high anxiety

Are You Experiencing High Anxiety or an Adrenaline Rush?

Published on October 10, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

If you work as an EMT, firefighter, or law enforcement officer, you are likely familiar with lulls and surges of high energy. No matter how tired they are, when the call comes in to respond to an emergency, these workers find a way to get up and rush out the door. The urgency to show up for those in need draws upon the body’s supply of adrenaline and cortisol, deregulating the sympathetic nervous system.

A rush of emotions can accompany both adrenaline rushes and anxiety attacks, but they indicate two different conditions. Although the causes behind the physiological responses derive from dissimilar psychological functions, the symptoms may be difficult to parse out from one another. High anxiety can be very difficult to diagnose as the condition resembles a number of similar conditions, all of which influence the body’s sympathetic nervous system response.

On the other hand, adrenaline rushes occupy more of a position in the realm of extreme sports culture as opposed to medical diagnosis. While tapping into those heart-racing hormones provides an important endorphin release following periodic thrill-seeking outings, relying upon an influx of adrenaline to complete an extended work shift can have dangerous side effects. Knowing the difference between high anxiety disorders and the occasional rush of adrenaline may prevent relapse for first responders who cope with alcohol and/or substance use disorder.


What Is an Anxiety Attack?

An anxiety attack feels like non-stop worry about a seemingly inevitable future event. This may include apprehension and fear of death, becoming sick, or the loss of loved ones. The gradual onset of this heightened state of worry results in a tensing of muscle groups and an increased heart rate. High anxiety can also lead to higher blood pressure and a higher risk for panic attacks.

One staple of high anxiety lies in how the physical symptoms result from psychological stimuli. The inability to pause thoughts of worry or concern fuels a reaction from the body — one that leads to tension and increases in levels of adrenaline and cortisol, among other hormones. This fluctuation can increase a person’s breathing rate, leading the mind to spiral out of control. 

Overactivity of the mind’s planning and anticipation centers develops into a cycle of imbalance. While anxiety is an aspect of life that must, to some extent, be accepted, individuals with a more sensitive nervous system may endure higher and more frequent levels of anxiety. This can make anxiety-riddled people feel as if they are utterly powerless to the worry of their day-to-day lives. When faced with a lack of control over one’s own state of mind, addicted individuals — particularly first responders who experience additional anxiety in their line of work — may be tempted to assert control over their own state of mind through alcohol and/or substance use. 


What Is an Adrenaline Rush?

While the common idea of an “adrenaline rush” is a bit misleading, feeling the swell of energy and strength from a risky situation is familiar to all. Since adrenaline is released as a result of high anxiety, the term “adrenaline rush” in and of itself may very well refer to any function in the body when the adrenaline hormone is produced. 

Typically, the image of a skydiver or surfer may come to mind when discussing adrenaline rushes. First responders undergo adrenaline releases nearly every time they show up to the scene of an emergency. Not only does this frequency of adrenaline release impact the daily balance of a first responder’s emotions in dangerous situations, but it can play a role in anxiety levels during all citations. Exposure to violent events may also create higher tendencies for the emotional imbalance characteristic of high anxiety.


How Can I Manage High Anxiety Without Alcohol and/or Substances?

The best method for addressing an anxiety disorder is one-on-one with a trained mental health counselor. A trained professional should be able to rationalize some of the worry experienced during anxiety attacks. Many different types of anxiety can be discussed and individuals with high anxiety should pursue strategies to limit chronic worry, particularly for issues that may not justify the level of concern. 

Moreover, speaking up about struggles with anxiety helps to recognize if a high-anxiety situation is beginning to unfold. First responders may have a difficult time acknowledging the high levels of anxiety as abnormal, given the high-pressure situations they face daily. Remember, the stress of work or an anxious episode pales in comparison when one’s mental health is given high priority. All that needs to be done is making the choice to commit to self-improvement.


It can be difficult to live with an anxiety disorder, especially for law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, dispatch, corrections, and other public safety professionals who are constantly exposed to trauma and adverse circumstances. As a first responder, you often deal with dangerous and life-threatening situations that can cause a great deal of emotional stress over time and amplify anxious feelings. In an effort to cope, some may turn to compulsive spending, drinking excessively, overeating or under-eating, or taking prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, or other substances. First Responder Wellness can help you manage anxiety more effectively, while navigating the complex relationship between mental health and wellness. If you or a loved one needs help recovering from addiction and/or mental health issues, we are here for you. Call us today at (888) 743-0490.