Director of New Hope, Psychologist with ChristianSoulCare.com
you?" my friend asked me on the phone. "Busy," I replied. "What
else is new?" he laughed. "Ever since we roomed together in college
I've admired how disciplined and productive you are." Years later,
I still think about that exchange. Although it was opposite of
my friend's intention, I realized then that I was too busy.
Like so many people in our culture, I was relying on adrenaline
to keep up. Since then I've been learning to stop rushing around
doing "urgent" things, slow down, get in tune with my soul, and
interact more with God and other people.
all in the Adrenaline
Hart, author of The Hidden Link Between Adrenaline and Stress,
believes that "adrenaline dependence" has become the greatest
addiction problem in America
today. People actually become "hooked" on the energy, pleasure,
and confidence that come when the body's stress hormones - primarily
adrenaline and cortisol - are released in emergencies.
God has designed
our bodies wonderfully and it is a great gift that we have this
instinctive "fight or flight" response to danger that infuses
us with vitality and well-being. This alerts us to grab our child's
hand at the curb when a car races by. It energizes us when we
face a challenge like giving a big presentation or working through
a stressful conflict. It cushions us when we get bad news. We
need adrenaline to handle real life emergencies like these.
a problem for us when we live our lives in a continual state of
urgency, viewing daily stresses as emergencies. Hurrying from
one thing to the next, each more "imperative" than the last.
Doing two or three things at once to save time. Jumpstarting
ourselves with caffeine (an adrenaline stimulant) to get going
in the morning, to stay alert in the afternoon, or to get psyched
up before a meeting. Passing cars on the freeway. Counting people's
items in the "short order" grocery line. Thinking about what
we else have to do when someone is talking to us. Working hard
even into the late evening hours. Then grinding our teeth at
night as we worry about all that we didn't get done!
managing life. That's the short answer. Many business people
rely on adrenaline to get through their 50-hour workweek. Even
parents may depend on it to deal with their children and get them
from one activity to the next. Students who go to classes and
work all day and then study late into the night use it to stay
alert while depriving themselves of sleep. It seems like we have
so much we have to do and our society is changing so fast - we
feel we must get keyed up to keep up!
everyone else is doing it, aren't they? Doesn't everyone tank
up on coffee and other caffeinated drinks to stay in top form?
Isn't it normal to live in a hurry going from one pressure to
the next? Indeed, it seems that way. The fast-paced, super-productive,
determined life of an adrenaline addict is not only socially acceptable,
it's admired and rewarded in our society. Certainly, this reinforcement
of others in our culture is another reason why we depend on adrenaline.
But I think
the most important reason why so many people get hooked on adrenaline
is simply because it feels good! And without it they don't feel
good. Like people struggling with other types of compulsive behaviors,
adrenaline addicts have an underlying depression. Without adrenaline
flowing they feel empty inside. And they may feel inadequate
or insignificant. So they get keyed up. They take on pressures
and they hurry things. They find something new, challenging,
or exciting to get themselves stimulated. Without realizing it,
they keep calling up adrenaline to help them feel alive and important.
an Adrenaline Addict?
As I inferred
at the start of this article, I am an "adrenaline addict in recovery."
My name, "William," actually means, "determined!" Sometimes it
seems as if I am programmed to be productive, hurried, and intense.
Fortunately, I've gotten help. I'm still in process and have
to watch myself closely, but I've learned some things about replacing
adrenaline dependence with soul care. And I've had the opportunity
to help other "junkies" step off the treadmill of a hurried life
and onto the path of a soul-full life. So if I'm hitting a nerve
for you, keep reading.
step to recovery from any compulsion is admitting to your problem.
And the best way to spot it if you (or someone you're concerned
about) are an adrenaline addict is to understand what you're like
when you're not running your life at a fast pace. When adrenaline
addicts slow down they are not happy. So they try not to slow
down! But if they do relax, say on weekends, in the evening before
bed, or on vacation, they experience actual withdrawal symptoms
- A compulsion
to get busy, be more productive, or be stimulated with noise
boredom, and depressed mood
of guilt about being idle
or loss of temper
about work that needs to be done
or restlessness (e.g., pacing, finger or foot tapping, fast
- Utter exhaustion
Take my self-test,
"Are You Dependent on Adrenaline?"
