I’m late with this week’s post. The last few days have been difficult with high anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and an adrenaline high that wouldn’t stop; my reactions to recovered memories involving physical violence combined with seasonal body memory pain. It’s a different kind of survival mode for me and one that I struggle with a lot. Instead of typical essay format, I’m using a Q&A interview style for this series
Questions and Answers
Q: What is an adrenaline high?
A: I get triggered into panic without having a panic attack. Adrenaline surges through my system. I suddenly have extra acute senses, strength, mental clarity, etc. in order to run, fight, or freeze until I can escape. But once I realize the threat is over, the adrenaline keeps on flowing. The hyper-vigilance stays and increases over time. I am jumpy and anxious and unable to concentrate. I can’t relax. The adrenaline does not stop.
Q: Why doesn’t the adrenaline stop? Isn’t there a physiological on/off switch built into our bodies/minds?
A: My on/off switch was permanently disabled because of past experiences. Yes most people have an on/off switch that automatically controls how, when, and for what length of time the adrenaline flows and then slows down without crashing too hard. I have to find ways to manually turn the adrenaline off without causing harm to myself and (potentially) others.
Q: How does it relate to PTSD specifically?
A: Symptoms of PTSD get exacerbated. Agitation, irritability, anger easily, frustration, lack of focus, increased anxiety, panic attacks, etc. PTSD is considered an anxiety disorder. For me that means all of my “natural” alertness and environmental sensitivity get put on steroids to make flashbacks, nightmares, and triggers both more likely to occur and more intense with each occurrence. That sends more adrenaline into my system until I am flying on super high energy levels and awareness even as I start to crash from being physically and emotionally drained of energy from the last wave. No matter how tired I am, no matter how much I want to relax, the adrenaline and hyper-vigilance won’t let me because my brain senses a threat that doesn’t exist anymore. Once I identify the cause of this state (that I call Adrenaline High), I have to find ways to slow down the adrenaline until it stops.
Q: How do I know when my adrenaline starts/stays on/stops?
A: My first signs are physiological. As in my body reacts to the adrenaline first. Sweating, chills, shaking/trembling limbs, chest tightness, muscle tension, headaches, face pain, joint pain, extra saliva in my mouth, skin feels itchy, flushed or pale skin/skin changes color. Then comes acute senses: everything is more sensitive and reactive; I jump at noises, can smell or scent objects from longer distances, flavors increase or decrease – taste too much or nothing at all, etc. And then comes the distraction, loss of vision (everything is blurry), and an increase in mental static/confusion caused by the “hearing voices” that are not my alters trying to convince me that the past is reality and present is a dumb fantasy that will get me (put your idea of a threat here).
Q: Do automatic defenses and coping strategies kick in during adrenaline?
A: Yes. I try everything in my arsenal first. All of positive, healthy, healing coping strategies and techniques from therapy, programs, hotlines, books, etc. get used and reused until I get frustrated. Then I try last resort strategies. Hopefully they work. And if not, there are the strategies I refuse to consciously use: my past automatic coping and defense mechanisms: chemical help (something stronger than Tylenol like prescription anti-anxiety meds); inducing a panic attack that causes me to pass out; self harm (emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual). As I’ve mentioned before, self-harm comes in many forms and is not always noticeable. Luckily for me, I have caring friends and co-workers who gently point out and remind me when this happens so that I know it happened and can be more careful next time.
Q: What are some ways to make the adrenaline stop? Are they positive/neutral/negative?
A: I don’t know. This is where I am still experimenting and learning. The only ways I know for me to successfully make the adrenaline stop are negative (see question above). Some neutral ones suggested by others include: exercise; deep breathing; hobbies and activities that allow adrenaline-based energy to be released and do not require a lot of focus; listening to music or lullabies; distractions like favorite books, TV, and movies. I call those neutral because they can be triggering to some and not to others. As for positive, I am still working on that.
Q: Is there anything else you want to share?
A: Yes. The backlash from using what’s necessary to come down from an adrenaline high can be worse than the adrenaline itself. It can cause guilt and shame and more triggers or memories to resurface.
If you can ride it all out with minimal harm to self and others, you have won. That is the attitude I have to take or else I’d be swimming in shame and guilt every time it happens. Instead of healing, I’d be back in the downward spiral. So, when nothing works, ask for help. Reach out to supports if you can. Help comes in many forms. Sometimes I ask myself for help and support to get through the next (time period varies). Or I ask for spiritual help.
If you can’t reach out, do what you have to do to stay safe and protect yourself.
And always remember: this is not going to last. You got through it last time. You will get through it again.