fbpx

Fear, Stress, And The Survival Personality

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

You wouldn’t expect a spin-off of National Geographic magazine to have much content related to officer survival, but the August issue of National Geographic Adventure delivers just that in a surprising 1-2 punch.

First is an article about how sudden fear and stress affect perception and performance, which draws largely from studies of street officers in combat situations and quotes some of the nation’s prominent police trainers and researchers.

Then there’s a companion piece on the psychological orientation that seems most helpful in surviving a life-threatening situation, whether in police work or civilian life.

The latter article, “Everyday Survival” by Laurence Gonzales, is available in full on the magazine’s website [Click here to read it.] –along with links to other survival-oriented features.

The first, “Terrorists at the Tea Party” by Amanda Ripley, has not yet been posted online, but you can check www.nationalgeographic.com to keep an eye on when it might appear. You could also check your local library for the August issue of the magazine.

FEAR/STRESS/PERFORMANCE

Ripley uses a gun-blazing, terrorist take-down of an embassy in Columbia as a springboard for vividly explaining exactly how fear and stress impact the human mind and body and, ultimately, human performance in a crisis. Step by step, she traces the perception of a dangerous situation through the optic and auditory nerves to the brain–specifically the amygdala– and from there to the various elements of the recipient’s body.

Along the way, she describes psychological phenomena that are familiar to many police-shooting survivors: the dominance of emotion over reason…the “classic response” of time seeming to slow down…tunnel vision and tunnel hearing…the “curious sense of aloofness,” called dissociation, which can cause “numbness, a loss of awareness, memory problems,” even out-of-body experiences, and so on.

“Stress hormones are like hallucinogenic drugs,” Ripley writes. “Almost no one gets through a [life-threatening] ordeal without experiencing some kind of altered reality.”

She cites one officer’s perceptual distortion, as reported to Dr. Alexis Artwohl, the well-known behavioral scientist who sits on the Force Science Research Center’s national advisory board. During a gunfight, the officer “was puzzled to see beer cans slowly floating through the air” past his face, with the word “Federal” printed on the bottoms. They turned out to be shell casings ejected by the gun of another officer firing next to him.

According to a study of OIS survivors by criminologist David Klinger, “94% of officers experienced at least one sensory distortion” during their shootings. “[V]ery few knew what to expect beforehand,” Ripley writes. “So their distortions distracted and even embarrassed some of them.”

Ripley points out: “The best way to negotiate stress is through repeated, real-world training” that as closely as possible simulates actual armed confrontations. “The trick is to embed self-preservation behavior in the subconscious, so it is automatic, almost like the fear response.”

In short, realistic training, coupled with real-world experience, can change the brain so it can more quickly subdue stress and fear and respond in a life-saving manner.

“One of the most surprising tactics,” which can be self-taught, is deep, rhythmic, combat breathing, which “actually alters the typography of the brain,” Ripley says. By consciously slowing and deepening breathing, “we can deescalate the primal fear response that otherwise takes over.”

Ripley concludes: “The idea that we can negotiate our fear response is a fairly radical one.” But as more is understood about the dynamics of armed encounters, that idea is becoming a core component of progressive police training.

SURVIVAL TRAITS

Gonzales, who’s written books on surviving against long odds, reports that “After more than three decades of analyzing who lives, who dies, and why, I realized that character, emotion, personality, styles of thinking, and ways of viewing the world had more to do with how well people cope with adversity than any type of equipment or training.”

Although he believes equipment and training are important, the most essential element seems to be the right mindset.

Backed up with fascinating war stories and a variety of research studies, Gonzales itemizes the qualities he believes comprise the heart and soul of the survivor mentality. Among 14 traits that Gonzales says survivors tend to bring to traumatic events are these:

  • Believe they control their destiny.

People who believe their fate is controlled by an outside force or forces tend not to thrive in survival crises as well as those who are “most inclined to have confidence in their own abilities and to take action.” Those who “view themselves as essentially in control of the good and bad things they experience” tend to survive even such things as natural disasters more readily than those who “believe that things are done to them…or happen by chance.”

  • Deny denial.

The “incredulity response”–psychologically denying that something bad is happening to you–is often strong “even among individuals with excellent training.” But failing to quickly recognize a threat can cause a potentially fatal delay in responding. Survivors are more readily able to leap beyond doubt and excuse-making and see things as they really are, not as they wish them to be–and thus “are better able to avoid crises.”

  • Think positive.

“Individuals with a ‘growth mind-set’–those who are not discouraged in the face of a challenge, who think positively, and who are not afraid to make or admit mistakes–are able to learn and adjust faster and more easily overcome obstacles.”

  • Have a Plan B.

When undertaking anything risky, survivors tend to have a bailout plan, in case things don’t work out as hoped. The alternate strategy needs to be as specific as possible, and at least mentally rehearsed in advance. “Then,” Gonzales writes, “when your brain’s not working well because of stress or exhaustion, you’ll still make the right decision.”

  • Be cool.

Survivors of combat situations tend to have “a relaxed awareness.” They may “get upset when something bad happens, but they will quickly regain emotional balance and immediately begin figuring out what the new reality looks like, what the new rules are, and what they can do about it….[S]tress changes the shape and chemistry of the brain, resulting in trouble remembering, difficulty completing tasks, and altered behavior….Practice being calm in the face of small emergencies and you’ll be more prepared to deal with large ones.”

Assessing survivor characteristics as a whole, Gonzales notes: “You can start developing these tools of survival now. It takes deliberate practice to change. But new research shows that if we adjust our everyday routines even slightly, we do indeed change….

“To make these lessons useful, you have to engage in learning long before you need it–it’s too late when you’re in the middle of a crisis.”

[Thanks to Scott Buhrmaster, vp of operations at the Force Science Research Center, for tipping us to these Adventure reports.]

GDPR

  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.

Analytics

We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: support@forcescience.org
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.