John Coles wrote an interesting post on his blog on the fight or flight response. Read it here.
In previous posts, I've touched on the fight or flight response, the survival mechanism and the adrenaline dump that occurs during combat or extreme stress. It's important to incorporate some form of stress induced training to your regimen, and to understand what may or may not happen to you.
So what happens when the fight or flight response doesn't kick in? And why wouldn't it?
First off, it's a complex issue. So many things are happening 'behind the scenes' in you brain, that it's pretty tricky to figure out all the whys and hows.
Next, it's important to note that the same person may react differently to the same stimuli on any given day. So one day, the response might kick in at the slightest whiff of danger, and another it might wait until an attack is underway, or maybe after. Or even not at all.
There are very real advantages and disadvantages to experiencing the adrenaline dump brought about by the 'fight or flight' response. Following are just a few of both:
Increased tolerance to pain
Loss of fine motor skills
Distortion of time
Without the response, you are more likely to intelligently respond and recognize threats and plan and identify options, The irony is that, by experiencing the response, you could arguable be better equipped to carry out that plan or escape.
Brains or brawn, too bad you can't always have both.
Can you overcome or prevent the 'fight or flight' response?
Yes and no.
Training can reduce or eliminate the response. Repeated exposure to simulated situations de-sensitizes you from the effects of the response. This is only true of serious training. If your mind isn't in the game, it's just playing around.
For military, law enforcement and security, training is developed to over-ride the stress response, or at least mitigate its effects. This is where stress induced training methodologies can be useful.
More traditional martial arts training can do the same thing. This can be a double edged sword though, especially for people who have never been exposed to real violence. It can backfire.
Take a martial artist who has never seen or experienced any real or disturbing violence. This person trains for a while, and feels pretty good about their skill level.
Now the panic sets in, the response kicks in, but it may be too late. If it had kicked in a bit sooner, they may have been able to get away or fight back enough to gain the advantage.
Some will posit that we should never try to overcome this natural response. There's some strength to this argument for the majority of folks, but this is not always realistic or advisable, especially referring those tasked with making legal use of force response decisions.
The other reason to train for both scenarios is the variable nature of your own response. What if you don't recognize someone as a threat, but they turn out to be? You might not get the benefits, or the associated physiological responses until after the encounter has ended.
So you need to train for both scenarios:
1. Instant 'fight or flight' response
2. Delayed - begins during an encounter
It is for this very reason that I stress the importance of learning effective self defense techniques that take into account both scenarios. In my Mind the Gap series, I discuss this in greater detail. For true, survival self defense for the vast majority of people, the techniques must work in both cases. There is no adjusting for adrenaline. You can never know, with absolute surety, when or even if, the 'fight or flight' response will activate.
For military, law enforcement and security, you need to train differently for both scenarios. Adrenaline can help or hinder. Just think about the effect an adrenaline dump would have on trigger pull and aiming and how tunnel vision and auditory exclusion effects threat identification and communication.
This is a much broader topic, but this is where mindset training is so important. The will to win and the never-give-up mindset needs to be in place when everything else goes down the toilet. The 'fight or flight' response can sneak up on this group and catch them more off guard than most folks, if only for the reason that it's unexpected after all the training. When you've survived multiple violent encounters and have remained calm and fully in control, when you do experience the dump, it can be a very unwelcome surprise. But I'm getting off topic.
It's very important to gain an understanding of what you may experience in a violent confrontation. Research, find instructors who've experienced violence, keep a serious mind and make sure your training offers you the highest likelihood of success no matter how your body and mind respond.
Nature has given us a survival gift in the 'fight or flight', but we need to realize that some situations in the modern world do not allow us to maximize this evolutionary advantage. Food for thought.