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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The affects of Adrenaline

Affects of Adrenaline

There are a few things in this world that people truly will never get to experience and that is the affects of a huge adrenaline surge. I am not talking about sky diving, bungee jumping or taking part of in an extreme thrill seeking sport.

I am talking about life or death, fighting off a human predatory attack (which by the way has nothing 'human' about it) and surviving the assault.

When the mind perceives a "live or die" threat it will pump a huge amount of hormones and adrenaline into body. There are several well documented affects that occur under this stress environment.

These affects may happen and are completely random in nature depending on the individual involved.

The first thing to occur is that the body constricts blood in its extremities and pools the blood into the lungs and heart to provide maximum physical exertion to the body. We loose small motor skills and only large motor skills can be used. Good luck hitting a slide lock lever on your pistol with your thumb or putting a key into a lock, you will not feel your fingers and your hands will be shaking.

The pooling of this blood can also cause people to loose their bowls or vomit as the bladder, sphincter and stomach are just not all that important at the time. Since they do not contribute tot he immediate survival of the body, the brain takes away the blood located in them. If that happens to you or anyone else, it is not a sign of a coward or fear. They just had a full bladder or gut at the time of the adrenaline dump.

The cornea on your eye will flatten to allow as much light as possible in and to focus onto your threat. The outer ring of your vision will be blurred and what is twenty feet away will appear to be five feet away. This is "tunnel vision" and many people involved in a life threatening attack recall this. I have personally talked to an officer involved in a shooting and he said he could read the make and caliber on the steel casing that were slowly tumbling out of his gun and across his view.

That brings me to the next side affect of adrenaline. Time distortion. Time will feel like it slows down, and in a way it does but only for the person experiencing the adrenaline dump. Because the brain works in a hyper vigilant role under stress, instead of processing 5 mega bites per second it will process 50 mega bites per second (as an example). Since you are processing more information time seems to be moving slower. Hence the officer interviewed described to me the slow moving steel casings tumble from his gun.

An other thing that occurs is 'auditory exclusion'. This occurs when the brain only wants visual input about the threat because we are visual creatures. At this moment the brain doesn't need to process information from what it hears so it shuts down the information. I have heard countless accounts of people not hearing police sirens, screams from other around them or even gun shots. They usually describe a quiet, surreal environment. It doesn't take a lot of stress from the brain to do this, ask any hunter if they hear the deafening thunder of their rifle when they shoot at an animal. They normally don't.

An other interesting anomaly is that people under such sever stress can have "distracting thoughts". Some people report hearing voices from instructors, the call of loved ones or even such odd things as thinking about the grocery list while they are fighting to survive. Odd, yes but I have personally experienced this and while odd at the time it never slowed me down.

An other very common affect of adrenaline is "the shakes". This usually occurs when the threat is over and the adrenaline chemical is leaving the body. It is a common side affect of the adrenaline wearing off, the hands, the knees the legs will shake. It is not a sign of cowardice, it is just an adrenaline hangover that the body gives us and it usually dissipates after a few minutes.

So, why should we know all of these weird and wonderful affects of adrenaline? So that when it happens to us, understanding what happens to our body and mind will allow us to deal with the event better. Not only during but after to allow us to mitigate the affects of critical incident stress.

As an example lets just say you are involved in a critical incident and have fought for your life and won. You had your world slow down and heard nothing around you while you dealt with the stress, you even had thoughts of your loved ones creep into your mind causing you to fight harder while you fended off a human predator.

Now its over and you can barely walk properly as your legs start to shake and your hands rock like they have been hit with an earthquake. Your stomach starts to turn and as you hold yourself up on a wall you vomit all over your shoes.

If you did not know about adrenaline you might have thought that you were about to die because of the "out of body experience" you had as time slowed down, the world went quiet and you day dreamed about loved ones. This may cause you stress because you might feel that you gave up and were ready to stop that fight. We know that no matter what we never give up so you may beat yourself up over that.

Puking all over you shoes, the shaking and the weak legs may affect you negatively if you think it is cowardice to do so. Heaven forbid you were cursed with a full bladder at the time.

But now armed with information you will know that all of these things are out of your control, that they are normal human responses to an abnormal situation. You can look back at that event and minimise the critical incident stress because you know that those reactions were just your body adjusting to a natural chemical.

Taking that a step further, if you see someone else who has those affects running through them, educate that person. Let them know that the shakes, etc are normal. Relieve the stress of self subjection that they might be going through.

Thanks for your time, stay safe, John Smith.

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