How to Take Control of Your Adrenaline
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A WARSKYL™ Book:
How To Take Control of Your Adrenaline
Craig “Gravelbelly” Mutton (Clan MacAvram)
ACCESS TO DESTINY BOOKS Belton, South Carolina
Copyright 2009 By Craig Mutton Cover picture from the motion picture Panic in the Street is in the Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)
Introduction I wrote the following article in November of 2007: “Adrenaline stress can be your most potent natural ally or your biggest hindrance in a crisis. Last night I was reminded of the significance of the adrenaline rush -- both of mine and that of the police officer who was prepared to gun me down. ”I was on my way home from work. It was a little foggy, and I was holding my speed about 5mph under the limit. I saw the police car parked in the center lane and figured no problem, as my speed was reasonable for the conditions. ”The cruiser pulled out behind me, though, and about 3/4 of a mile later, he turned on his blue & white lights. Mild adrenaline stress (for both of us?) I braked and pulled over, took out my driver's license and made sure my hands were on the wheel, in plain sight (this is both a courtesy to the officer and a selfpreservation measure). ’Good evening, sir.’ ”’Good evening, officer.’ ”’South Carolina law requires that your license tag be illuminated and visible from 50 feet. Did you know your tag light is out?’ ”’No, I didn't.’ ”’May I see your vehicle information?’ My registration & insurance card were in the glove box. ”’Officer, I want you to know that there is a firearm in my glove compartment.’ ”’What kind . . . uh, do you have a concealed carry permit?’
”’No, I do not.’ (South Carolina law allows any citizen -- other than convicted felons -- to carry a loaded firearm in the glove box of his/her vehicle.) He indicated that I should retrieve my registration & insurance card, and I did so slowly and deliberately. ”’Please step out of the vehicle and go to the rear.’ Who dropped that cold icicle down my collar? I can feel it the length of my spine. Adrenaline stress! I'm about to be cuffed and hauled to the county lockup. ”’Officer, has South Carolina law changed with regard to . . . ?’ ”’No sir. You are allowed to carry a weapon in your car. This is just for officer safety.’ Relief. Then, I realized that my registration was not with my insurance information. It must still be in the glove box. The deputy says it's okay; he'll just run my plate number. ”I stand in the cruiser's headlights. The adrenaline has nowhere to go, other than to my nerves. Then I look up, and I see the deputy's backup. He's standing in the darkness on the passenger-side of the police car. His sidearm is drawn, and in the dark his posture reminds me of a cat ready to spring. Adrenaline stress (this time for both of us, I'm sure). ”I want to look casual, so I slip my right hand in my pocket. Wrong move! Now I remove it slowly and let it hang, empty and open at my side. I'm in the headlights, so I know the backup deputy with the gun sees me looking at him. What's going through his mind? The other deputy returns with a written warning & suggests I see about getting the lights fixed. (I repaired the broken wires right after our walk, this morning.)
Surprisingly, I had no trouble getting to sleep after I got home. I evidently had had enough control to keep adrenaline dump small, and the subsequent stress minimal. As I reflected on it this morning, though, I realized that a tag light out could mean a stolen vehicle. Here's an officer who doesn't know me from Adam's off ox, and he radios for backup: "Possible stolen
vehicle, firearm involved." ”Put that together with the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in the upstate in recent years, and you've got an officer under adrenaline stress, with weapon drawn ready to shoot someone . . . to kill someone -- and that someone was me. The officers acted like the professionals they are, and I acted with due deference and an understanding of the potential violence that these men have chosen to live with day after day. ”The ability to react with control under stress requires both technique and experience (practice). Adrenaline stress management is as important to the Christian Martialist as it is to any police officer or member of the armed forces.” [End of Nov. 2007 article] Understanding the Adrenaline Rush Adrenaline (or epinephrine) is both a hormone & a neurotransmitter. It is released by the adrenal glands, which are situated atop the kidneys. As you probably already know, this release prepares you for the “fight or flight” response.
