The science and scope of adrenaline, and how to get your fix

Hunter S. Thomspon once said, “Faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.”

To the everyday person, this quote may sound a little alarming. What’s thrilling about being afraid for your life, after all?

The thrill isn’t in the fear itself. The thrill is in the chemical your brain secretes when it goes into survival mode. We’ve all experienced it, most of the time when we are not actually in much danger of dying.

It’s what you feel when you finally plunge down that straight-down roller coaster. It’s what you feel when you overcome your fear and ski down the steep slope. It’s what you feel when you leap from a cliff and plunge into a lake. It’s why, when people do risky things, we often can’t stop ourselves from cheering.

It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s why we seem to see things more clearly when we’re doing these risky things, it’s why we tend to make faster decisions and listen better to our instincts. It’s when our brain is wide awake and in survival mode.

I’m not an adrenaline junkie, but I do believe that the best, most unforgettable type of fun comes when you’re at least a tiny bit afraid for your life.

Adrenaline helps people in life-or-death situations deal with extreme stress, levels of stress that most of us living day-to-day can’t really comprehend. Soaking your brain in adrenaline for long periods of time of course isn’t healthy, but studies have shown that occasionally indulging in an adrenaline rush is actually good for a person’s health, and helps to manage stress in daily life.

One study in Psychology Today describes how adrenaline rushes in a controlled environment, like participating in an exciting sport, help us create situational awareness, or the ability to be aware of the different factors impacting your situation. In short, it’s the ability to stay cool under intense pressure and keep a clear understanding of exactly what’s happening.

Not only does this help immensely in an actual survival situation, but the skills translate to other high-stress areas of life.

Let’s be honest. We’re all college students, and we get pretty stressed out. I myself can’t really function well if I don’t have something to be stressed about – if I can’t find something to stress about, I stress about the fact that I have nothing to stress about.

Situational awareness helps when we’re stressed out because it allows us to see the whole picture. We can think on our feet better, and maintain a clearer mind in the face of overwhelming stress. It prevents emotional breakdowns, and overall helps us keep our heads.

In a college town where so many institutions are devoted to the student experience, there are plenty of ways to get a controlled adrenaline rush. If you want to stay on campus, I recommend getting a group to do the high ropes course. The feeling of being afraid to do something and doing it anyway is a valuable one I’m sure many students could find on this course.

If that’s not scary enough for you, you might try some white water rafting. The Pullman Chamber of Commerce recommends Salmon Rafting Experience for this sport. This fast-pace adventure will get your adrenaline going, but with professional guides taking you down the river the chances you’ll actually harm yourself are very slim.

There are also places within driving distance for bungee jumping, if plunging off a bridge towards a body of water is more your style.

When winter rolls around, if there’s snow, there are snow sports exciting enough to get anyone’s blood pumping. This is my favorite way to flood my brain with adrenaline.

And of course, the Outdoor Recreation Center offers classes, clinics, and trips that may help you find your adrenaline rush.

It’s never perfectly, 100 percent safe, but it doesn’t need to put your life in danger. There are plenty of ways to get an adrenaline rush; you don’t need to jump out of an airplane. It doesn’t need to be crazy.

Adrenaline rushes are accessible, and given their benefits for managing stress, it might help college students to try something new – something that they might find a little frightening.

As Eleanor Roosevelt is popularly credited with saying, “Do one every day that scares you.”