Stress rarely gets any good press, but its effects on the body don’t always have to be detrimental. When your adrenal glands dump the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream to create an “adrenaline rush,” your body is activating a heightened state of physical and mental alertness. As long as it’s not long-lasting, that burst of human jet fuel can be a good thing. Here’s how.
1. IT MIGHT HELP YOU ON A DEADLINE.
Know anyone who believes they can think fast on their feet? It’s not just their imagination. When the body is flooded with adrenaline, the brain is engaged, focused, and able to handle cognitive tasks more quickly. Researchers have compared the boost in alertness to drinking coffee.
2. YOUR VISION GETS BETTER.
Because adrenaline is intended to prime the body to react to a perceived threat, one consequence of its release is the dilation of the pupils in your eyes. When your pupils expand, you’ll find your vision improves by letting in more light. Glaucoma sufferers once took synthesized adrenaline to decrease pressure in the eye.
3. YOU’LL BREATHE EASIER.
While stress may have you feeling tightly wound, adrenaline tells smooth muscles in the body to relax. That includes the bronchioles in the lungs, which can make respiration easier. That’s why asthma sufferers usually produce a lot of adrenaline in their bodies, and sometimes get injected with even more during an attack.
4. OTHER EXPERIENCES ARE HEIGHTENED.
Watching a horror film can get your blood pressure soaring. So why do people enjoy it? That state of high vigilance and excitement often remains after the movie is turned off. Researchers call it the “excitation transfer process,” and it intensifies any good (or bad) feelings experienced afterwards, making you come back for more.
5. IT CAN BLOCK PAIN.
Ever see someone with a gnarly injury carry on a casual conversation? They might be very, very tough—or just enjoying a primary benefit of the adrenals responding to a crisis. When the bloodstream is saturated with adrenaline and noradrenaline, the resulting desire to stay alive often runs interference against pain perception. It’s not a natural painkiller—once you “come down,” your injury is likely to start throbbing—but it does distract the mind from focusing on painful sensations.
6. IT CAN BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM.
Chronic stress can drain your energy, but when released in small doses for short durations, adrenaline can have the opposite effect: Being on high alert actually boosts your immune system. Just as adrenaline primes everything else in your body for an “attack,” it also improves your ability to fight off infections, at least temporarily.
7. YOU’LL GET TO TAP INTO A LITTLE EXTRA STRENGTH.
The apocryphal stories about parents heaving massive cars to rescue children or kittens aside, researchers do believe it is possible to access more of an individual’s absolute strength when under stress. Without conscious thought to talk a person out of lifting more, they might be able to surpass their usual boundaries in a burst of stress-fueled activity. It’s one possible explanation why many world records are set at the Olympics—and in a high-pressure, highly visible environment—rather than a basement.
8. IT MIGHT HELP SLOW AGING.
Brief spurts of adrenaline aren’t ignored by your body on a molecular level: It also reacts by increasing the number of antioxidants circulating in your system, which combat the free radicals that can cause aging and tissue damage.
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