It All Boils Down to Fight, Flight or Freeze
By Glenn Stevens:
Fear and freezing can be caused by a lack of knowledge, a lack of training and/or a lack of self-confidence. During normal everyday activities and interactions, the brain is able to control the adrenaline response in the body because there is no perceived threat and interactions that happen have probably happened many times before. When the interaction is new or unexpected, the brain doesn’t necessarily know how to classify it and it can trigger the release of chemicals into the body’s system.
This is your body’s way of preparing you to face the challenges that now exist. It’s trying to give you all the energy that it thinks you will need to survive. It does this by releasing chemicals including Adrenaline, Dopamine and Cortisol. Blood starts racing from the major organs out to the limbs and into the larger muscles, the ones most likely to help you run or power your way out of a dangerous situation. But because there is so much blood being diverted away from the vital organs it means that the brain is also losing that blood. The worst thing about this is that the brain needs the blood for thinking through solutions in a cognitive state. Lack of blood to the brain means it’s going to be harder to decipher what is actually happening and it’s possible that you’ll get momentarily confused.
This means that you are likely to freeze. If you can get some more oxygen to the brain you will be able to think more clearly and hopefully be able to use one of the other choices, fight or flight. One of the best ways to get that extra oxygen to the brain is by tactical breathing. When most people feel the effects of adrenaline they either hold their breath or start to make their breathing shallower which can cause them to hyperventilate. The quicker you can regain control of your breathing the quicker your brain will receive the oxygen it needs to help you make your next essential decisions. Soldiers and pilots are taught these breathing techniques to help them control the adrenaline dump. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us to learn. There are many different ways of breathing so we will focus on one called Modulation Breathing.
So how do we do it?
- First, you inhale through the nose and fully inflate your belly.
- Focus and bring the breath up to your chest and fully inflate the lungs.
- Then exhale through the mouth, bringing your belly button in towards your spine.
Repeat this simple procedure until you feel yourself coming back under control.
It’s important to build your knowledge of fear and understand what happens in your body and your reaction to it. More importantly it will build your confidence so that you know you can control the fear and adrenaline and then act because of it not in spite of it. This doesn’t just apply to self protection though. Next time your child is “pressing your buttons,” instead of exploding emotionally at them, take a few moments to get your breathing under control and allow yourself to think clearly to sort out a solution. Next time your boss shouts at you, or your loved one blames you for something, take a few moments to breathe correctly, and then deal with the situation correctly.
Glenn Stevens Is a Professional Martial Artist, Author & Speaker . Glenn is a certified C.O.B.R.A. Instructor and operates an Authorized C.O.B.R.A. training Center in Australia.