A few years ago I was getting a filling at the dentist. They were numbing me up and I can usually be fairly calm, I mean I don’t love the dental work, but I did not have any fears of it at the time. On this particular day they apparently hit something they were not supposed to because all of the sudden it felt like someone had open palm slapped me extremely hard across the cheek. What happened next was so embarrassing that I sobbed hysterically to my husband in the parking lot within the safety of my car later. I have no idea what came over me, but I was flailing violently around and could not get out of that chair quick enough. I believe I mentioned something like, “my teeth could rot out of my head, I don’t care!” I was possessed. Finally the dentist calmed me down enough to finish filling the cavity while a nurse made a snide comment of, “it’s a good thing your kiddos aren’t here or they would be afraid of the dentist.” Yeah, it was that bad.
While in the confines of my vehicle I ran over and over what had happened. I was not scared of the dentist, I use power tools on a regular basis for crying out loud; I have no issues even with shots. So what had made me freak out so bad that I was almost getting into a fist fight with the nurse? Why did I react that way? A couple years later I met another dentist who told me that they must have hit the nerve and it triggered my fight or flight response. I am still mortified to this day.
Adrenal responses are natural. Fear is natural, but its what we do with it that can end us in a pickle or save our lives. I recently heard someone say that fighting is not natural. You must train to fight. They went on to say, “You know what is natural? Drowning. You have to learn to swim.” When your adrenaline is going your natural responses could be any number of things. We have heard of fight or flight. I obviously very inelegantly respond to adrenaline with fighting. Being trained can hone that in the right circumstance, but if not can be a quick gassing way to run out of fuel and end up unable to continue. For some women they freeze. I have gone over several times how common this is for females which is why I am such a promoter of wargaming and planning and repetition all boiled into a big fun ball of training. Pre-thought produces better possibilities, a little alliteration for you today……
My 3 year old grandson had a seizure with my daughter present 20 feet from my bedroom. She tried to raise her voice to call to me several times, but her fear closed her throat and she could not produce sound for several seconds. Several seconds are precious when being attacked. Now that she knows her body reacts this way she can keep it in the forefront of her mind in crisis. Other symptoms of an adrenal dump can be: shakes, dry mouth, voice quiver, tunnel vision, sweaty palms/sweating, nausea, bowel loosening, fugue state (thinking and acting robotic), everything looks black and white, total acquiescence, hysteria, logorrhea (very fast justifying speech), heightened senses, increased strength, and time distortion or memory loss. I once watched my brother haul out and right 2 three wheelers that were upside down in a ditch after we wrecked them while I stood on the side of the road commenting freakishly calm on how everything looked like a Monet painting….. He was a scrawny sixteen year old and I was pretty injured and concussed, we were both doped up on our adrenaline.
The amygdalae are located in your frontal lobe and are in charge of your emotions. Lots of things that go on in your brain come from this area hence why getting hit in the temple can be extremely detrimental. Your frontal lobes are responsible for voluntary movement, expressing language, and higher level body functions. When your body senses danger is present your amygdala wants to automatically activate that fight or flight response. However, at the same time your frontal lobes are also processing the information to determine if danger is actually present and what the most logical response should be. Depending on the threat level determines whether the amygdala or the frontal lobe are going to take over. When the threat is strong the amygdala acts quickly triggering fight or flight. Two hormones are then released, adrenaline and cortisol, from your adrenal glands located atop of each kidney.
The adrenaline released into your system is normally controlled by your pituitary gland via frontal lobes. However, when in danger, the amygdala overrides the frontal lobes normal response and sends basically a gush of adrenaline to your system causing your heart to beat faster and increased blood flow to the brain and muscles. Hence that flushed feeling you get when you sense danger instinctually. Hopefully you are still with me after that neurology lesson…..
