Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Chemical Cocktail

This week I discussed the effects of adrenalization on a Violence Dynamics Facebook live video.
If you haven't already you can check it out HERE

The effects of adrenaline is one of the topics discussed in the Context of Violence class at Violence Dynamics.  I think adrenaline management could be an entire class in and of itself.  So, I though this blog post would be a great opportunity to dive in a little deeper

You may have heard stories of Grandpa storming the beach at Normandy.  Grandpa probably never told you that he shit his pants.  That his whole crew shit their pants, and charging at the enemy with shit in your pants is a pretty common occurrence.

Which is sad, because when you faced the bully, you did not feel heroic at all.  Your stomach felt sick.  You had to hold in the tears.  You couldn’t think of anything to say.  You were awkward.  You felt like a coward.  Not at all like your brave grandfather or the heroes form times past.

It is important to know that these feeling as are natural / biological.  They have nothing to do with your courage or who you are as a person.

It is also important to be able to recognize the symptoms of adrenalization,“ride the wave” and use this chemical dump to your advantage.

There is plenty of fear based marketing out there that would have you believe adrenaline will turn you into a worthless quivering puddle on the ground.  If this were true we would not be the apex predators on the planet.

In order to minimize the negative effects of adrenaline and maximize its positive effects first we have to understand adrenaline.

Adrenaline gets a bad rep.  It is not working alone.  

Behind the wide range of both physical and mental reactions to stress are a number of hormones, a chemical cocktail if you will.  

Kind of like a boy band, adrenaline is just the most famous, and the only one anyone ever remembers.

Let’s take a closer look at that boy band – Chemical Cocktail
{Notice: the next several paragraphs are an expansion of a joke I blatantly stole from Randy King}


Justin Timberlake

What It Is: 
Commonly known as the fight or flight hormone, it is produced by the adrenal glands after receiving a message from the brain that a stressful situation has presented itself.

What It Does: 
Adrenaline is largely responsible for the immediate reactions we feel when stressed.  Your heart is pounding. Your muscles are tense, you’re breathing faster, you may start sweating. That’s adrenaline.

In and of themselves those reactions are not negative.  However, often we tag them as negative because we commonly feel those reactions while experiencing negative emotions.

(Adrenaline is the front man that is the most famous)


Lance Bass

What It Is: 
A hormone similar to adrenaline, released from the adrenal glands and also from the brain.
Although norepinephrine might seem redundant given adrenaline we have both hormones as a type of backup system.  High stress life styles can burn out adrenal glands.  We need something to save us from acute catastrophe

(So like Justin Timberlake but not quite as good, and is always available if JT is too busy)


Joey Fatone

What It Is: 
A steroid hormone, commonly known as the stress hormone, produced by the adrenal glands.

What It Does: 
It takes a little more time — minutes, rather than seconds — for you to feel the effects of cortisol in the face of stress.  The release of this hormone takes a multi-step process involving two additional minor hormones.

First, the part of the brain called the amygdala has to recognize a threat. It then sends a message to the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH then tells the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.

(Cortisol is Fatone because it is slow and over time can make you fat) 

Estrogen & Testosterone

Chris Kirkpatrick & JC Chasez

Estrogen and testosterone are also hormones that affect how we react to stress, as are the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin

(These guys are also in the band)

Your heart is pounding. Your muscles are tense, you’re breathing faster, you may start sweating.  You have “butterflys” in your stomach and feel like you want to puke.  You lose fine motor, even complex motor skill and feel clumsy.  You experience sensory occlusion, tunnel vision, loss of hearing

If these are our natural biological response to stress how are we still alive today?  How come sabre tooth tigers didn’t just gobble up our ancestors?

It is like that scene from the 300 where it looks like Leonidas is going to surrender to Xerxes.

Along with the increase in heart rate, adrenaline also gives you a surge of energy — which you might need to run away from a dangerous situation — and also focuses your attention.

Sensory Occlusion - Under stress you will be trying to take in as much information from the environment around you as possible to develop a plan.  Too much information coming in, and taking time to gather.  Too much information to process causes freezes.  Time under attack equals damage.  Having your senses focus only on what is necessary allows you to process information faster and move.

The primary role of norepinephrine is arousal. You become more aware, awake, focused.  It also helps to shift blood flow away from areas where it might not be so crucial, like the skin, and toward more essential areas at the time, like the muscles, so you can flee the stressful scene.

In survival mode, the optimal amounts of cortisol can be life saving. It helps to maintain fluid balance and blood pressure, while regulating some body functions that aren’t crucial in the moment, like reproductive drive, immunity, digestion and growth.

These are literally superpowers.  You just became stronger, faster, more focused and capable of taking more damage.

Not only did sabre tooth tigers not gobble up our ancestors.  Our ancestors wore sabre tooth pelts.  This chemical dump helped us become the apex predators on the planet.