Wikipedia describes this response as follows: When in the bloodstream, it rapidly prepares the body for action in emergency situations. The hormone boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain and muscles, while suppressing other nonemergency bodily processes (digestion in particular). It increases heart rate and stroke volume, dilates the pupils, and constricts arterioles in the skin and gastrointestinal tract while dilating arterioles in skeletal muscles. It elevates the blood sugar level by increasing catabolism of glycogen to glucose in the liver, and at the same time begins the breakdown of lipids in fat cells. Like some other stress hormones, epinephrine has a suppressive effect on the immune system The physical effects of adrenaline stress become more pronounced as the heart rate increases. In Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge, Bruce
K. Siddle reveals these changes : 115 BPM (beats per minute) 145 BPM 175 BPM 220 BPM
loss of fine motor skills loss of complex motor skills tunnel vision & cognitive loss hypervigilance & irrational acts
Siddle places optimal combat performance at a heart rate between 115 and 145 heartbeats per minute. Two Tiers of Adrenaline Stress Reaction
Note that the adrenaline rush occurs as a result of perceived threats (or in some cases, extreme physical stimulus like loud noised or bright lights). In any case, the adrenal glands themselves do not enter into the process of threat perception. The mind becomes conscious of a threat (alarm), which, in turn, triggers a release by the adrenal glands.
Because this process occurs on two levels, you can take two paths to control the adrenaline rush. One focuses more on the physical effects, while the other focuses more on mental control. ∗
The battle cry and breath control (chapters 1 & 2) address the physical effects of adrenaline stress. Experience, scenario based training and mental imaging (chapters 3, 4, & 5) focus on mental control. Diagram of adrenal gland from Wikimedia
PPCT Research Publications, Belleville, IL, 1995, p.8 Although the two approaches are not completely mutually exclusive.
PART ONE: INDIRECT METHODS OF CONTROL
&RQWUROOLQJ$GUHQDOLQH6WUHVV7KH%DWWOH&U\ No doubt you've seen the battle cry portrayed on the screen. I'm talking about those movies that depict battles, where both sides are lined up against each other. Then, as one side advances, a few warriors begin to emit a sound that spreads through the ranks. As the sound grows, so does their momentum, until they come like thunder upon the opposing force. What you see in scenes like these is an age-old method used to bring adrenaline stress under control and to make it work for the warrior rather than against him. Like the startle response, your experience with adrenaline is based upon physiological realities. Also like the startle response, your adrenaline rush happens automatically. But unlike the startle response, you can learn to exercise control over it. Experience and breath control, for example, will allow you to determine, to a remarkable degree, the intensity and duration of your adrenaline rush -- the less intense, the longer you can make it last. Studies conducted by the US military have shown that too much adrenaline can immobilize you (sometimes described as frozen with fear ). It can give you tunnel vision, cause you to repeat ineffectual moves in a behavioral loop, or make you just plain freeze on the spot. When an experienced orc sees the signs of your adrenaline stress, he may count on your having just such responses. At that time, you need a technique to channel your adrenaline into solving the problem at hand. The battle cry is THE traditional means of controlling and channeling adrenaline stress. Through history, warriors who knew nothing of adrenaline -- but a lot about stress -- adopted a common technique to help them master and use their adrenaline rush in battle. We call it a battle cry . The battle cry is a decisive, purposeful, aggressive action.
Decisive -- a battle cry has the psychological effect of strengthening your resolve by letting every level of your being know that you have made a choice and commitment to fight rather than to freeze or to cower; Purposeful -- a battle cry bristles with purpose, and its very presence focuses all of your energies to the end of absolute conquest of the foe; Aggressive -- a battle cry is fueled by adrenaline, and by its very nature, feeds the aggressive mindset you need in battle; Action -- a battle cry is an action in and of itself, which mobilizes you to further action.
