Adrenaline Addiction Sabotages Productivity

by Iris Grimm, The Balanced Physician

Do you notice colleagues or healthcare professionals who are always pecking away at their Blackberries during meetings, responding to emails late at night, reacting strongly to the unexpected, or running from one meeting to the next with no time for reflection?

As our world becomes increasingly more complex, the demands of balancing work and family are overwhelming, and finding time for ourselves seems to be out of question. We rush through each day doing, performing, and accomplishing while adding to a growing list of what needs to be done.

As an executive coach working in healthcare, I have encountered many professionals who struggle with these challenges.  I am not licensed to diagnose disease or mental imbalances, but it is my responsibility to recognize and point out patterns, such as those in language, behavior and thought.  When professionals are always on the go and have a constant need for urgency, it may be an adrenaline addiction.

Unlike addiction to drugs or alcohol, adrenaline addiction is often looked at as a positive trait since the drive toward career accomplishment is expected. Many even think if they are not busy, something must be wrong with them.  They may consider themselves a loser, so they frantically look for more to do, filling their days with more appointments, responsibilities and busy work. The addict often wears their problem like a badge of honor, failing to see it as an addiction even though it can hurt their organizations, families, and job satisfaction.

Like any drug, adrenaline has its rewards. On the surface, it may appear that this legal, seductive drug provides a burst of energy to get the work done, make it through another shift, or meet a deadline. It can make you feel like a superhuman who accomplishes more than what a mere mortal is capable of.

However, it’s more dangerous than we realize. The body produces adrenaline when stressed, in pain, or confronted with imminent danger. Once used just to handle a crisis, many are now controlled by this drug.  Aside from feeling drained, burnt out, and exhausted, adrenaline lowers our productivity level over time and sets us up for failure. If we thrive on chaos, it’s difficult to maintain focus, concentration and peace of mind.

For example a congested physician mind does not allow the space to create the best solutions for patients. If overwhelmed with a pile of tasks, they can’t be “present” with patients and listen to their needs. It affects their ability to stay focused, establish a correct diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan, thus creating holes in patient care which could lead to critical errors.

There’s no need for recovery programs or medication.  You can get off the adrenaline treadmill and incorporate more peace in your life with simple steps:

1. Break the cycle by increasing your awareness.
Are you observing excessive work behaviors and believe that there is no way out? Do you always have to be busy? Do you run on “high” all day and crash as soon as you get home?  Notice your patterns, observe your lifestyle and recognize what triggers the release of adrenaline.

2. Identify solutions to each trigger.
Implement changes to your behavior. For example, if you use caffeine excessively, decrease your intake.  If you instinctively say “yes” before considering if you can realistically deliver, strengthen your boundaries, then either learn to delegate or simply say “no.” If you constantly multi-task, focus on one thing at a time until it is completed.  Re-examine whose agenda you are living.

3. Train yourself to slow down.
Schedule time for contemplation and silence.  Give yourself at least 15 minutes of silence each day. Learn to appreciate the present moment.

Adrenaline addiction is a serious problem in today’s fast paced world. It is our responsibility to develop a pace that matches our abilities and leads to more long-term rewards and fulfillment.


Iris Grimm is the creator of the Balanced Physician coaching and training programs designed to improve physicians’ leadership, performance, and work-life balance. She can be reached at 770-428-2334 or at

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