“When you perceive something as threatening or exciting, the hypothalamus in the brain signals to the adrenal glands that it’s time to produce adrenaline and other stress hormones,” livestrong.com reports. “The adrenal glands produce adrenaline by transforming the amino acid tyrosine into dopamine. Oxygenation of dopamine yields noradrenaline, which is then converted into adrenaline. Adrenaline binds to receptors on the heart, arteries, pancreas, liver, muscles and fatty tissue.” And then . . .

By binding to receptors on the heart and arteries, adrenaline increases heart rate and respiration, and by binding to receptors on the pancreas, liver, muscles and fatty tissue, it inhibits the production of insulin and stimulates the synthesis of sugar and fat, which the body can use as a fuel in fight-or-flight situations.

Basically, an adrenaline dump is quite a rush. A biological reaction that will happen when you begin a defensive gun use. That will turn your fingers into flippers, give you tunnel vision, mess with time and distance perception, addle your thoughts and more.

Shooting during an adrenaline dump is about as far from standing at a gun range and punching paper as you can get. So how well do you cope with stress? Ever had to deal with life-or-death stress? How’d you do?

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66 Responses to CapArms Question of the Day: How Are You Under Stress?

    • Same. I suffer from in-the-moment detached numbness followed by after-the-fact hysterical WTF’s.

    • Likewise, but all my dump-inducing events have been very quick. I suspect the true rush only properly kicked in afterwards. A prolonged event is not something I want to test, no matter how curious I am.

  1. Had one encounter and DGU(no shots fired) a number of years ago in the woods. Not sure everyone responds in the same way to the adrenalin dump. My response was a sense of hyper awareness of the danger, my surroundings, my weapon, my grip on my weapon, where every little leaf, stick and tree was around me, etc. Far more aware and in control over my body than normal. Ran back to my car after a reholster(about 1/4 mile) and felt I could run forever at full speed. Now… fast forward 20 min, I was sweating profusely, and quivering like a bowl of jello, shakes and tremors. I was a wreck for sure. I hope nothing like that ever happens again. It was an awful experience.

  2. Last week while we were all sleeping an electronic device started ringing off very loudly in my living room that my wife and I had never heard before. My first thought was it was an intruder’s phone that he had forgotten to silence and he had somehow gotten in without setting off our home security system. Within a few seconds I had retrieved my XD Mod 2 service 9mm from the bedside pistol safe with 16 rounds of 115 gr +p JHP and was on the move toward the living room, sound still ringing out but not moving or shutting off. The fact that the noise didn’t stop suggested to me that it may not be an intruder. Turns out one of my kids had inadvertently set the alarm to go off at a few minutes before midnight on their kiddie tablet. I shut the thing off and put it away, and was asleep again within 10 minutes. I felt I sprung into action fairly quickly without stalling. I think I could have gotten off some good shots if I had to, as my hands were still very steady during the short lasting sweep to the living room. But I was also aware to watch out for my small kids and not fire at anything that moves until determining whether or not it was a threat.

      • I was sleeping, it was almost midnight, hence the opening line of my post…”Last week while we were sleeping..” I home carry when I’m awake, but not while sleeping.

  3. How am I? Who knows. It’s a more perishable part of your personality, than firearms skilz are to your tool bag.

    IMHO Paintball, Airsoft, and Lazer tag, are really good for FOF micro-adjustments to your adrenaline timelines.

    Plus, it gives you a view into the world of children at play, and how cold, vicious, and heartless those little crumb-snatchers really are.

    Wear a cup and a helmet.

  4. Enough fear and it becomes an almost out of body experience for me. Kind of feels like I am remote controlling my body.

    • The worst times are those when you have trouble figuring out was just happened. I had a mainsail tear off my boat with a bang when I was turning into the wind to get it down because the wind was picking up so rapidly. Even seeing the sail in the water, it still took me a few seconds to figure out what had happened because the loss of the sail changed so many things and it just didn’t seem like that likely a thing to have happened. It was stunning. Don’t know for how long though.

