Negative Consequences of the Adrenal Response

Two Nervous Systems[1]

Emergency based adrenal response

The humans have two complimentary neuro-hormonal systems, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is designed to help with emergencies and is based upon the fight or flight adrenal based reflex; this allows us to escape extreme danger by giving us an extra burst of energy supplied by the adrenaline from the pituitary-adrenal hormonal circuit. This same adrenal response allows us to operate while injured by dulling our pain. This system was designed for short-term operation.

Shock puts us in automatic

Hence the adrenal system puts us in a state of shock. This state of shock puts us in automatic, bypassing our conscious thought processes for speed of response. While crucial for survival in short-term situations, it is detrimental over longer periods of time. For one, the fight and flight response while appropriate in times of extreme danger might not be so appropriate over longer periods of time and might even be counterproductive to survival, as we shall see. Additionally a competitor who is not overwhelmed by layers of instinctive responses is able to exploit these automatic response mechanisms.

Short term emergency useful

Now while most animals have this same adrenal response system, they do not have the ability to anticipate like humans do. Hence if a cat sees a dog running at her, her adrenal response kicks in allowing her to run faster and escape. However the same cat does not anticipate danger in the same way humans do. The human can trigger his adrenal system just thinking about retirement which might be decades away.

Long term worry self-destructive

This adrenal response is worry. While giving more energy it stresses the system to overload, which eventually leads to long term diseases associated with acid build up, ulcers, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Tai Chi training teaches us to return to the animal state. Defuse the long-term adrenal response, but be prepared for the short-term appropriate adrenal response.

Separating Anticipation from adrenal response.

The trick is to separate the ability to anticipate from the adrenal system. Essentially the adrenal system kicks in when danger is perceived. The adrenal response is somewhat appropriate when the danger is immediate. However when the danger is distant, as it is with long-term anticipation, the adrenal response is inappropriate, only causing anxiety and distress. One of the thrusts of meditation of any sort, combined with T'ai Chi is to defuse this adrenal danger response by looking inward for perspective. The illusory exterior world only attains the reality that we confer upon it. Looking inwards drains the false reality of the exterior world by not giving it energy.

[1]Warriors of Stillness by Jan Diepersloot, 1995, p. xv. Many of the preceding ideas about the nervous system were found in or derived from this book.

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