Our Bodies Know the Basics
Of the five reactions to danger described in a previous post, let’s drill down on what the body is doing during perceived danger.
When asked about the body’s reaction to danger, most people will at least come up with “Fight or Flight” as responses. Our natural weapons are no match for those carried by most predators, nor is our speed. Yet somehow we have managed to survive as a species long before our technologies began to give us an advantage.
Physiologically speaking, what does our body know to do that has helped us to survive?
Upon recognition of danger the body readies itself for either flight or fight by releasing a surge of adrenaline.
Epinephrine, also known as adrenalin or adrenaline, is a hormone, neurotransmitter and medication. Epinephrine is normally produced by both the adrenal glands and certain neurons. It plays an important role in the fight-or-flight response by increasing blood flow to muscles, output of the heart, pupil dilation, and blood sugar. It does this by binding to alpha and beta receptors. It is found in many animals and some one cell organisms. Napoleon Cybulski first isolated epinephrine in 1895. en.wikipedia.org
Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of the blood vessels resulting from contraction of the muscular wall of the vessels, in particular the large arteries and small arterioles. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasoconstriction
Hearing Focus or Lack Thereof
Auditoryexclusion is a form of temporary loss of hearing occurring under high stress. As such it is related to tunnel vision and the slowing of time in the mind. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auditory_exclusion
When there is a conflict between what the ears are hearing and what the eyes are seeing, vision will be the winner. This is why the sounds appear to be coming from the star on the movie screen, even though they’re not. A very simple, albeit perhaps juvenile, exercise can be used to test this phenomenon on an unexacting person. Tell the person to “Touch your finger to your nose” while actually touching your finger to your ear. Chances are very good they’re going to touch their ear, despite your verbal instruction to touch their nose. The brain takes its instructions from the eyes, not the ears.
On a fireground this can have some critical implications. For example, if you hear one thing on the radio yet see something else with your eyes, there’s a risk that in the process of sensory integration, your visual cortex wins and what you see is what is processed. The audible message, in turn, loses (is changed, distorted, or tuned out). It’s almost like the visual image convinces the brain to disregard the audible message because it doesn’t make sense. As you can imagine, this can wreak havoc on your ability to develop and maintain situational awareness.
Clearly situational awareness does matter. There may be dangers other than the one upon which you are focusing. Multiple attackers, environmental danger, etc. are very real possibilities in the modern urban environment. Get trained in visual scanning practices that diminish the tunnel vision effect.
Is Time on your side?
The same minute on the clock can be perceived as longer or shorter depending on our mental state…think one minute til the recess bell or one minute on the roller-coaster.
Your after-action report of the high stress situation may appear to others (police) as inaccurate. Your timeline will not fit the objective facts of the encounter. Whether in slow-motion or hyper-speed, you can expect some degree of time dilation.
Your Body, Brain, and Situational Awareness
Some, any, all, or even none of these may happen to you in a high stress or danger situation. We humans are strange like that! But preparation, training, and the intent to be more situationally aware can mitigate the effects. This will leave you more able to have your internal “Battle Computer” use the adrenaline fueled strength to best effect.
Train, train, train. Expand your knowledge and skill set to give your Battle Computer the programming it needs to prevail when you are confronted with personal danger.