The battle cry has another, more curious aspect: in many, it transforms fear into something that can only be described as the thrill of battle. As a bonus, it often demoralizes and confuses the adversary. The "rebel yell" and the "Apache war whoop" are just two examples. These battle cries channeled adrenaline stress to increase the warriors' own ferocity while, at the same time, making their enemies' stress self-defeating. Ferocity that is fueled by adrenaline and supported by a battle cry can occasionally be so daunting to an adversary that he retreats before actual engagement. This may frustrate you because, after you'd done everything you could to avoid a violent encounter, you finally decided it was necessary and opened the flood gates. Now the enemy is gone, and you have nowhere to direct the torrent. It's tough on your system (I know!), but it's better than what you risk in an actual violent encounter. Photo at beginning of chapter from Wikimedia
A little adrenaline is good in a crisis. It quickens your responses, sharpens your focus and increases your power. A little too much adrenaline can hinder you in a crisis. It can give you tunnel vision or even cause your senses to black out. It can unhinge your reactions from reality. If you have a means of controlling adrenaline stress, it can work for you rather than against you. You can achieve that control with a simple technique. Many martial arts teach some form of this technique, and I've seen it in articles about how to control "butterflies" before a job interview or giving a speech. In his book On Combat, David Grossman says that the US armed forces teach this technique to troops before sending them into a battle zone. According to this method, the key to controlling stress is to control the heart rate. The faster your heart beats beyond what is optimal, the more your sensory and motor skills deteriorate. But if you can keep your heart from racing, you can keep your stress level closer to the optimum performance range. You do this through breath control. Controlling adrenaline stress reactions by means of breath control relies on an interesting physiological phenomenon: your heart rate and your breath rate are connected. It makes sense, because during intense physical exercise your muscles need more oxygen, so you breathe faster to get more O2 into the bloodstream, and the heart beats faster to deliver it to the cells that need it. It's all part of that "fearfully and wonderfully made" design. In stressful situations, your heart rate increases as your breathing becomes quicker and more shallow. The bottom line for stress control is that if you breathe slowly and deeply, you can actually slow your racing heart. This is why the breath
control technique works. Here's how you do it: 1) Exhale deeply to empty your lungs (a good exhale is the secret to good breathing); 2) Inhale slowly to the count of six (or four or eight -- the number depends on your own lung capacity and how fast you count, but the point is to slow the breathing); 3) Hold your breath for the same count (although I generally hold my breath for about half the count of my in-breath) 4) Exhale slowly to the same count you used to inhale; 5) Repeat, and keep repeating. I have found that this technique is not only good for controlling adrenaline stress, it also works to reduce breath recovery time after intense physical output. The slower, deeper breaths actually oxygenate the blood more quickly than the shallow gasps. Image at beginning of chapter is from Wikimedia
PART TWO: DEVELOPING DIRECT CONTROL
How to Directly Control Adrenaline Stress I want to address the lessons we can learn about how to directly control adrenaline stress from the recent incredible emergency landing of an airliner in the Hudson River. Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Captain Cool) has received recognition for his calm, cool demeanor under extreme pressure. How did he control his adrenaline stress at this point? On Monday Feb 9th, Good Morning America hostess Diane Sawyer asked him how he remained so cool and calm. His reply is instructive: It was practiced, practiced it was years of experience dealing with challenges and knowing we had to face this challenge squarely and we had a job to do, and we were very busily doing it. it (emphasis added) I see two lessons you can take away from Captain Sullenberger's comments: 1. The ability to control adrenaline stress is a skill . You develop it with practice. Yes, there are indirect methods you can use to control adrenaline as I've presented in " Breath Control = Adrenaline Control", but coolness under pressure is also a skill which involves direct control of your adrenaline. As the quote suggests, it comes by practice and experience. 2. Action is another key to controlling adrenaline stress. Since adrenaline is there to get you moving with speed & strength, the longer you delay action, the greater the risk that your adrenaline will overwhelm you. Even assuming the non-threatening defensive posture and talking according to a structured plan (as covered in the WARSKYL Conference) is a form of action -- minimal though it be -- that can help you get a handle on your adrenaline rush. One way to develop the skill of adrenaline stress control is by experience: repeated and deliberate exposure to dangerous
situations. I would discourage you from taking this approach. Two other ways to learn adrenaline control through experience are scenario based training and mental imaging training. They provide you with controlled experiences that will help condition your “cool” and help you to learn to deal with rushes of adrenaline. Self Doubt & Fear The following comes from an email sent out by Damian Ross of the "The Self Defense Company": My question is how do you destroy self-doubt? What I mean is I want to be confident and I do try, but there is still always some worry that it won't work or I'll fail-how do I stop that? I tend to give my opponent to much credit and myself very little even if I try shaking it out of my system. Thanks Regards Bob from, Northern Alberta, Canada Answer:
Bob, that is a very human and normal response. First, knowing that what your practicing actually works helps a lot. . . . When I was young I always had self doubt, especially in the street; even though I was an accomplished wrestler and karate tournament fighter. But once I began learning this method, my common sense and experience told me that this was the real deal. Finally and perhaps most important, you must practice and train harder. . . . Training consistently will erase most self doubt. Since we're human, you can't get rid of it all, even the biggest and the baddest till have a little voice in their head. What you want to do is minimize it and the only what you do that is through training. When trained properly you will automatically go into action. I think that this is good advice. Before I started training in jujitsu, I harbored a lot of doubts about how I might do in a physical confrontation. My training in Shito Ryu karate did not do much to alleviate those doubts. But my jujitsu training was different. I could feel the effectiveness of techniques both when I used them on my partner and when he used them on me. This gave me confidence in the system. The WARSKYL self def ense system gives me even more confidence. I designed it around the startle response and the simplest & most effective gross motor skills. These techniques work; I have seen and felt them. Moreover, they work with minimal training. When you stop training altogether, however, you lose your edge. Then the doubts begin to creep back in. They are simply the messengers of the inner man, telling you what you already know -- you need to get back in training.