Last year I had a breast biopsy done. I was pretty numbed up so I was not in any pain, but my back was to the door and I was effectively trapped face down with basically a knife in my right breast for the better part of an hour. Even though my brain knew I had nothing to fear my body didn’t get the memo. I could not quit shaking. It was as if I was so cold, but I wasn’t. Mentally knowing I was safe I decided since I had nothing better to do I would use that time to test out things that I had read up and learned. At first I did box breathing to see if that would stop the shakes. It calmed me, but did not work. I then decided to rub my fingers in a circular motion to my thumb to expel the extra energy. When adrenaline is not used it can become toxic to the body and panic can set in leaving you feeling drained and immobile or even frozen. When that didn’t work I then started moving my foot in a circle at the same time as my fingers; still nothing helped. Later I was talking with my brother Andrew; he was a Navy Fleet Marine Force Corpsman attached to 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines during two combat tours in Iraq. I told him what I had tried and how it had all failed. He told me that next time instead of doing circles I needed to trace out the alphabet with my foot.
Direct intention, or a mission, overrides jitters. Andrew told me that the very common motion picture idea we see of men raising their guns to fire in combat while shaking is pretty much non existent. The reason behind this was that actual direction superseded the shakes. Now there were those that froze, and anticipation can be an enemy in itself producing jitters; but once the immediate fight started, there was a goal in mind, and a person used that to act, the jitters went away.
When training for water boarding things are broke down into extremely small goals. (To clarify I have not done water board training and its really not on my bucket list of things to try…. Like, at all). This was a conversation that came up with my brother when I was asking him about combat and preparedness. Training for water board survival is broken down so minutely, just keep enduring to the next second; the next breath. That’s it. Not fighting back, not even getting to the next day, just the next breath is the goal.
This is the same when a woman is faced with imminent danger where fleeing is not a safe option. There must be an objective when the adrenaline rushes in and the main and obvious one is survival, but we can break it down more. One of the best goals I have heard in regards to this is stay on your feet and stay conscious, I mean I am also a fan of the shove my fingers through to the back of their skull, but this one is good too…… The objectives are in seconds. Once that person has stepped over and crossed that line to being a threat, once you have asked them to stop and they choose not to, the goal is action. You keep doing the next second, breaking it down because your reasoning will supersede your fear with action, hijacking the adrenal response, and essentially putting the frontal lobes back in charge.
That first flush of the blood flow needs to create action, the action is making goals. Running away being the first action. I want to you flee. Your body is wired to naturally to flee a hazardous situation. If that doesn’t work standing your ground offensively with the goal of, for me, shoving my fingers as fast and as hard as I can in eyes. Best quote I have heard in regards to this is, “nobody has muscular eyes.” The next second goal may start the,” stay on your feet and stay conscious.” You may get thrown down now so the next goal is to move and stay conscious. So on and so forth, continually making small goals of action; an objective to hijacking a freeze response. I am 120 pounds, staying on my feet is a pretty damn good goal. I think prior to taking the training that I have had this year I had what I would call a chihuahua mentality. I read an awesome comment from a woman who had taken an Extreme Close Quarters Concepts course by Shivworks. When asked what she learned while wearing those soft shell helmets, she said, “The average woman is not as strong as the average man and if you keep fighting you may not win; if you stop fighting, you will lose. Stay in the fight.” It wasn’t until looking back at pictures and videos that I realize how much smaller my frame is to an average man. They literally can throw me down like a rag doll so yeah, staying on my feet is a good start. And I guess if that doesn’t work I can always start writing the ABC’s on the pavement with my toe…. Might freak em out..
Small objective goals for the next second of self preservation. Dialogue and movement, work them out in your head and train them over and over so you can use your natural responses for the better. It’s going to be ugly no matter what, but you can increase your chances of survival. And maybe you won’t end up punching your dentist.
Cus Damatio, Mike Tyson’s trainer said, “The feeling of fear/adrenaline is as natural as the feelings of hunger and thirst or the feeling of wanted to use the toilet. When you feel hungry you don’t panic, you eat, when you feel thirsty, you drink. So it is with fear, don’t panic, ACT.”
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Author- Christun Erwin
"Thank you for your words. They make an impact and its important that, human to human, woman to woman, mother to mother... you know that you make a difference, even to those you never knew your words" -Krystal