Adrenaline Rushing

From Anxiety to Excitement in Work, Play, Love, Life…

Have you ever paid to be afraid? Unless you’ve never been to an amusement park, actually you have. Malcolm Burt researched why people around the world ride roller coasters, to the tune of $12 billion a year in the US alone, in some part due, he believes, to a human need to connect more with our more primal selves. Framing things in evolutionary terms appeals to me too. So what is it about sensation seeking that may have helped us to survive and to thrive? One narrative would be that we are the children (ancestors) of the earliest humans who could deal best with high levels of risk, the children of people who could ward off predators and find food under the most extremely hostile conditions. Those endowed with a natural tendency to take these risks, those who could best tolerate the anxiety associated with a heart pounding adrenaline rush, would have been the ones to find food, to survive, to have sex and make babies, who then had babies, and so on until here we all are.

We are all endowed to respond to potential danger: Car coming; get out of the way. In this case, flight instead of fight or freeze. Good choice most folks would make. Anxiety is a state of alert, when the adrenaline is rushing, that helps us to be ready for action. For situations less clear-cut than a car coming, let’s say public speaking, there are marked differences among us. The movie “The Walk,” about the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers, is an amazing example of someone with a thirst for adrenaline rushes of gigantic proportions. I, on the other hand, could barely tolerate the anxiety I felt as I watched him cross the line, even knowing full well he would survive. Many people,* without even realizing it, actually have more anxiety about the feelings themselves, than whatever the actual thing is that is causing the feelings. Some people worry that they feel too much. “If I ever let myself cry, I may never stop.” Here the anxiety is that if they allow themselves to feel what they feel they will be too overwhelmed with feeling to go to work, to take care of their children, to function at all. Other people worry that they’ve done such a good job of not feeling that they are unable to feel what they want to feel when and with whom they want to feel it. Here the concern is with an inability to love and be loved, and to feel much if any of life’s excitement and joy.

There is a fine line between anxiety and excitement. Rats in the lab need some excitement so they don’t go mad and eat each other, and you know how dull and confining life can be for us when we play it too safe, too much of the time. But you can push that envelope, little by little and see that you can. You can open yourself to your feelings by asking yourself, “What do I feel and where in my body do I feel it?” And you can do this in small enough doses to get used to things over time – to help you cross that line between anxiety and excitement one small step at a time. Sure, you can take an amusement park ride. Or you can say Yes to work, play, love, and life. Yes to that new case or project at work, the one you worried you might fail. Once we know there is no feeling we can’t handle – we may not like it but we can handle it – nothing to fear but fear itself. Now you can say Yes to submitting the chapters you wrote, the dinner party you wanted to throw, that trip you wanted to take, that new project at work…Yes to the risk of that enticing new relationship or to something new and novel in the relationship you have. Bring it on. Yes you can in as big or small a dose as you like. What do you feel and where do you feel it? Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

“Video: Adrenaline junkie researcher discovers why we need roller coasters” January 14, 2016

*Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.




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