This Is Exactly What Happens to Your Body on an Adrenaline Rush

Ever felt a surge of energy when faced with an exciting or dangerous situation? That's an adrenaline rush. Here's what's happening inside your body.

Some people experience insane strength when undergoing an adrenaline rush, with the classic reports of people being able to lift cars off the bodies of people in danger. But this phenomenon could also be as simple as being at the gym, when you find yourself suddenly capable of being able to lift more weight than ever before. While you may be well-acquainted with some of these symptoms from getting pumped up for a big work meeting or sporting event, or after encountering an intense and dangerous situation, do you know exactly what an adrenaline rush is?

“An adrenaline rush is an intense activation of the nervous system caused by the release of the hormone, adrenaline, by the adrenal glands,” explains Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, MSCP, founder and executive director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia.

According to Dr. Deibler, adrenaline rushes are triggered by a perceived or real threat. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a scary situation. It could, along with being something stressful or frightening, also just be startling, exciting, or otherwise activating.

“When we are faced with a stressor, our brain assesses the situation. If our brain interprets the stressor as threatening, it activates our sympathetic nervous system,” explains Dr. Deibler. “For instance, if we are taking a walk through our neighborhood and a dog unexpectedly barks loudly, our hypothalamus, a small area at the base of our brain, sets off an alarm in our body. This alarm prompts our adrenal glands, located just above our kidneys, to release a set of hormones such as adrenaline (also known as epinephrine), noradrenaline (also known as norepinephrine), and cortisol. These hormones cause effects throughout our body, including our brains. This is called the fight-or-flight response. It essentially prepares our minds and bodies to fight or flee this danger.” (These are the silent signs that stress is making you sick.)

You may also experience a lack of localized pain. For example, if you break a bone, you may not feel the repercussions immediately, as your body works to protect you from the pain by way of an adrenaline rush. Heightened senses are also a big symptom of an adrenaline rush, as is a sudden boost of energy, which is a result of your body releasing glucose and sugar directly into your bloodstream. (Check out these natural energy-boosters that can help you out of a slump.)

When the perceived threat subsides, Dr. Deibler explains that “our body returns to its normal functioning. Our fight-or-flight response will continue to do its job to protect us, even if it is not a real threat to our safety, but is simply perceived to be. For example, our bodies will react this way whether we are crossing the street and a car unexpectedly charges down the road in front of us, or if we are asked to speak in a public forum. If we interpret the situation as threatening, your body doesn’t know the difference between a real threat and one that is not really a threat to us, but is simply intimidating.”

Because our minds and bodies are interconnected, Dr. Deibler says that, “The way in which our minds assess and make meaning of situations affect not only our thoughts, but also our emotions, our behavior, and our bodily experiences,” she says. Thus, all experiences we have an impact on both our bodies and our minds.” The next time you find yourself amped up and unable to calm down, try saying these soothing phrases to yourself.

Sources
  • Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, MSCP, founder and executive director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia
Medically reviewed by Jill Silverman, MD, on October 23, 2019

Alexa Erickson
Alexa Erickson is a lifestyle and news writer currently working with Reader's Digest, SHAPE Magazine, and various other publications. She loves writing about science news, health, wellness, food and drink, beauty, fashion, home decor, and her travels. Visit her site Living by Lex.