  5. I believe the technical term is atypical adrenal reaction. For me, adrenaline dumps induce more of a trance state than the tunnel vision most people describe. Basically, I go into autopilot which is both good and bad. Good because my reaction time goes through the roof. Bad, because those reactions tend to be… extreme. A few months after my EAS, I put my manager in a wrist lock when he thought it was a good idea to sneak up behind me and grab my shoulder to get my attention. HR was not amused. Though the shakes afterwards are bad. Some people have a hard time standing up. I had a hard time keeping a cup of water in my hands, standing was completely out of the question.

  6. Well I used to be calm,cool and collected in crisis mode. In great shape then. Now I can’t handle a gigantic spike in my heart rate. Hey driving on the interstate is unbelievably stressful. Especially in Illinois where it seems the State Police don’t bother stopping anyone unless they’re going near 100mph😜I do my best!

    • Is there such a thing as too calm? Have been involved in several extremely scary incidents NOT caused by me (passengers almost had heart attacks). Also have walked away from several should have been dead events, including involving guns and/or gun fire. Youngest daughter also has been similarly blessed by surviving what should have been life ending events a few times. I do not panic, have seen too many times the tragic outcome of panic. Also not affected afterwards.

  7. I haven’t had a life or death adrenaline dump. But I do try to shoot immediately after doing jumping jacks to simulate the rush a little.

    My groups open up some, I struggle to control my pace and I get tunnel vision.

    • I found that, for me, physical exertion doesn’t simulate actual stress very much (tried it too). Of course I only found this out the hard way…

  8. My only DGU experience – actually fired the gun – was certainly stressful, but I didn’t have the shakes, etc. until it was all over. I went on to a 30 year career as an RN, a part of that time working as triage nurse in a busy ER. I also raised children, surviving two boys in the terrible “twos.” Nobody knows completely how they will respond to a seriously stressful situation, of course, but I think I’d do ok. I’ve always been able to get through a crisis and keep my head. Sure nice to have a day off after that, naturally. Takes a bit to pull yourself back together.

  9. I had a DGU in a neighborhood market when I was 21. Made hits on 6 out of 8 shots, did a reload, secured the weapons from the two bad guys, did first aid on a victim and was calm cool and collected talking to the cops (I gave a very factual statement, cops didn’t even take my pistol). Puked my guts out 2 hours later.

    Had my 3 month old grandson die of SIDS. My daughter came out of the room screaming….I started CPR, dialed 911 (because everyone else was freaking out). Continued CPR in the front seat of a cop car. Stayed with him until the doctor called the effort. The other grandparents showed up. Couldn’t find a priest and I performed the last rites (from memory, hadn’t been a catholic in 20+ years). Afterward, sat on my back porch and just let the stress wash out of me. Felt numb for days. Worst day ever. Couldn’t talk about for a few years without having nightmares after. Family and friends helped me through it.

  10. Best book I’ve found on the subject of combat stress integrated with the psychological presets that affect it and our actions is Marc MacYoung’s “In Defense of Self-Defense: When It’s Worth It, What It Costs”. I’m halfway through and it’s a real eye-opener.
    I also highly recommend Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s “On Killing” and “On Combat”.

    • +1 on Grossman’s books.

      Stress inoculation (whether thru force-on-force or some other methods chosen by an experienced trainer) is a real eye-opener. Yes, you’ve been taught about your vision tunneling, auditory exclusion, etc., but once you actually experience it you start taking those lessons about scanning afterwards, etc., a lot more seriously.

      Another eye-opener for me was in a stress-induction exercise where the entire “surprise” scenario was videotaped from multiple angles, and immediately after the scenario the trainer interrogated you rapidly about what happened (What was he carrying? Why did you engage? How many shots did you fire? etc.). Even under what was just a little bit of the stress the I would have suffered in an actual DGU, I discovered that your powers of recall immediately thereafterwards really do go to hell. Lesson learned about why it is so important NEVER to talk to the cops immediately after a shoot (or to say the absolute minimum to insure your safety and preserve evidence).

      I’ve never had a DGU (and truly hope I never have one), so who knows how I’d actually react when it hits the proverbial fan. I’d hope that the old saw about your skills declining to the level of your training is accurate.