How to UseScenario Based Training From the beginning, as you develop competence in your fighting skills, you should combine them with other aspects of your total self defense system. This applies to adrenaline stress control as well as to other aspects of self defense. Scenario based training is one way to achieve this. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of how to use scenario based training to control your adrenaline stress, I want to talk about why this works. Simply put, it works because you learn from experience. For example, when I was in Jr. High School (Middle School to you moderns), I got beat up -- a lot. I was 12 and not yet through puberty, but the orcs who singled me out for "special treatment" (the price you pay if you'd rather read a book than play baseball) were big, hairy, and older than I. This went on for almost two school years. Throughout that time, I fantasized about defeating the orcs, but fantasizing is not serious mental imaging. The actual experiences themselves, however, conditioned my adrenaline stress control. As I learned to fight back, I gradually learned that rage pushes out fear. Now, rage is not the most efficient use of adrenaline (I believe that something I call the thrill of battle may be the most efficient kind of adrenaline rush), but when you're under attack, lashing out in rage is better than freezing with fear. After facing a number of threats, I also learned that I could delay the adrenaline dump. In the face of imminent danger, I have, at times (not 100%), found a deep calm come over me. I was also alert and focused, knowing that at the right moment, I could "throw the chemical switch" that would throw me into rampaging warrior mode. That kind of adrenaline stress control is the result of real-life experience. It can also come as the result of simulated experiences. That is the objective of Peyton Quinn's RMCAT
training camp. Quinn leads training sessions in which he exposes participants to trainers who simulate street assaults. The emphasis is on realism and realistic responses. The goal is for trainees to learn what an adrenaline dump feels like, and then to manage it so it works for them rather than against them. He describes the process in his book, Real Fighting: Adrenaline Stress Conditioning Through Scenario Based Training . The point is that simulated experience CAN teach you to control your adrenaline. Through it, you can learn to control adrenaline & adrenaline stress. You can learn to stay calm in the face of threat or provocation, and you can learn to "throw the switch" that opens the floodgates. To deliberately seek the experiences that will teach you these things, however, is neither sage nor safe. Scenario based training seeks to simulate the experience you need to deal with real threats and adrenaline stress in a relatively safe way. Your scenarios will be most useful if they carry an air of realism, and if you can imagine yourself under a real threat (to induce an adrenaline reaction). Peyton Quinn’s training seminars have a distinct advantage here. The aggressors are strangers to the participants, and their padded suits – in addition to protecting the aggressors – add a level of intimidation to the scenarios. The padded suits also allow for full-bore reactions on the part of the students. If you have access to such padding (expensive), or if you can improvise, you will be able to bring a little more realism to your scenarios. If not, you will have to exercise a greater degree of caution and use more imagination to ensure that your scenarios induce an adrenaline response. The use of a battle cry by the defender can help induce an adrenaline response as well as to control it. Work with your partner to develop scenarios wherein you may have to defend yourself. It would help if you knew the stages of
an assault & some variations (Subject for another book). For now, work on the obvious ones: ambush from behind, sucker punch (overhand or hook), grabs, kicks, etc. from the front or side, etc. Do not script your scenarios, but have a general idea of what you & your partner are doing. Practice the scenarios in slow motion. I mean very slow motion. Do not cheat by moving faster when you see what your partner is up to. Match his speed as you play out your startle response and your reactive technique. At first, only practice Attack, Startle Response, Reactive Technique. Later add an attacker's defense & 2nd attack along with another reactive technique from you. As you become comfortable with this level of practice, introduce a new level of discomfort. Let the attacker ad lib a little. Let him choose from two or three possible attacks. Then gradually increase the speed (say, 1/4 combat speed). But don't try it all in one practice session. You need to train your reactions over weeks and months. Here is a sample scenario. Attacker: Say, do you have a light? Defender: (Alert to distance) No. Attacker: (Starts to move in) Are you sure? Defender: (Hands up, palms out, then loudly) Stop! Leave me alone. Attacker: No need to get all paranoid (launches attack before finishing sentence) Defender: (Startle response & reactive technique, then escape) •
The attack might consist of rushing, grabbing, sucker punching, etc.
