Fight or Flight-The three stages

When facing a threatening situation, the mind goes through several different stages that have physical implications on ones actions.  Commonly referred to, as fight or flight, or tunnel vision, these are very vague when compared to the actual process.  By knowing the stages and the effects of each variable, you become aware of why you body is reacting in the fashion that is, and this helps reduce the fear of the unknown and your attention can be focused now on survival.

Three specific metal states that a person goes through when facing a threat are: Threat Anxiety, Survival Stress, and Combat Stress. Threat anxiety occurs when one is anticipating danger.  Maybe it is the fear of the unknown, maybe injury or death.  Once this has been triggered, the body goes into the fight or flight decision, which is to fight for self preservation or flee for self preservation. The Autonomic Nervous System at this point engages the flight or flight option. This occurs when the Sympathetic Nervous System releases Epinephrine and Nor Epinephrine hormones into the system.

The body is now in the second stage, Survival Stress. Blood pressure starts to increase, the heart beats faster, the digestive system slows down and pupils dilate. Blood vessels start to constrict in the extremities to divert oxygenated blood to the large muscles groups and organs. This is a natural defense mechanism that was essential before modern times but does have its negative side effects in today’s world. As the blood flow is diverted, the hands can become numb and with the added adrenaline that is now being pumped throughout the body, fine and complex motor skills are lost. Simple actions such as reloading a firearm or the handling of an impact weapon become difficult.  The term tunnel vision is also a side effect from the diversion of blood. Peripheral vision and auditory senses can be reduced or completely lost.  Often when people are questioned after a deadly situation, they cannot describe anything other than the threat directly in front of them and cannot remember any dialog. Other effects that maybe encountered are: loss of near vision, loss of night vision, loss of depth perception,  inability to focus,  inability to process information, loss of memory and the inability to make rational decisions.

The final stage is Combat Stress. In this stage the body is affected by what is referred to as Backlash. Once the threat has diminished the Parasympathetic Nervous System is reactivated. The PNS allows the body to rest and conserve energy. Blood pressure lowers, the heart slows and digestion starts again. Blood starts to flow back into the extremities and the hands will start to shake.  As the blood rushes back into the extremities any open wounds will start to bleed more if not properly taken care of.

There are many other negative side effects that may be introduced during these processes, but by understanding that this is the body’s normal and natural response to a dangerous situation one can reduce the fear that may accompany any unexpected responses from one’s own body.







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Warren Breckenridge is the founder and Chief Instuctor of The Tactical Mindset LLC. As well as Law Enforcement officer of 14 years and a Security Consultant for Homeland Security, with 25 years of martial arts experience. Warren has spent the last 11 years of his career focused on the training of officers for real life situations. Warren holds a 3rd degree black belt in American Freestyle Eclectic Tae Kwon Do and holds numerous Instructor certifications in the areas of Law Enforcement Firearms, Baton, Takedowns, Weapons Disarming, Handcuffing, Pressure Points, Hostage Rescue, SWAT, Defensive Tactics, and is a Use of Force Specialist.
Warren is also the Chief Instructor for The Tactical Mindset LLC.
In his spare time Warren is an aspiring artist working primarily within the areas of sketch art and Fine Art Photography.

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