  11. I had a lot of high stress situations in college working as a first responder for medical incidents on campus, and was always at my best under stress. Fast ford to last summer when I actually had a DGU while running. A dog came bolting off a porch and chased me across the street. My first instinct was to run, but when cornered I turned and half drew the gun. Fortunatly, either my defensive posture or the dog’s owners yells made the dog stop attacking. Apparently I had some tunnel vision going, because it was at that point when I noticed a police officer had pulled up and was halfway out of his vehicle. Fortunatly he was more focused on going to chew out the dog owner and either didn’t realize or ignored the fact that I had a gun.

  12. My most notable behavior under stress is calmly telling people to STFU so I can think. Everyone else’s voice just grates on me. Could be work stress, grief stress, breaking down on the highway stress, etc. Don’t have much fighting or any gunfighting under my belt, so I’m not sure how I’d do in either one today.

  13. Ex-Marine Infantryman here. The switch closes and I move forward aggressively while arming myself if the situation requires it. I’ll admit to tunnel vision too.

    If you’re a Marine, Ex-Marine or former Marine (don’t care to debate ex vs. former, if you don’t mind) you know exactly what I mean by the switch.

    Afterwards, I have this calm almost detached from the situation sense about me for several minutes and I find myself breathing rather shallowly as I look dispassionately over the scene that results. Then and suddenly, I’m hungry and thirsty…and it’s over.

    Never had the adrenaline shakes or sweats like some report. But I do think the shallow breathing is weird.

  14. To me, everything seems pretty normal, cerebral even, but my ability to spot detail goes up enormously.

    I recognized later that I experience some serious time distortion where I perceive some things as happening extremely rapidly and other things much more slowly than they actually occured.

    I also become extremely verbally aggressive with everyone in the immediate area. Telling them what to do in terms like “If you touch that motherfucking knife I’ll fucking kill you where you stand!”.

    How’d I do? Well, the guy with the knife ended up looking like he made out with a meat grinder. No one else was harmed but some bystanders were scared shitless and accused us of going to far with the administration of an asskicking to the point they wanted us arrested. The main guy with that “issue” was the dumbass who tried to pick up the knife after we got it away from Mr. McStabby. He claimed that I shoved him but I know I didn’t, a fact confirmed by a dozen other witnesses including his wife/gf. He was just butthurt that my actions bitchified him in front of his woman.

    Afterwords, no shakes or anything but I was quite thirsty. Within a few minutes of the “situation” ending I was cracking gallows humor type jokes with the cops.

  15. Over 4 decades as a paramedic and ER nurse. Stress? I just wet my pants and panic. A single second is a huge amount of time, easily including life and death.

  16. Clutch AF. I watch and read a lot of stuff about what supposedly happens during stress. There’re probably some OK generalizations, but I’m the authority on myself and I happen to have soaked up a noxious stimulus or two before, put it that way.

      • I’d change if I could, even at the risk of flaking out if attacked. Being clutch AF doesn’t pay a salary, I probably miss out on excitement and while people like to see it in movie characters, few pat you on the back IRL.

  17. Well, I’ve found in my experience that when I’m under stress is when I perform the best at anything I do.

    Now, I’ve never been in a life threatening situation, but I’ve performed tasks during an adrenaline rush and my performance is always better than when I’m calm. It’s strange, I just somehow become ultra competent when I’m stressed. There are no distractions and I don’t even seem to think about what I’m doing all the time, I just do it and when it’s over I don’t even remember it that well.

    i don’t know how that translates to a defense gun use. I have a feeling the same thing will happen.

  18. Been in several do or die situations. I’ve always felt an eerie calm come over me, even whilst being fired upon. Afterwards though I just feel really, really, really tired.

  19. I was really calm and focused during the events (there have been more than one). Afterwards, I became ravenously hungry. I mean hungry like I hadn’t eaten in a week. Once, I devoured two large New York City pizzas with everything. They must have weighed five pounds each. And then I chugged two six packs of beer to no effect whatsoever. Weird, huh?

  20. I believe that I am somewhat stress inoculated now due to hunting and other training.

    When I first started deer hunting and had shots on deer, that caused quite an adrenaline dump. Now I get a small adrenaline dump when I see a deer approaching (in anticipation) and I promptly get to work with breathing control and concentration. As a result I am well aware of my surroundings and put accurate shots on target even under those conditions.

    I also have extensive practice sparring in martial arts which helps inoculate you to stress.

