Always in an urgent hurry? This may explain why…
A while back I was really on edge, feeling a bit wobbly. A sort of nameless stress was hanging over me. An edge of mild anxiety with the odd hint of panic now and again. Certainly there were external pressures pushing a couple of buttons. And it was also the month when a dear friend died a few years ago, so probably I was also experiencing an anniversary reaction.
Most noticeable though was an uncomfortable familiar buzz about me – a kind of tunnel vision, an uneasy energy, a compulsion to get things done. I felt that everything had to be done right now and perfectly! Woe betide anyone frustrating my efforts. Ughh…it’s not a version of me I especially like (nor one enjoyed by those close to me).
I’m Late! I’m Late, It’s Ever-so-important I Get Up-to-date!
On one particular day this buzzy angst really crept up on me. I was on holiday leave. I wanted to tackle the pile of journals that had built up over the previous months. Usually an enjoyable, leisurely task, I took to it with totally misplaced urgency. Highlighting and scribbling notes like a madwoman.
When I finally got to an article by Professor Archibald D. Hart on adrenaline addiction, I felt very sheepish. Let me explain and you’ll see why.
Who is Archibald D. Hart anyway?
Professor Hart is a psychologist with many letters after his name, including the always impressive, PhD. Very broadly speaking he’s in the same field as me but that’s where I would have thought our common ground ended. After all he’s a much older bloke who is Dean Emeritus at the Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. Apparently he’s best known for his research on the vocational hazards of ministry.
Furthermore, Prof Hart confesses to being an adrenaline junkie himself!
In his article he explains adrenaline, its impact on the body, common traits of addicts, withdrawal and recovery.
The White Rabbit, Prof Hart and Me
It seems that Prof Hart and I, and possibly the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, are adrenaline junkies. No, I’m not one for extreme sports of any kind. But I can get driven by, and thrive on challenge. I can be prone to hurrying and to slipping into ‘urgent’ mode. This is just the kind of addiction Hart also admits to, and he points the finger at other white rabbit types who, in one way or another are forever claiming, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.”
He notes that the term ‘adrenaline addiction’ is not yet scientifically validated but his argument is compelling for its use to describe how we can get hooked on adrenaline. Like other stimulants, it offers, “increased vitality, delayed pain, and deep euphoria.”
He goes on to suggest that, “being in a hurry makes us feel alive, important and efficient”, adding, “All delusions, I know, but it is the feeling that counts!” Ouch! – I read that bit with particular discomfort. Sometimes when I do find myself stupidly rushing, I catch an unpleasant whiff of self-righteousness about me, that matches well with these ‘important and efficient’ feelings he alludes to.
Thankfully these days any aroma of self-important haste prompts me to take a few deep breaths, check back into reality, shake off any delusions of grandeur and slow down.
Hart’s article goes on to discuss what happens when we junkies finally do stop, suggesting that what follows are withdrawal symptoms. These include, ‘a compulsion to get back into something, obsessing about what’s not been done, guilt, depression, irritability and so on’. He says it’s a common experience among clergy, on a Monday after a high adrenaline weekend. Likewise for sports fans or players after a big game.
Apparently, it can also occur in the odd therapist like myself who had for many years and with much success, sought greater calm in life. My appraisal of my own recent experience is that I had a lapse. It had been many years since I’ve found it hard to slow down or stop. Caffeine hits, chasing deadlines and kicking on for a big Friday night were a thing of the distant past for me.
However, I slipped. Unwittingly, I think external pressures increased, downtime and healthy pastimes decreased and I succumbed to the old allure of adrenaline. When I did stop, withdrawal kicked in (enter crazy woman with pile of journals, scissors and highlighters). Fortuitously I stumbled upon Hart’s article.
This recent experience was a a great wake up call. Once I realised what was going on, I was back on the wagon, quick smart. While it’s a difficult addiction to quit (adrenaline is said to be highly addictive, it’s free, legal, accessible and carries no social stigma), recovery has a lot going for it.
Hart notes that, “stress symptoms, like headaches, panic anxiety, muscle pain, rapid heartbeats, teeth grinding, gastric disease, fatigue and sleep disturbances are all a safe bet that you are over adrenalised, if not addicted. Hell, I’ll have calm any day over these symptoms!
Interestingly, the elements that he suggests are part of recovery are very similar to my own experience of change and ‘recovery’ over the years. Being vigilant about taking time out to rest is critical. The long process of change for me personally, has also included healthy changes in lifestyle, personal therapy and development of healthy relationships, and the practice of mindfulness and yoga.
So did Professor Hart really present ideas that were so new and different to what I already knew? In one sense not so much, but in another yes. He provided me with a new perspective and new words to make sense of my experience (which is part of what therapy does). And I like to think I’ll catch myself more quickly should I begin to slip again!
Are you an adrenaline junkie?
If so, are there ways you have found to manage the addiction and withdrawal?