Sidebar – Adrenaline.

Sidebar from the ongoing train of thoughts.

We got talking on my page about the effects of adrenaline and some of the ways they can be managed. I shan’t get into this in details as it’s already been done by an expert:

The quick-and-dirty summary, though, is that a sudden adrenaline hit can deprive us of our a lot of our physical and mental faculties. Adrenaline can cause us to freeze like a deer in the headlights, or turn us into a great big pile of stupid, flapping around ineffectively and inappropriately. After an event, it can cause us to act like emotional wrecks.

The good news is that although this reaction is completely natural, it is not entirely inevitable. To a certain extent, we can make ourselves better able to cope with at least some situations. That is why and how we have professional paramedics, surgeons, firefighters, law enforcement officers, soldiers… These people train hard to learn to be competent in the middle of situations that would send most of us into a spin.

We all know this, really. We don’t expect the average citizen to be calm and collected whilst performing an emergency open-heart massage. Conversely, we don’t expect a heart surgeon to throw up into someone’s chest, or go into hysterics. We tailor our expectations based on their training and experience.

Yes, there is also a selection process: not everyone had got what it takes to run into a burning building. However, we know that training and practice can improve people’s responses under stress. We know (or should know) that inadequate training can cause people to gain confidence without competence, and let them down at the crucial time (hence Meditations on Violence being such a crucial book for people interested in effective self-defence). However, we know that effective training and exposure, combined with good results, can help increase someone’s competence and confidence. Competence and confidence can make even extreme situations less stressful. Less stress can lead to greater competence in the moment.

Many of us find interpersonal conflict stressful, which makes perfect sense. We’re a social species, after all, so conflict within the group is filed in our brain as  A Dangerous Thing. If we mess it up, we could be excluded from the group or cause the group to disintegrate. However, avoiding conflict, whether by choice or by social diktat, only causes it to be more stressful. Anything unfamiliar to us, anything we don’t feel we have the skills to handle, will be more stressful than an everyday event.

Think of your first day at work, your first exam, or the first time you asked someone out. How confident did you feel, and how well did you do? If your performance improved over time, how much of that do you think was due to you simply being more comfortable with the situation?

From the point of view of managing adrenalisation, confidence can help competence. Competence can help confidence. Appropriate practice helps both. Learnt helplessness makes everything worse.


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