Your Stress Response Can Buy You Valuable Seconds – That Can You Lead You to Valuable Minutes


By Lizzie Bennett

Survival in extreme situations often depends on an individuals ability to respond to the threat they are faced with. The stress response in humans has for decades been referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Now if you have a couple of Uzi’s and enough ammunition none of this applies to you because you could probably wipe out any number of malcontents advancing towards your property. For the rest of you, well, I hope you find some use in what I have to say.

The Physiological Basics

When faced with a sudden or extreme threat, two body systems act together to give you the best possible chance of survival. The reaction is for the most part not under your control. Your brain and your body decide what happens, the biggest toughest guy in the bar may turn and run, the tiny young bar tender may not, 90% of what happens is decided by chemistry.

The sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system get together at the first sign of a serious threat and if the threat persists for longer than a few more seconds both systems kick into high gear and adrenaline (epinepherine), noradrenaline (norepinepherine) and a couple dozen other hormones flood the body and the fight or flight response is triggered.

  • Pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible
  • Blood-glucose levels increase
  • Veins in the skin contract allowing extra blood flow to the muscles
  • Smooth muscle relaxes to allow extra oxygen for the lungs
  • Heart rate increases
  • Blood pressure increases
  • Non-essential systems shut down (digestion for example)
  • The only focus is the task in hand

It is your reaction to this flood of chemicals that decides what happens next. The first, often vital seconds can be wasted whilst your body decides what to do, which option will give you the best chance of survival. Your brain is processing information much faster than usual and increasing or decreasing the levels as the situation dictates. Running for your life or staying to fight is not at this point entirely under your own control, though the 10% of you not being guided by this chemical battle will have a bearing on the final outcome.

Editor’s note: Aside from flight or fight, there is a third response called “freeze” and it happens a lot to people who have been through trauma or have PTSD. Along with the writer’s advice, developing your will and sense of self will help you remain confident and action-oriented during a trial. Remember to BREATHE. People almost always catch their breath and let long periods of time go before breathing. Bring fruit back into your life to restore glucose to the brain and liver in order to aid your adrenals in acting and reduce the amount of trauma incurred.

If you have previously thought through the likely scenarios, and come to a conclusion of what you will do about them, you will waste less time working out what to do at the point when time really does matter.

The Psychology Basics

Highly trained individuals are much more able to overcome the flight part of the response and stand their ground and fight. Equally, in a hopeless situation they’re training allows them to make the decision to retreat faster than the average person would. This should never be construed as cowardice, it is simply a tactical withdrawal that leaves them alive to fight another day.

Sadly some of those we may call ‘The Golden Horde’ may also possess the ability to make decisions faster than the average person. Those used to living on their wits will cope better in flight or fight situations than the average man simply because they have been in similar situations more often than Mr Average. Their most common reaction though is to fight, even when if they’d listened to the 10% of their brain not being controlled they would have realised that in some circumstances it’s unwise to do so.

I know the urge to shoot at a roving gang going door to door down your street would be strong, but if you are at home, holed up with the family and you’re drastically outnumbered this may not have the outcome that is best for you or your family.

The urge to shoot first and hope you’re alive to ask questions later is almost overwhelming in such situation, but sometimes you have to go with the 10% of you that isn’t under the control of biochemicals coursing around your body.

People hunting in gangs have a pack mentality, they are set on a course of action and it often doesn’t enter their head that they will fail, they have not failed before, why should this occasion be any different?

That’s where control and logical thinking comes into it. Announcing to said gang that you are there by spraying the road with bullets is unlikely to deter them…they are armed, and past experience tells them that you are outnumbered. They are not thinking tactics, they are thinking of nothing but what they can steal from your home.

This makes them dumb, and relatively easy pickings for someone who is thinking tactically.

The Bones Of It

Surprise is the weapon of choice in the first instance. Making something totally unexpected happen puts the aggressor on the back foot because he thinks he knows what happens next. Unusual and unpleasant chemical smells, loud noises, anything that isn’t expected immediately increases the stress levels of those that seek to do you harm.

Now here I have to be careful. I have been advised by a Lizzie loyal police officer that spelling out some of the methods that can be used to stop these roving gangs could get me arrested. It’s a British thing, the government decided a while back we were not allowed to defend ourselves. It’s best just to give you some examples of how dangerous ‘kitchen chemistry’ can be, and why therefore you should NEVER resort to using such methods…

We are told never to mix chemical cleaners as dangerous gases can be formed as a result. The son of a friend of mine didn’t believe this so he tried it, and produced a nice cloud of a chlorine gas.

The stupid boy had duct taped two jam jars together and put one solution in each jar, the idea being to drip one drop at a time from one jar into the other. Of course when he knocked it over the fluids mixed, and he spent several hours in the emergency department with streaming eyes, gasping for breath, and some nice burns from splashes that had landed on his legs.

Teenagers are indeed foolish. There are reports from police in the US that kids are making items based on an episode of MacGuyver. There have been some nasty injuries, and it’s a good job they used plastic bottles not glass or things would have been a good deal worse. Glass shards can travel a hell of a long way from their original breakage point.

There is even a case of a church receptionist using wasp nest killer instead of pepper spray on as it shoots way further than mace, not that we are allowed to use pepper spray in the UK. Remeber not to get a flame near wasp spray as it is highly flammable and becomes something of a flame thrower!

Super-soaker water guns can shoot any liquid a hell of a distance so be sure you only put water in them.

Laser pointers can reach the moon, a great way to show the kids certain features, just make sure you don’t shine them in peoples eyes, they can cause major damage.

The smell of petrol or diesel automatically makes people stop and think…hoping there’s no flame or spark nearby that could ignite the vapours. Be sure to keep open flames, sparks and batteries away from petroleum based products. This includes petroleum jelly that burns like hell and sticks like napalm, never mix open flames and petroleum jelly.

I digress, sorry, back to tactics. Anything you can do to put these people on the back foot is to your advantage. Hidden tanglefoot, or even a board with nails whacked through becomes invisible at night, as do mains powered extension leads with the wires exposed at one end, nasty if it’s wet out there…

Darkness is the prime time for attacks and you need to take as much advantage of the night-time hours as you can.

The delay, the putting off of firing for a minute or two has given you a few distinct advantages:

  • You will be mentally calmer and therefore thinking more clearly. You know something they don’t, the basis of tactical warfare for centuries.
  • You will be more in control if the situation deteriorates into one that requires direct confrontation.
  • Some of the group are most likely injured and will therefore hold back leaving less people for you to deal with.
  • They will be confused at coming across unanticipated obstacles/chemicals This can cause loss of concentration and hesitation.

Giving yourself time to listen to the 10% of your brain under your control can, in many circumstances can pay dividends that brass and lead alone cannot deliver. Don’t get me wrong guns are great, I wish I had one but the chances of outshooting a large group of armed people is remote. Every bullet you save is one you can use in close quarters should the situation deteriorate.

Be inventive, think outside the box and if you are fortunate enough to have lead and brass I envy you.

Take Care


Photo credit: Sinistra Ecologia Libertà via / CC BY

You can read more from Lizzie Bennett at her site Underground Medic, where this article first appeared. Like on Facebook and follow on Twitter

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