Does adrenaline help or hurt you in a self-defense situation?
Even for experienced martial artist, the effect that adrenaline has on your body is often overlooked when developing a self-defense strategy. The adrenaline rush can certainly be used to your advantage when defending yourself, but it is also wise to prepare for how it can negatively influence your actions and reactions. One note, since the adrenaline rush affects each individual differently, our discussion must generally be non-specific, involving “possible” reactions, not “definite” reactions.
Adrenaline is secreted directly into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands when a person is experiencing a potentially stressful or dangerous situation. When introduced into the bloodstream, adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure and diverts blood to your muscles. Because of this, adrenaline can increase your speed and strength and decrease the ability to feel pain. These physical effects cause what is known as “the fight or flight” reaction, preparing your to defend yourself or run from an encounter. All this is great for a self-defense scenario, right? Well, not entirely, there are a number of bodily reactions that, unless you are prepared for them, can cause deterioration in your ability to defend yourself.
How can adrenaline help you in a self-defense situation?
Your initial response to a surprise or a stressor (run, jump, freeze, flinch, etc.) happens prior to adrenaline being introduced into your system. This initial reaction to a stressor is usually based upon the individual’s personality, temperament and, in physical confrontations, training. How you train for a confrontation is generally how you will react, and the introduction of adrenaline after a few seconds will likely reinforce this reaction. Note, studies have shown that while generally, adrenaline enters the system for most people quickly, in a percentage of women, adrenaline is introduced at a slower rate.
Assuming you are training to defend yourself and your initial reaction is not one of panic (freezing for example), the adrenaline surge is more likely to be an advantage. It can enhance your initial reaction by adding speed and strength to your defensive actions as well as limiting your reaction to pain. A key point to using the adrenaline rush to your advantage is to be aware of the negative effects and training to mitigate the possible issues.
What are the possible negative effects of adrenaline?
While energizing you for “fight or flight”, the feelings caused by an adrenaline dump can be unexpected and often surprising. Physically, adrenaline can cause a number of negative effects, including the shakes and nausea.
In addition to the physical side-effects, there are a number of possible perceptual symptoms. Some of the possible negative “perceptual” effects include:
- Tunnel vision
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling as if time slows
- Inability to think clearly
- A moment of freezing
While any individual may have some, all or none of these symptoms, it is good to be aware of them so you can prepare yourself in advance. Understanding what obstacles may be encountered by and adrenaline dump and training, both physically and mentally to overcome them, can give you an edge when you find yourself in a self-defense situation.
Part two of this series discusses how to modify your training in order to mitigate the negative aspects of the adrenaline rush.