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How and Why to Train Your Body and Your Brain to Respond Effectively in Active Threat Scenarios

Imagine you’re anywhere - a school, a public space, your workplace. You suddenly hear gunshots break the silence. They’re loud and jarring. You’ve never heard anything like it before, so much so that the moment feels surreal. In a second, you’re considering that they’re not gunshots - maybe they’re fireworks; or a car backfiring. Then, you realize that sound is coming closer.

When a shooting is taking place - what are YOU going to do?

There’s no doubt about it: This is about as stressful a situation as a human can find himself or herself. It’s tense. It’s almost unheard of. It’s strange. It’s uncomfortable. And most of all - it’s life threatening.

Which is why we ask again - what do you do?

The natural human instinct under stress is to Fight, Flight or Freeze. Fight or Flight is a great response. Freezing is not what a person should do.

Under stress, your body is going to experience some physiological changes that you can’t control. Your body will start to shut down and it will begin to freeze. If you don’t identify these changes, and fight through it, you are going to freeze.

Identifying and understanding what is happening in your body and your mind at this very moment is critical to training both - heart and brain - to fight or flight.

Three things to know about your body under stress

  1. First some science: Did you know that a resting heart rate is around 60 beats per minute; an elevated heart rate is around 90 beats per minute; and an active heart rate is around 120 beats per minute. You’ve felt that 120 beats per minute if you’ve been on a treadmill - you’re sweating, working hard, burning fat, but it’s really hard to text at the same time, right? That’s because at 120 beats per minute, your body is beginning to shut down. And you’re losing fine motor skills.

2. At 150 beats per minute, you’re in panic mode. As your body's working overtime to produce adrenaline and cortisol, you’re losing functions that are critical to how you will respond in this situation. A great example is the loss of your peripheral vision. You get something called tunnel vision. On top of that, the stress will experience auditory exclusion. Once you lose a grip on your ability to see and hear, you know that your body is in panic mode. This is when your body gets to the Fight, Flight or Freeze Mode.

3. Freeze mode happens at 175 beats per minute. This is not a metaphorical freeze; it’s a literal freeze. At this point, your body has shut down. You can’t move.

Three things to know about your brain under stress

  1. If and when your body hits panic mode, or worse - freeze mode - you need to rely on your brain to power through this stressful situation.

As a quick throwback to the opening of this blog - remember when you heard gunshots, but you tried to convince yourself they were something else? Like fireworks or a car backfiring? In that moment, your brain is trying to identify the cause of that noise with something rational; something it’s heard before. Unless you’ve heard gunshots before, your brain will most likely not consider them an option.

If you’ve never heard gunshots before or you don’t remember what they sound like, go to an indoor range and listen to the sound with and without hearing protection. When you train your brain to know that sound, your brain won’t waste time filtering through incorrect options. Your brain will go into action.

2. In this moment, you’ll need to power your brain with controlled breathing techniques. That can be as simple as taking a deep breath in, holding for two seconds, and then exhaling slowing. Again, like identifying the sound of gunshots, the more you practice this technique when you’re not in a stressful situation, the more your brain will activate this technique when needed, faster.

3. Training your brain for these kinds of scenarios shouldn’t be something you ignore until you’re in that scenario - it should become a consistent practice of situational awareness. Because the more you practice mental roleplaying these situations, the more you train both your brain and body to anticipate action. When you’re anywhere - the mall, a grocery store, the bank, an office building - pause to take account of the surroundings - the people, the place, the flow of movement or action. Go through some scenarios in your head - what does your training tell you do it? What are your options? What are you prepared to do - mentally, emotionally, physically? Play some ‘What if’ scenarios in your head to prepare yourself.

When it comes to preparing for stressful situations, like an active shooter scenario, we often don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training. Start training your body and your brain to anticipate scenarios, and, even more importantly, how you would respond to them. Again, our goal in active survival courses is to train you to fight or flight safely.

Because we believe this lesson is so powerful in active survival threats, we’ve built this content into our Instructor Course. Lockdown International is dedicated to bringing high quality training like this as well as security products, educational tools, and proactive measures to businesses, schools, and other communities.

We partner with clients to create and implement custom proactive solutions based on their risk assessment.

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