Learn the difference between high anxiety and an adrenaline rush

Difference between high anxiety and adrenaline

Often it’s difficult for an individual to tell the difference between high anxiety and an adrenaline rush. Both conditions cross intersect in terms of emotions and feelings experienced but are completely different. 

As a first responder, you’re likely familiar with experiencing exhaustion, along with surges of high energy. No matter how tired you are, when the call comes in to respond to an emergency, you 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. This rush of emotions can accompany both adrenaline and anxiety attacks, but they indicate two completely different conditions. 

Although the causes behind the physiological responses come from different psychological functions, the symptoms may be difficult to differentiate from one another. High anxiety can be difficult to diagnose as it resembles a number of similar conditions and all influence the body’s sympathetic nervous system response.

It’s important to have the ability to determine the difference between anxiety and adrenaline, so we’ve broken it down, just for you!

What does an anxiety attack feel like?

An anxiety attack feels like non-stop worry about a seemingly inevitable future event. This may include apprehension and fear of death, becoming sick, losing loved ones, or even stress about having to return to work. 

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.

The inability to pause thoughts of worry or concern fuels a reaction from the body, leading to tension and increases in levels of adrenaline and cortisol. 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 develops into a cycle of imbalance. While anxiety is an aspect of life that must be accepted, individuals with a more sensitive nervous system may endure higher and more frequent levels of anxiety. 

This can make anxiety-driven people feel as if they are sometimes 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 with alcohol or substance use. 

“An anxiety attack is a feeling of overwhelming apprehension, worry, distress, or fear. For many people, an anxiety attack builds slowly. It may worsen as a stressful event approaches. Anxiety attacks can vary greatly, and symptoms may differ among individuals. That’s because the many symptoms of anxiety don’t happen to everyone, and they can change over time.”


Symptoms of anxiety:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Heart palpitations
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Apprehension and worry
  • Fear

How does an adrenaline rush feel?

Did you know first responders undergo adrenaline releases almost every time they show up to the scene of an emergency?

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 everyone. Since adrenaline is released as a result of high anxiety, the term “adrenaline rush” may refer to any function in the body when the adrenaline hormone is produced. 

Not only does the 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.

“Adrenaline is also known as the “fight-or-flight hormone.” It’s released in response to a stressful, exciting, dangerous, or threatening situation. Adrenaline helps your body react more quickly. It makes the heart beat faster, increases blood flow to the brain and muscles, and stimulates the body to make sugar to use for fuel.”


Symptoms of adrenaline: 

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Hyperventilation or fast breathing
  • Sweating
  • Short breaths
  • Dilated pupils
  • Feeling nervous, shaky or dizzy
  • Trembling throughout your body

First responders may have difficulty acknowledging the high levels of anxiety as abnormal, given the high-pressure situations they face every day. 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.

About First Responder Wellness

At First Responder Wellness, we guide those ready to take the path to recovery and wellbeing. We offer various programs within a community of others who know what it is like to be in the front lines. For more information on how we can assist you, call 888-443-4898. 

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