved ones, I can think straight and am calm and yeah have trouble sleeping but I tend to analyse it all and brood over it, fair to say I hold a grudge lol

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  7. Had a crying jag after a major adrenaline rush the other day. My next door neighbor was in his car, lights still on. He had slumped over from a blood sugar episode in his car and was passed out. I saw him from my driveway and ran hellbent for shoe leather to his driveway. I pounded on the window to wake him up, and helped him out of the car. After I got him into his house and everything was okay, I got in my car to go to work. I called my mother to let her know what was going on and then put my head on the steering wheel and had a good cry.....

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  8. Thanks for sharing Roxanne... crying is a common response to experiencing a strong surge of adrenaline. But if you understand the possible effects, then at least you know what's going on if/when it happens to you.

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  9. I have in the past, and just recently have just been in a very serious confrontation that almost turned physical but did not. As I walked away to another room and closed the door behind me, my hands began to shake and a uncontrollable pain entered my spine that ended putting me on the floor in great pain. I then I heard the person coming back and the pain instantly left my body and was ready again to protect myself! Please help me understand. Thanks

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  10. Patrick... If you're experiencing uncontrollable pain in these situations, then I strongly recommend that you consult a doctor. It may be an unconscious psychological response to stop you in your tracks (physically) and allow your body to re-adjust to the effects of the adrenaline surge, but I've never heard of anyone experiencing extreme pain to achieve this. So again, I recommend that you consult a doctor!

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    1. Wow thank you, and to think all this time I thought this was somewhat normal. It's only happened a handful of times.

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  11. Whenever I have an adrenaline rush I generally feel like throwing up afterwards, but this is not one of your listed side effects. Earlier today I was thrown from a horse, but the only pain I could feel was from the splinters in my hands so I figured I was having an adrenaline attack. I didn't know exactly what to do, so I decided to stay on my feet until we got the horse back and after riding her for a while longer I had them saddle another horse so that I didn't become afraid of riding. It didn't take very long before I started getting very tired so I decided to call it quits for the day and I took two ibuprofens for my shoulder that I landed on before the adrenaline completely wore off. Around that time, I figured I'd start shaking but that didn't happen to me this time, my stomach became very unsettled though and I had to eat saltine crackers so that I didn't throw up. The last time I had an adrenaline attack was when I was bitten by a snake, and for whatever reason I was ridiculously calm throughout the entire experience until about fifteen minutes later when my hands started shaking uncontrollably and I almost threw up. Can anyone explain to me why this is one of my side effects but nobody else seems to have this problem after an adrenaline rush?

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    1. From what I understood, adrenaline rushes shut down the digestive track to focus energy on fight or flight. This can cause lots of digestive issues including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation.

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  12. The trick is to involve yourself in any type of cardio workout that lasts for at least 30 min to an hour like running hiking swimming . This flushes the adrenaline from the fat tissues and will speed your return to normal. Adrenaline is bad and causes cancer when it is not flushed out.

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  13. Im a driving student and the other day i had my first real lesson. I did almost everything perfectly, except the parallel parking. My instuctor told me to "ride the white line" while going up to the car i was going to park behind. I thought, as the white line is on the far right, that he meant pull in more. But he started to raise his voice to tell me not to, and while he did that he used his brake, which really confused me. He also grabbed my wheel and pulled it straight while talking and using his brake. All of it confused me, and while he kept doing that he raised his voice a bit more. All of this, trying to process it at once, scared me(as you could imagine). By then my heart must have been racing but i couldnt focus on anything because too much was going on at once; i finished backing in and he started talking to me about what i did wrong. The next thing i know, tears were falling out of my eyes. I figured out it was an adrenaline rush and then the quick drop in bp, but when I told him that i guess he didnt understand what i meant and he kept trying to blame my crying on "me getting it wrong." I gave up explaining it, and i thought we put it behind us but then a couple sessions later he told another driver(my friend, thankfully) that i had a "meltdown." So much for an explanation, but it was really embarrassing and i just hope he doesnt use my name if he brings it up to my other classmates.

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    2. He also kept talking about it which prevented me from stopping my tears.. that sucked but i guess its life. I was super tired afterward and I took a nap, after crying a little more about how embarrassed i felt. I ended up getting my period today which made me laugh because it conforms to a certain stigma we all know, haha. (But i know it was adrenaline, not pms; a smaller percentage of women actually get emotional during pms than people think!)

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  15. Hi, I was wondering something...is it possible to experience the aftereffects WHILE having adrenaline? Today someone threw a hard object and it accidentally hit me and I wasn't upset, it didn't seem to hurt, yet I started crying, and I'd laugh when people asked if I was okay, and I'd tell them "I'm not even upset, I don't know why I'm crying." Can you help?

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