Thursday, December 06, 2012

Understanding Fear & Adrenaline

Combat is 90% mental and only 10% physical when people experience a threat one of two things happen to them. They either experience the “flight/freeze response” (I place the freeze response into the flight category to simplify things) or they experience the “fight response”. Most people forget this vital concept when it comes to personal protection.

People usually focus on practicing physical techniques and fail to realize that if you cannot control your thoughts flight (fear) will set in and you will freeze up and not be able to do anything to protect yourself. It’s just like what a deer does when it see’s a car’s headlights coming straight for it, it just stands there looking at the vehicle headlights and bam it gets hit by the vehicle. This is exactly what you will experience when you are experiencing a threat if you don’t train your mind to go into the “fight response”.

“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.”

                                                                                                       Karl A. Menninger

We as humans are born with only two fears the first is the fear of loud noises (startle reflex) and the second is the fear of falling (avoidance reaction) every other fear is learned, so we can reprogram our brains to not be afraid of violence, pain or of being hit or struck.

Understanding fear, adrenaline and the effects it has on you physically, mentally and emotionally will put you in a better position to understanding and controlling fear.

There are two types of fear:

1) Recreational Fear: This has an element of control such as a mixed martial arts match due to the fact that there are rules to abide by and there is a referee in the cage. The athletes/fighter's know that the violence is controlled due to these factors and that they will not be seriously injured.

2) Fear: This occurs when things are out of your control such as a violent street attack which could end in death. You can control your fear of a violent altercation by being tactically prepared (physical, psychological and emotional training builds confidence).

Adrenaline Symptoms During & After Violence (Autonomic Nervous System)
Upset stomach: butterflies/nausea
Increased blood pressure
Increased perspiration
Sweaty palms or sweaty
Bowel/Bladder Urgency: Defecating or urinating oneself, everyone hates admitting to this but it is very common with the manliest men
Chest pain
Muscle tightness
Dry mouth/throat: Cotton mouth
Visual/audio changes: Sometimes these changes are beneficial such as having visual enhancement and being able to see the bullets in the cylinder of a revolver. Sometimes it can be detrimental to the person such as tunnel vision which excludes your peripheral vision making you more vulnerable to an ambush because you ca not see the stimuli coming around you.
Outer Body Experience: This is when you feel like your watching the violence you are experiencing from outside your body.

Increased Heart Rate: Beats per minute (bpm)

60-80 bpm (code white) normal resting heart rate
80-115 bpm (code yellow) alert to your surroundings.
115-145 bpm (code red) optimal survival and combat performance level for complex motor skill, visual reaction time, and cognitive reaction time
145-175 bpm (code grey) complex or fine motor skill deteriorates,  loss of depth perception, auditory exclusion

Note: Using gross motor skills is paramount when performing street survival tactics. If you are focusing on fine motor skill tactics you better be training long and hard as a Navy Seal and most people do not have the time or dedication to train this way.

175-220 bpm (code black) loss of near vision (tunnel vision), reduced bleeding from wounds, flight/freeze response, submissive behavior, bladder /bowels loosen

Concentration problems: After the violence the person may not remember what even happened during the violent altercation due to memory loss, this usually comes back a couple of days later.
Memory distortion: This is when you think you see a loved one get hit, shot or stabbed but in reality they were not even touched.
Word finding problems

Time Delay: Everything happens in slow motion, you see the bullet coming straight for you just like you were in a Matrix movie. This can also be confused with "freezing" because paralysis sometimes takes over your body such as not being able to feel like you can move your legs. Instead this is just time delay you are experiencing because you are moving your legs very slowly.

Decreased emotional control
Playing the event over and over in your mind
Second guessing yourself
Happy you survived

Note: It usually takes three or four days for the body to get to normal after experiencing a major adrenaline dump.

 "The key is to understand and manage arousal, not attempt to prevent or eradicate it."
                                                                 Michael J. Asken, Ph.D

Do not get down on yourself for feeling this way instead accept the fact that you will feel fear and these sensations for fear is actually your friend because it prepares you for combat. The majority of law enforcement, military personnel & security professionals experience these signs of stress when confronted with violence. Remember you want to control and manage your fear by understanding it. Your job is not to try to be fearless or fear will control you.

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Norm Bettencourt is the Creator/President of Tactical Self Defense which specializes in personal protection tactics against modern day threats of violence. For more information visit