    As for real-world application: two German shepherds, which have demonstrated that they are psychotic/hyper-aggressive, were loose and I went out looking for them. One of them ran silently (no barking or growling) right past the owner toward me in “kill” mode. I calmly and very quickly drew my handgun and stepped forward to shoot it. Somehow it stopped about 15 feet away and then started barking. My finger was on my 5 pound trigger with about 3 pounds of force and ready to finish the squeeze if the dog started forward. And I promptly moved laterally about 5 feet to get a better backstop. After the owner moved that dog away, the other shepherd circled around to attack me with the same outcome … only this time I moved laterally to put a mailbox between us. I believe I did pretty well in that case … although I wish I would have noticed the second dog circling around sooner.

  21. Secret agent cool? Marine ‘switch’ cool? Flawless training cool? Oh hell no.
    Pretty sure I’m gonna die.

    • They are all stupid questions. The intent is to see if the comments can outdo stupid. (I need another beer).

  22. I’ve never had a stressful situation, with a firearm. I’ve survived 57 years having numerous life or death occurrences. One was a fire indication, while I was performing an engine run test on a C-5 Galaxy. It turned out that a bleed air manifold came off of one of the auxiliary power units. That was THE longest several minutes I’ve ever experienced.

    I am a firm believer that having a fitness regimen is the best plan for stress inducing situations.

  23. Like some of the others, weird calm, some tunnel vision, and then I’m aware of my pulse racing afterwards. And hungry, I get that too.

  24. I’ve been involved in so many high stress situations that they have very little effect on me. I’ve learned over the years that when shit happens you deal with it and move on. Knowing you’ve survived and done all you could is what matters.
    Some times things work out for the best and some times they don’t. You have to remember you can’t change whats been done. Live with it and move on. Some may think that is cold hearted.but that is life.

  25. Stressful situations are different from ones that generate an adrenaline dump.

    I respond to stressful situations by just getting it done. In adrenaline dumps where it has been life and death, the dump/changeover felt instantaneous and I became hyper aware of everything and my reaction times decreased. Honestly, I’d never moved as fast in my life. And my fine motor control was… fine. I made split second decisions that saved my life, where other people would have died.

    Afterwards, no shakes, just processing things faster than the average person. It takes a while to bleed off, but I never felt tired, hungry, or thirsty. We are all different.

  26. I found that even in simunitions scenarios where it’s not literally life or death I had some problems… mostly with auditory exclusion. Part of that was because the damn masks make it hard to hear but part of it was just stress. Accuracy was dead on, but communications was very, very hard… as was decision making aside from that which was trained in.

    So seeing a threat and taking it down worked fine, but then there was a sense of “uh….. uh… now what???” to content with.

  27. Stay alert, avoid dangerous situations, keep a low profile, and have an exit plan.
    A brief moment to consider options before acting.
    I hold up pretty well during a crisis, and get a little shaky when the pressure is off.

    Surviving a life-threatening incident is a high, but there is some backlash.

  28. I drive up a minute or two after a motorcyclist t-boned an SUV. People were calling 911 and directing traffic. nobody had gone up to see if they guy was alive or dead. I was slow to respond: thinking “I need to get my car out of traffic” when I should have blocked traffic with it. Once I saw a guy (turn out he was an off duty met) reach for rubber gloves I reacted exactly how I would have hoped- I grabbed my med kit got gloves on and rotated in on cpr until we had a pulse. Everything was surreal. Normalcy bias for sure. Replayed it a lot in my mind to process it after ward. No real shakes or hunger: but took a bit to get myself back together and past it.

    It was upsetting because I missed some critical things I should have done differently- and the normalcy bias delay felt like it took forever to over come. But once I did I reverted to the physical skills I’d practiced most (chest compressions) very well and confidently. I just need to find a good way to train the brain because running situations in your head or in a class room was NOT enough.

    • Have been first on several accidents scenes, including fatal and single vehicle in off the beaten track areas. Stay calm, get the job done. Hell, one time on a bicycle Rail Trail wife and I stopped and rendered medical aid to a total of six freaking people all along the trail.

  29. As a teenager I was pretty calm under stress.
    In 7’th grade wood shop I cut the end of my finger off with a bandsaw. Blood was running down my arm and dripping off my elbow and onto the floor.
    I walked over to my instructor and said in a very conversational way “Mr Green, I cut my finger off.”