The attacker's approach may also vary -- ask for directions, ask to use cell phone, "wanna buy a watch?", etc. The escape from the situation is vital. You are not there to win a fight or to prove how macho you are. Sticking around could get you hurt or killed. Also, from a legal standpoint, you may someday be glad to be able to say under oath that your self defense practice focused on the objective of escaping danger.
Note that even if your scenario based training does not induce an adrenaline reaction, you are still building experiences that your mind will file away and assimilate. Even by itself, this will help you in a crisis. Nonetheless, if you can build some stressors into your scenarios, you will multiply the benefits – and your adrenaline stress control – manifold. Such stressors might include 1. Practice of the scenario in the dark (or blindfolded); 2. Use of surprise (enter a room such that you don’t know what direction the attack might come from); 3. Use of distractors such as loud music (Wagner?) or flashing lights (unless you’re subject to epileptic seizures); 4. Any other [safe] way you can think of to raise anxiety levels. Photo used at beginning of chapter from Wikimedia, courtesy of MisterWiki.
How to Use Mental Imaging to Control Adrenaline I have previously discussed controlling adrenaline indirectly by means of breath control and by means of the battle cry. Then I showed that by experience you can learn direct adrenaline control, and how scenario based training can help you gain that experience. Now I want to address the topic of how to control your adrenaline by means of creative mental imaging. The first question to answer is whether you can actually use your imagination to manage adrenaline. Anyone who has heard Bill Cosby's "Chicken Heart" routine and/or remembers being scared silly by a story on radio, TV, the movies or just sitting around the campfire knows the power of imagination to stimulate adrenaline flow. If your imagination can initiate adrenaline stress, it's not too far a stretch to accept the fact that you can use your imagination to learn to control that same stress. The technique is the same that I've seen described in books on sales training. Beginning salesmen often have a fear of the prospective customer (closely associated with a rush of adrenaline). Even experienced professionals become "gunshy" at a prospect's objections. To overcome that stress, the knowledgeable pro will use a technique based on creative imaging. Here, for example, is how controlling adrenaline stress through mental imaging works for the sales professional who has lost confidence. He must close his eyes and picture himself making a sale. In his mind, he sees himself make the presentation and close the sale. Simple enough? Well, simple isn't always easy. Winning the Olympic high jump is simple -- just jump higher than anyone else. But the execution is not so easy. In the same way, using mental imaging to train requires initiative, discipline and effort. In the previous chapter, I showed you that scenario based
training teaches you to control adrenaline in simulated situations. It is a form of experience-based training. Mental imaging does the same through a peculiarity of human psychology. I refer to the fact that for purposes of learning, the human psyche cannot tell vividly imagined experiences from real ones. They both affect the neural paths of the brain in like manner. Perhaps this gives insight into Jesus' admonition, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matt. 5:28) Could it be that this exhortation arises -- at least in part -- out of the tendency for the human mind to treat imagined adultery the same as the act itself? This would mean that imagining an immoral act molds character and habit, thus rendering the outward expression easier and more likely. God did not create the imagination for evil, but for good. The Christian Martialist must discipline himself against evil imaginations. But beyond that, he should learn to use the power of mental imaging to benefit his life and calling. Have you ever read a story or watched a movie that caused an adrenaline rush? If you identify with the main character, and if he’s in a threatening or dangerous situation, it’s easy for your body to respond as though you were in that situation yourself. One of my sons-in-law said he felt his own adrenaline rise when he read about my experience with a police officer who had drawn his sidearm.. These serve as examples of the power of imagination. And if your imagination has the power to create an adrenaline dump, then your imagination can create the conditions necessary for you to learn to control it. It's a matter of creative visualization. Students of applied psychology learn that, in order to get maximum training benefit from visualization techniques, you should meet the following conditions:
1. Imagine vivid details which include not only visual particulars, but sounds, smells and tactile sensations, as well (makes the experience more real in your mind); 2. Attach strong emotion to the experience (anchors the experience in your memory). Since your aim is to visualize a situation that stimulates a powerful and emotional hormonal response, the second point will follow if you succeed with the first. In order to use mental imaging to practice controlling adrenaline stress, you need an emotionally powerful image. I suggest you choose a confrontation with your biggest nightmare. It might be a biker gang member with grungy teeth or a gang-banger with a tattoo on his neck, or maybe even an Islamic terrorist with death and destruction in his eyes. Whatever image you choose, it should be someone who would make you nervous (or even scared) if you met him at midnight in a dark and lonely place. Now, close your eyes and imagine yourself in exactly that situation. Do not see yourself from the outside. Put yourself into the scenario and see the orc as though he were standing in front of you & you are looking out at him through your own eyes. Put as much detail into the image as possible. Look at your adversary and see his facial features -- does he have scars or blemishes? is he dirty? does he have bad breath? Feel the ground beneath your feet and the night air on your skin, Once the image becomes vivid and real to you, you can let the scenario play out. The orc taunts you & tries to goad you into a fight. He is big & mean and totally self assured. He reaches out toward you. You must not only imagine the orc's appearance and actions, but you must also imagine your own reactions. The final step in learning how to control adrenaline stress through mental imaging is to visualize your response to the threat. I think it's good to imagine the whole scenario, from the
time that the orc confronts you. It's a temptation to want to visualize only the part where you clean the other guy's clock, but remember that your objective here is to control adrenaline stress. So . . . he's big & mean & scary, and in your mind's eye, he's standing in front of you. "Got a light?" You respond with the information you read in "Lines in the Dirt". You might even start with the scenario I provide in that series. You see and hear yourself responding to him. "No. Leave me alone," as you bring your open hands up to chest height in the non-challenging defensive position. And you control the scenario from here. The first vital point is that your visualization be vivid enough to evoke an emotional response. The second point is that you visualize yourself keeping your cool right up to the moment of attack. You see yourself as unflappable as James Bond facing incredible odds, and then, at the moment of action, you transform into Attila the Hun. Have you tried out the mental imaging as I described it in the last post? Remember, the keywords are vivid and detailed. If you have these two elements, your nervous system will treat your visualization as a real learning experience. I've noticed in my own sessions of mental imaging, that my muscles will occasionally twitch and, at rare times, I will even become aware that I've raised an arm in concert with my imagined movement. This signals deep involvement in your imaging, and is a sign that your mental picture is real enough to your mind to trigger a motor nerve response.At times, you may also murmur or even speak out loud while you're involved in visualization. This is another sign that your focus is vivid enough and detailed enough. One final tip: vary your scenarios. If you always picture the same confrontation in exactly the same way, your neural pathways will not adapt as readily to new situations. Visualizing different assailants in different contexts will help your system to
generalize its response. Mental imaging has helped numerous sales personnel, public speakers and athletes improve their performance. It can also help you to improve control over your adrenaline stress response to threat and danger. As you have already concluded, creative visualization can help you improve in other aspects of your training, as well. That, however, is another subject.
If you liked this e-book edition, you might want to check out the print edition. The nice thing about a paperback is that you can carry it with you, make notes in the margins or highlight the passages you like. And you can read it – by candlelight – if the power goes out. For more info on the print edition, go to: Gravelbelly’s COMBAT PREP PACK, print edition Exclusive: available only to those who have purchased the e-book edition