Adrenaline Bitch

Generally we associate this with feeling bad because the negative circumstances we were under caused us to label this chemical process as bad.

However, this can feel really good!

What did it physically feel like the first time you fell in love?
Was your heart is pounding?  Were your muscles tense, were you breathing faster?  Did you start sweating?  Did you have “butterflys”?

Sound familiar?
1st kids, don’t do drugs!  2nd adults, I’m not your daddy you make your own decisions.

However, any drug you take to alter your mood has to be similar enough to the chemicals your body naturally produces or they wouldn’t work.  They would just poison you to death.

So drugs have to be chemically similar to the chemical cocktail to make you feel anything.

Generally people take drugs to make themselves feel good.

Not just drugs either.  You have heard of Adrenaline junkies.  Folks that enjoy the rush of high risk activities.  Cough Cough SWAT Officers.

The point being the chemical dump doesn’t not have to wreck you.  It can give you super powers and can feel great.  If you know how to use it.

How do you learn to use it?

A good start is to learn how you personally adrenalize, and what that feels like.

The following graphs are from  "The Armored Rose" by Tobi Beck

You can buy that book HERE

One of the biggest takeaways people have from Violence Dynamics is learning that men and women tend to adrenalize differently.

One is not better than the other.  However, along with recognizing the symptoms of adrenalization, knowing how you adrenalize is a vital factor in being able to use that chemical dump to your advantage.

Depending on the long-term impact of whatever is stressing you out — and how you personally handle stress — it could take anywhere from half an hour to a couple of days to return to your normal resting state.

Men tend to spike fast then come down fast.  Which means men get stronger, faster, more tolerant of pain quickly, but only for a few minutes.  It is harder to use cognitive skills during this time.  Once the effects of the chemical cocktail subside, things like planning and strategy become easier.

Football players may have experienced this "nervousness" until first impact, then you are good to go.

Or on the range you feel sloppy until you "warm up" a few rounds then you are much sharper.

Caveat – Not all men adrenalize this way, there are men that adrenalize the way women typically adrenalize.  Also not all women men adrenalize this way, there are women that adrenalize the way men typically adrenalize

Women tend to to have the chemicals rise more gradually and maintain out put for longer.
Which means women have better cognitive function longer under stress allowing them to plan what they are going to do when they get stronger, faster, and more tolerant of pain, a state which they tend to maintain longer.

Women feel the effects of adrenalization as much as 15 minutes after the incident.
Heart is pounding, muscles are tense, breathing faster, sweating,“butterflys” in the stomach, eyes tearing, all of which may take place after the incident is all over.

If you don't understand this is natural, these delayed reactions can feel uncomfortable and scary.  Like an uncontrolled emotional breakdown.
Nothing could be further from the truth, they are not negative emotions, they are a super power.

You do not rise to the occasion, you fall to your level of training… in an adrenalized body.

How can we drive this adrenalized meat powered skeleton?

How can you take conscious control of a subconscious process?

In for a count of four
Hold for a count of four
Out for a count of four
Hold for a count of four

This looks a lot like...

1st off don’t smoke kids, smoking is bad ok.

Nicotine is a stimulant, coffee and a smoke in the morning to get going right?  So why do people smoke when they are stressed or just experienced something scary?

Take a drag - Inhale for four, hold for four, exhale for four.  Does that seem familiar?  This process chills people out.  It also oxygenates the blood stream, helping delay the effects of decreased cognitive function, or help restore cognitive function. 

That is why there is an old Hollywood trope of the tough guy lighting a smoke showing no fear.  

Because your hands shake...

or your knees knock because you are a coward right?

Well that is actually your body's natural mechanism to burn off adrenaline, shaking isn't cowardice, it's prepping for battle.  But if you don't know that before it happens it gets labeled being afraid.

So the other side of it, is people who have experienced this before.  They have learned to mitigate the negative effects.  They also experience the effects less (why adrenaline junkies need bigger and bigger thrills).  These people don't show the obvious physical reactions of adrenalization.

So slowly lighting a cigarette under pressure looks really cool.

OK so controlling your breathing can help mitigate the effects of the chemical dump.  What are some other ways.

After breathing - self talk

Self talk:
What would coach say, then be your own coach.


Make yourself do something that affects the world
Keep repeating this step, until the stimulus that is causing the stress has been controlled.

This closely resembles the steps successfully used to break a freeze as well.

Adrenaline gets a bad rep.

It is important to know that these feeling as are natural / biological.  They have nothing to do with your courage or who you are as a person.

In order to minimize the negative effects of adrenaline and maximize its positive effects first we have to understand adrenaline.

When you learn to recognize the symptoms of adrenalization, and “ride the wave” this chemical dump can give you super powers.

Now you know....
And knowing is half the battle.

Train Hard, Train Smart, Be Safe.

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