    When I was 15 myself and two of my friends went drinking and driving after borrowing a 1965 Chevy Caprice from the driver’s parents.

    Long story short, my friend was speeding, missed a turn went through a fence and rolled the car multiple times, completely totalling it.

    The car came to a rest upside down and we all calmly extricated ourselves from the wreckage and
    prepared ourselves for the parental wrath we knew was coming.

  30. I was a firefighter/EMT for a number of years. When the tones would go off and we’d get a call that we had a structure fire, I would step off the engine and I would go into what I call “the zone”. I’d get calm and focused while time would seem to slow down. Meanwhile, I would be moving really fast. This was especially the case if I was first on the nozzle, first through the door. It was after the fire was out and we were starting clean up that I would get the adrenaline dump spike.

    It was the same thing that happened when I fought the human predator that tried to mug me. Calm and focused while time slowed down and I was moving really fast. Afterward, when the mugger was running away, I was breathing hard from the fight, but I got a very distinct adrenaline dump spike of fear and excitement as I came out of the zone and time speeded up.

  31. In a word: horrible. Shooting at paper at the range is one thing but if I were in a DGU or life-or-death situation, I don’t know how I would react and I hope it never happens.

  32. I have been through a few including being shot at, having my bedroom in my trailer filled with shots. Got myself and my three large dogs on the floor and crawled from the room before the shooting stopped. Several more situations. I remain deadly calm until the situation has ended and then I usually cry like a baby.

  33. I’m type 1 diabetic so the adrenaline dumps wreck me. It’s in a good way at first then the shakes and weakness come on. Stress by itself just makes me mean but threats to life are very different. The second guessing afterward is hard to get away from but worthless. I use each situation as a learning experience. Adrenaline itself has bothered me more and more over the years. I’ve recently begun training to try and overcome it. It’s hard to say the least. I can say I never panic though.

    • I guess I’ll start livin’ by putting one round in my 44 mag and begin playing Russian Roulette every day after work. That should be pretty stressful.

  34. I was in a car accident last year. Car came through an intersection going way too fast, T boned me, and sent me off the road head first into a telephone pole. I remember the instant they hit my driver door it felt as if my veins turned to ice.

    The next half of a second or so felt about like a minute. I had plenty of time to contemplate if I had died, try my hardest to steer the car, wonder why it wouldn’t steer properly, and see the pole coming. The impact on the pole that totaled my car didn’t even feel like an impact. It felt as if the car came to a gentle stop.

    Once stopped, I smelled and saw the smoke from the airbag deployment and believed the car had caught fire (the disorientation was only made worse by the car alarm blaring loudly nonstop).

    At that point I went full tunnel vision and had only the exit in mind. The driver door was far too smashed to open and somehow the other car ended up crashed into my passenger door after I had spun out so my only exit was the window.

    It wasn’t until I was firmly outside of the car that I was overwhelmed and simply stood staring. I didn’t even notice the nearly foot long gash in my arm but, thanks to TTAGs advice of always be checked because you may be injured, I told the police that I needed an ambulance.

    It’s all pretty blurry but I think I did a good job of staying calm and getting things done even with a concussion until I had the opportunity to relinquish my control of the situation.

  35. What discussion of pressure is complete without this quote? I have heard it attributed to Navy SEALs and fighter pilots (and there are different versions of the quote) but its origin is probably the Greek poet Archilochus:

    Rather than rise to the occasion men descend to their lowest level of training.

  36. Standard reaction for me:
    During:
    More aggressive, stronger, fine motor skills suck and the emotional side shuts down it is all business at hand.
    3-6 hours after: I crash. Shaking and sleepy.
    Next day: I’m kinda hazy.
    Second day: back to normal.

    Helpful hint: do the same report format the cops do post stress/traumatic incident; that sleep cycle talk it out(verbally reporting), get sleep, write down what happened, sleep, review your report and edit if need be (industry standard for armed work is three reports BECAUSE IT WORKS)… I had to do three writtens before I had my final copy when I lost my finger it’s ok when there’s nothing pressing (legal stuff) to take a few days to get your mind right.

  37. If you have someone trying to kill you, you have two choices, die fighting or live because you fought. It might not be all about you. You can get an adrenaline rush bowling.

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