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Most of what people know
is not knowledge or facts,
it's advertising.
        MM

Adrenal Stress Response To Crisis
(Before, During and After)

On this page:
What is Adrenaline? | Turbo Charging Your Body | Post Adrenal Stress Effects | An Analogy To Understand Operating Under Adrenaline | Adrenal Decay

A whole lot of people out there are stating -- with complete and utter confidence -- outright lies, half-truths, misconceptions and advertising about the effects of adrenaline in a crisis.

While they can say anything they want in the safety of schools, gyms or internet forums, this information can -- and will -- get you killed in a violent confrontation.

Or it will result in you being thrown in prison if you don't know how to keep it in check.

What Is Adrenaline And How Does It Work?
Although it has been called the "Fight or Flight Hormone" adrenaline can be better described as 'Do it NOW!!! hormones."

It is your body's short term reaction to an environmental stressor. It is a chemical 'dump' that gives you an extra burst of energy to handle a crisis. More than that adrenaline isn't just one thing, but a cocktail of chemicals and hormones. For a more technical (but still a layman's) explanation look at what Wikipedia has to say about adrenaline.

For our purposes here, we can call it both a motivational drug (do it now) and allocating extra resources (it gives you the means to do it now). Something unexpectedly happens and your body obliges by dumping into your blood stream a couple of double espressos. For the next few minutes you're going to be turbo charged to get it done.

HOWEVER, there are a few important points.

First while the stimulus may be coming from the outside, it is previous experience, interpretation and memory that are telling you what's happening isn't kosher. Let's say for example, you hear a loud bang. IF you've had personal experience with 'loud noise = bad,' then that is how you will react. Your reaction will be different than someone who hasn't had a bad experience. The sound of a car backfiring will cause most people to look around and wonder what that was. Whereas someone who has been shot at will be hitting the deck ... faster than conscious thought.

So for good or bad, your experience is going to effect your adrenaline rush.

Second, the human brain operates on many different levels and there are all kinds of influencing factors. Most of these you are not even aware of, but they often end up 'driving the bus.'

Third, unlike a combustion engine (where gasoline is injected, exploded and the remaining vapor vented out) your body is a CLOSED SYSTEM. That means when you get an adrenaline dump, the chemicals released into you system don't just magically vanish. They stay within your blood system, effecting your nervous system, perceptions and physiology until they are reabsorbed back into the system.

That is to say -- like any other drug -- while adrenaline can introduced into the system quickly, it's going to take time to come off it. A good analogy is a drag race. When that light turns green those dragsters are going to go roaring off the starting line, but once past the finish line it takes a whole lot longer to slow down.

Fourth, although these days most of the adrenaline rushes we experience are positive in nature (e.g. extreme sports) calling this process a 'survival mechanism' is not hyperbole. This mechanism was developed at a time when mankind was on the menu. Something big and ugly was coming unexpectedly, hard and fast for its lunch and your ancestors needed equally fast reactions to keep from getting eaten.

An adrenaline dump drops you into a brain pattern/behavioral strategy/ awareness that has a track record of success. For a few million years it allowed your ancestors to either run up a tree or grab a spear in time to keep from dying before they bred. When you're in that state, it isn't your rational mind that is driving the bus.

Fifth, a lot of time -- especially under the influence of an adrenaline dump -- different things will be going on and you run the risk of freezing. For example, it doesn't matter if you have enough adrenaline in your system to give an elephant a heart attack ... if you don't have a strategy that you are willing to bet your life on then odds are you will freeze or flounder.

Sixth, the circumstances you find yourself in can strongly influence your reactions under adrenaline. For example someone who is trapped and helpless will have different responses than someone who can fight or flee.

ALL of these points will strongly influence what you do under the effects of adrenaline. And what you do under the effects of adrenaline will strongly effect if you end up dead, mauled or in prison.

Turbo Charging Your Body
If you know anything about cars, adrenaline is like a nitro burst into your engine. It gives you hotter and faster combustion to give you more power and lots more speed.

In exchange for this boost, you're going to lose some things. The most common effects of an adrenaline dump in response to violence are

  • Time Distortion -- Time slows or speeds up. This is the proverbial 'slow motion' effect. This is a result of your entire consciousness laser focusing on the danger.
  • Depth perception/Visual Distortion -- Things appear closer or larger than they are. For example the person waving a knife at you from across the room looks like he's inches away, suddenly grown 10 feet and waving a machete in your face. The reason for this distortion is you are entirely focused on the 'threat.'
  • Tunnel Vision -- Closely related to visual distortion, your peripheral vision can drop away and ALL you see is the threat.
  • Auditory Exclusion -- Your hearing can just go away because every brain cell you has is focused on the threat. To the point of you often won't hear gunshots going of within just a few feet.
  • Pain Tolerance -- You don't feel things that would normally cause you to squeal in pain. The damage is still done to you, but you don't necessarily feel the same level of pain. Some people don't feel it at all.
  • Speed and Strength Increase -- Under adrenaline you can do amazing feats of strength and speed. Unfortunately, this doesn't make you invincible. While stories of mothers lifting cars off their children are true, what you don't hear about is the fact that they tore muscles, tendons and ruined their backs doing it.
  • Fine Motor Movement Decay -- while you will be able to run faster than you ever have before, forget twirling a quarter in your fingers. Trembling is also common. This is why reloading a revolver while under fire is harder than the larger, less precise actions of reloading an automatic pistol.
  • Changes in blood flow/heartbeat - Not only will your heartbeat and blood pressure shoot up, but inside your body veins will constrict and expand to divert blood to where it is most needed to oxygenate your body.
  • Changes in respiratory rate -- Your breathing will change. Anything from a fast, sharp inhale to hyperventilating is possible.
  • Unconscious Muscle Tension -- some muscles will clinch up, some will relax. And you'll ache in places you weren't even hit.
  • Mono-emotion/Emotional Detachment -- Usually there will be one overwhelming emotion blocking every other emotion out (e.g. fear or anger). However, the reverse can also be true. There can be a sense of emotional detachment as the body functions to achieve an end. This is more common among individuals experienced operating in crisis.
  • Bladder/Bowel Release -- Although not exactly an 'adrenal response,' your body jettisoning extra weight (feces and urine) IS common while facing danger and when adrenalized. This is part of the 'fight or flight' response that adrenaline influences.
  • Erection -- Yes, this commonly occurs among men in response to a violent conflict with another person.