Price of a Hurried Life
the pressure of urgency or being keyed up is costly. In addition
to experiencing the periodic unpleasant withdrawal symptoms described
above, people who live with adrenaline surging through their bodies
regularly suffer from things like anxiety, rapid heartbeats, headaches,
backaches, gastric distress, and sleep problems. And they dramatically
increase their risk of stress-related illnesses ranging from viruses
and ulcers to heart disease and cancer.
I think that
the most serious consequence of an adrenaline-driven lifestyle
(one with eternal significance) is that it crowds out God and
His blessings. You become a "human-doing" instead of a human
being. Life is lacking in the things that are most enjoyable
and meaningful: loving relationships, delightful experiences,
creative expression, passionate pursuits, and spirituality. God,
when you do focus on Him, seems distant and unconcerned or like
a harsh taskmaster.
Sleep, Less Adrenaline
read an excerpt from Rest: Experiencing God's Peace in a Restless
World, a book by Siang-Yang Tan, Ph.D. The article on Crosswalk.com
caught my attention because the title was "Go to Bed." Go
to Bed? I thought. Like most adrenaline addicts I'm used
to thinking things like, "Sleep Less, Accomplish More" or "How
to Get More Done in Less Time," but not "Go to Bed!"
Dr. Tan is
right though. A recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation
(Yes, such an organization does exist!) found that 63% of Americans
sleep less than eight hours a night during the week, with 35%
sleeping less than seven hours. Tan cited a study, which showed
that when people were given the opportunity to sleep as much as
they wanted they slept an average of 8 ½ hours, and they reported
feeling happier and more energetic. I believe this is because
sleep is one of the vital ways that we need to rejuvenate our
bodies and minds from the stresses and adrenaline surges of the
You see, you
can't live without some adrenaline. It's appropriate and good
for you to draw on adrenaline in times of true emergency or in
order to tackle a very important challenge. The critical issue
is that you come down from times of stimulation and intensity.
You need a recovery period so that you can rest and recuperate
your body and mind. This means times of relaxation during your
day, as well as regular vacations to really "get away."
Let me share
an example. One of the ways I like to unwind from the stresses
of a typical day is to go in the Jacuzzi with my wife. It's so
refreshing to sit in the spa, feel the heat and pulsating bubbles,
enjoy the flowers in our garden, and talk. It seems I can feel
the adrenaline drain from my body! Not only does this help me
to de-stress, but also it helps me to get ready for a good night's
sleep. That is so much more restful than catching up on all my
having trouble relaxing and getting to sleep or you're not waking
up feeling refreshed then consider Dr. Tan's advice (I've added
some of my own thoughts too) on how to sleep well. This advice
also applies to getting free from adrenaline dependence!
- Allow yourself
at least 8 hours a night of sleep
- Avoid adrenaline
stimulating activities in the evening (e.g., pressure, busyness,
- Turn off
the TV earlier
- Turn down
the lights in the evening to trigger production of melatonin,
a hormone for sleep
- Stay away
from caffeine, spicy foods, and sweets in the evening
- Take some
time in the evening to relax, do nothing, or enjoy something
- Go to
bed and get up at the same time each day
your mind before going to bed by verbalizing your thoughts and
feelings to a friend, to God in prayer, or to yourself by journaling
- Use relaxation
techniques like slow, deep breathing and meditation on Scripture
- If you
awake in the night try to stay in bed and relax
long-term use of sleeping pills
Rest is so
important that it's part of the 4th commandment, which
connects rest with worship (Exodus 34:21). Even many Christians
ignore this commandment (except that they may go to church) by
rationalizing that Jesus undid it. I don't think so. He didn't
come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it! (Matthew 5:17) He
removed the legalism that the religious leaders added to the Sabbath
so that people could do things like feed themselves and their
animals and care for those in need without the imposition of silly
restrictions. And he pointed out that he was Lord of the Sabbath
(Matthew 12:8) and that the Sabbath was made for man's benefit,
not the reverse (Mark 2:27). As the writer of Hebrews wrote,
"There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (Hebrews
4:9). We still need this!
