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You’ve felt it on a roller coaster or before a big race—pounding heart, flushing skin, butterflies. Here’s what’s actually happening in your body during an adrenaline rush and how you can use that energy for good. (Also read: The Terrifying Science Behind Being Scared.)
Prep your body for action.
During an adrenaline rush, your system releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, explains Marla Deibler, a clinical psychologist in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They get you ready to act. But if your cortisol spikes too high, it can overwhelm you or make you feel stressed. Working out before a big event will regulate your levels of the stress hormone, making the experience more productive overall, says Deibler. (Eating these 11 foods can also ward off stress.)
Maximize the rush.
Once you’re feeling the buzz, you can make the most of it with a simple mental trick. “Take a few seconds to appreciate what’s happening to your body,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., the author of Better Than Perfect. Focus on your heart rate or breath speeding up, and remind yourself that it’s a sign that your body is giving you the energy boost you need to succeed. (Related: The Energy-Boosting Molecule You Need to Know About)
Stretch out that energy.
An adrenaline rush lasts about 20 minutes. The influx of hormones may leave you feeling shaky afterward; if so, breathe deeply for a few minutes, or take a yoga class to regain equilibrium, says Deibler. If you’re too keyed up for that, a run or a Tabata workout will burn off excess energy. (Try this total-body Tabata circuit to send your body into overdrive.)