Your wife has taken the truck to visit her mother overnight. After a whole day alone clearing things off your “honey do” list, eating a venison burger with a home-brewed beer (or three or four) you crash out satisfied after a good days work. About an hour later you wake up to the dog barking his head off at something outside. You saw evidence of a momma bear and a cub or two last week, so you grab your gun and head down the stairs. Before you get down though, you hear the front door open and whispered voices. Your blood’s already pumping from the rude awakening, but now you’re flooded with adrenalin. It’s dark, but the fight-or-flight reaction you’re experiencing allows you to see much better than usual. Your heart is pumping, and your normally good reflexes are primed. Your brain is working at high speed processing all of the possibilities. You start to sweat, and your breathing is getting faster. A second later you’re facing an unknown. You either shoot reactively, killing one of your friends’ teenagers looking for a couple of your homemade brews (thinking the place was empty because the truck was gone), or you hesitated and were killed by a robbery gone very bad. What makes the difference? How can you use the gifts that your body’s reaction to stress has provided without letting the rush of energy make you react too fast? There’s no easy answer, but here are some tips to help make your reactions more controlled and the outcomes better.
The first step is realizing that what’s happening to your body and brain is a basic chemical response as old as mankind itself and that you can control it. The way we as humans react to acute stressful situations is typically learned early in life and engrained through repeated exposure to stress, danger, anger, and fear throughout life. A useful tool is adapted from professional athletes. Many pros allow their physiologic stress reactions to interfere with their best performance and therefore have to train to prevent it. You can use the same techniques to ensure your best performance under any situation that stimulates the fight-or-flight reaction—whether it’s an intruder, a threatening wild animal in the woods, or your mother-in-law. Just remember P-R-E-S-S-U-R-E, a system developed by Dr. Butler in the 1996 book Sport Psychology in Action.
Prepare – Understand what your capabilities are, and know what your desired action will be in a specific scenario. In a home scenario, that might mean thinking about a potential intruder and having a plan; don’t just run downstairs firing blindly. For example, decide if it should ever happen, you would go down the stairs to gather additional information. More information gives better outcomes.
Relax – Practice deep breathing exercises when in non-stressful situations to help regulate your breathing during stressful ones. While you’re listening on the staircase, that would be a good time to take some deep breaths to control the reaction.
Externalize – Try to view the situation as though you are an outside observer; cast emotion aside and look for fact-based decision-making information. When you realize that a potential intruder is more nervous than you are, you can control the situation.
Stay Positive – Know your limits and use your strengths. Practice target shooting so that if you must discharge your weapon, you have confidence in your aim. Be comfortable with your firearm; you will have enough to worry about in a crisis situation, and your gun should not be one of your concerns.
Single-Minded – Maintain focus in the situation, and don’t let your emotions, fears, or outside influences control the outcome.
Unite – Your family knows how to work together, though at times it may not seem so. Don’t wait to instruct others what to do at the time of emergency—they should already know. Children stay in your room and get under the bed. Wife calls 911 and gets the other firearm. Decide whatever seems appropriate for your family: the last thing you need is the teenage son in the wrong place at the wrong time because he wants to help or not cognizant that you need help.
Re-evaluate – Try to understand the variables in the scenario and determine the threat level. Is it a kid looking for a beer, or is it a real danger to you or your family?
The time to consider how to deal with the flood of adrenalin associated with a potentially life-threatening situation is before it happens, not during. Use the opportunity to create a family project. Every couple of months, create a scenario and involve the entire family in planning and role playing. It will bring you closer together and provide valuable training should it ever be required.
It’s very important that each of your family members understands the usage of technique, forethought, and tools to ensure they can be at their best during a similar situation when you may not be the primary front man or where there are multiple threats. Train them and communicate with them on the essential things that will and can happen, give them the insight to your thought process, brainstorm with them to determine if that thought process is the best one around, and use their feedback to help determine an action plan which minimizes the danger of a threat and also protects you in the best possible way. Show them the methods you would use in a scenario and then help them to develop their own way to carry out the same scenario or help them to mimic your techniques. Help them to get familiar with the tools like weapons, flashlights, alarms, and communications devices that will be used in fight or flight scenarios, and then help them to prepare under some sort of pressure. Use that role-playing time to help them understand the dangers of not being prepared.
Preparation is the key to gaining the upper hand in the fight vs. flight situation. If you know what you will do in any given scenario, how to do it, and what the consequences are, you will be able to handle yourself much better, and perhaps prevent a death, an injury, or the potential risk of harm to your family.
©2011 Off the Grid News