In the first
century it seems that rest was more a part of people's lives, certainly
that of Jesus and the apostles. No business or work was done on
the Sabbath. Worship and meditation on Scripture were regularly
part of most people's lives. Without electricity, their activity
and work were more in sync with sunlight, leaving the evenings for
relaxing and nighttime for sleeping more hours (as recently as 1850
people slept 9 ½ hours per night!). Instead of speeding down roads
and freeways they walked most places they went. Families and communities
were more connected. Meals were lingered over. Information was
limited, as it was passed on mostly through word of mouth. And
yet, even 2,000 years ago people needed to be urged to "Make every
effort to enter [God's] rest" (Hebrews 4:11).
As much as
we need to "work" at caring for our souls by practicing healthy
lifestyle habits like remembering the Sabbath, getting enough
sleep, exercising, relaxing in the evenings, enjoying restful
meals with family and friends, and limiting the barrage of information
the intrudes in our space each day - all things that were more
naturally a part of life even just 100 years ago - there's something
that's even more important to our well-being. I believe it's
found in Jesus' words recorded in Matthew 11:28-30:
me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble
in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is
easy and my burden is light."
God's mercy and grace to us through Jesus is opposite of the adrenaline-driven
life. We learn to stop trying to control our lives and make things
work out. We work at not letting other people or things control
our lives too. Instead, we go to God (and His ambassadors in
the Body of Christ). He gives us love and blessings and we receive.
He gives us dreams and directions and we follow. As Paul wrote,
"In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). To
have our being in God is a matter of growing our faith by putting
our trust in God and practicing spiritual disciplines to get ourselves
in the position to rest in God and respond to Him.
Now is the Time
to Be Still
What am I
trying to say here? What is the key to overcoming adrenaline
dependence and relying God? Loving the Lord who loved us first
with our whole selves. (Matthew 22:37, 1 John 4:19) Again and
again I find that when I still my soul and open myself up to God
I sense His presence.
see His beauty in the flowers.
hear His song in the birds.
experience His comfort in a friend.
read the Bible as His words to me.
feel the honor of doing His work in caring for those in need.
with a quietness inside my soul, which doesn't come naturally
or easily for me! As the verse from Hebrews above implores us,
I have to "make every effort to enter God's rest." I have to
hurry up and be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).
Why the hurry?
Because the only moment to experience God's favor is right
now (2 Corinthians 6:2) and it so quickly passes by in a blur
of worries, pressures, and busyness. Resting in God's care right
now is life's one vital emergency with eternal consequences and
it's the only one that doesn't rely on adrenaline! If there is
anything in life to be in a "hurry" about then that's it.
You Can't Hurry
Ortberg, in his article "Taking Care of Busyness" (Leadership
Magazine, Fall 1998) wrote that he asked a mentor of his,
"What do I need to do to be spiritually healthy?" There was a
long pause and then wise, old man replied, "You must ruthlessly
eliminate hurriedness from your life." John then asked, "What
else should I do?" (Perhaps he didn't like the first answer!)
After another long pause the mentor answered, "There is nothing
your life look like if you lived life without being in a hurry?
If you slow down could you persevere through the depressing symptoms
of adrenaline withdrawal to find out what's on the other side?
Could you develop a more soul-full life? You'd accomplish less.
You'd feel less important. You might miss the buzz adrenaline
gives. But you'd have opportunities to invest more in your relationships
with God, others, and yourself. You could focus on becoming the
person God has created you to be, enjoying His blessings, and
sharing His love with others.
it. I know I've experienced the hurried life and the soul-full
life. And in my journey I've gone back and forth many times.
I'm learning to be patient with myself because I've learned that
recovery from adrenaline addiction is a process that can't be
Gaultiere, Ph.D. is the Director of New Hope Crisis Counseling
at the Crystal Cathedral and a Clinical Psychologist with ChristianSoulCare.com.