Post Adrenal Stress Effects
While most people are concerned about what will happen during an adrenalized moment, having been a number of life and death situations, I'll also like to inform you about the aftermath. Again, like the effects mentioned above not everyone will have the same reactions or to the degree of someone else.

Nausea - Post action vomiting is common.

Post Incident Soreness -- Remember I mentioned how some muscles will tighten up? You'll be achy.

Hypo-mania - Remember I said that the adrenaline is still in your system? After an incident the adrenaline doesn't just go away. Its presence manifest in many different ways some people get the jitters, other fidget and pace, others rapidly babble, some yell and shout and some people do them all (hopefully at different times). This is part of the 'winding down' process.

Horniness -- Yes, there is nothing that reinforces the fact that you survived danger better than wild monkey sex. This is one of the reasons why people who are in dangerous situations are often hypersexual. Throughout history camp followers, prostitution, hookers and armies have been linked.

Crash/Exhaustion -- After running at high octane for such a long time, there is the crash.

Bad Dreams/Restless Sleep -- Some people go into a deep exhausted dreamless state. Others will toss and turn the night after violence. These people often report bad or weird dreams.

Post Incident Resurgence -- It is not uncommon that anywhere between 24 to 48 hours after an incident that you will suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself in the middle of an adrenaline rush. This may be triggered by some small incident or it may just seem to come out of nowhere. Generally it's best to ride it through and let it pass.

An Analogy To Understand Operating Under Adrenaline
Basically the problem with adrenaline is that it is like swimming in the ocean. Even if you're a good swimmer in a pool, the ocean is different. The first time you get into the ocean you're going to discover your skills need to be adapted -- because the water isn't just sitting there anymore. Tidal pulls, waves and turbulence all change the conditions of swimming.

That doesn't mean everything you ever learned about swimming is wrong.

It means you need to adapt those skills to function in this new, dynamic and variable environment. While you still need the same skill-sets, how you apply them has changed.

That is a subtle, but critical differentiation.

In fact, we liken learning how to ride the adrenalin wave to learning how to body surf in rough waters. You can't do it unless you know how to swim first. But even if you know how to swim, you need to learn about how the ocean works so you can adapt what you know to operate under these conditions. And yes, this takes time and practice. And all of this is before you start body surfing. This is you just splashing around in the surf.

Once you've learned those, then you can start focusing on learning how to bodysurf. And even then, you're a LONG ways away from going out in 20 foot close out conditions(1). Specifically you must learn to body surf on good days before you're ready to go out in rough waters. If you go straight from a pool and try to bodysurf in rough waters you will not only fail miserably, but there's a good chance of drowning.

The same goes for operating under adrenal stress.

You're not going to be able to shift easily from the safety of a school (pool) to the adrenalized conditions of violence (body surfing in extremely rough and dangerous waters) without spending time in those conditions. Scenario based training safely acquaints you with how to function under these conditions.

And in that regard, scenario training is very much like learning to bodysurf on good, gentle days. That is when -- AFTER you have learned how to swim in still waters --you will learn what it is like to swim in the dynamic environment of the ocean.

However, humans have a tendency to mistake intensity for truth.

This applies to both with personal experiences and how confident someone is when they say something. And this is where the half-truths, misinterpretation, advertising, BS and outright lies begin to creep in.

There are several common ones.

  • Scenario based training is the same as actual violence.
  • Because martial artists have difficulty making this transition traditional martial arts training is useless
  • That jumping in and immediately training against a resisting opponent is superior training methodology.
  • That the strategies and simplified tactics common to most scenario training (i.e. the introduction) are superior.
  • That it is the organization doing the scenario training that is the source of the quantum leap in an individual (with previous training) after scenario training.
  • That because you've undergone scenario training you're now prepared for any kind of situation.
  • That scenario training is the pinnacle of training.
  • That scenario training is all you need

Do not buy into these gym myths. In fact, we debunk most of them in the following section...

Adrenal Decay
There is no other topic I can think of that the page quote applies more than how-your-training-is-going-to-be-effected-by-adrenalin.

I go after the marketing, advertising, misconceptions and mythology of adrenal decay with a chainsaw. It's a long page ... take a cup of coffee.

Return to top

1) Basically huge waves that come crashing down all at once creating life-threatening turbulence, undercurrents and force. In short, conditions -- that while an expert bodysurfer might be able to function -- will kill even a good body surfer, much less someone who has only swam in a pool. If you aren't pulled under to drown, you can be pushed to the bottom to drown or the wave will smash you down into the sand so hard it will break your neck. Return to Text


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