Managing Adrenaline when Faced with Aggression: A Personal Response

If faced with the one same high stress situation, for example an act of aggression, different people may respond differently, and the same person may respond differently over time and repeated exposures to the same high stress incident.

When confronted with a situation where you perceive that you may be injured or worse, and you have no way of knowing for certain the outcome, will your immediate response be:

FLIGHT – that is to get clear of the aggressor and exit the area?

FIGHT – that is to physically defend yourself?

FRIGHT – that is to be overwhelmed by the situation and to ‘freeze’?

During a potentially dangerous situation, your body will release adrenaline to create a state of readiness to best deal with the challenge at hand.  This is known as adrenaline dump.

The heightened state of arousal following an adrenaline dump will see you at maximum capacity for effective action and survival, that is, to FIGHT or to flee (FLIGHT).

Through the heightened state of arousal, you may also experience excessive worry about whether you can handle the situation, whether your training has been sufficient, whether you have adequate equipment, whether you have made the “right” decisions leading up to this point etc.  These worries can be hard to control and may inhibit your performance under high stress thus leading you to freeze (FRIGHT).

The adrenaline dump may also result in:

  • Decreased coordination
  • Tunnel vision allowing greater focus but resulting in a loss of peripheral vision
  • Decreased communication skills
  • Auditory (hearing) exclusion or sensitivity.
  • Increased pain tolerance.
  • Short term memory loss
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure which can cause fainting.

The degree of adrenaline dump is related to the level of perceived danger, and your skills, experience, and practice in managing similar or worse situations.

Both you and the aggressor are likely to experience the effects of adrenaline dump during an incident.

You need to be aware of changes in the performance of your own bodily systems, and also the possible effects on the bodily systems of the aggressor.

For example, it may be surprisingly difficult for you to use technology to call for assistance, perform crisis communication, give assertive direction to the aggressor, or use effective self defence manoeuvres.

Effective training that achieves a level of competency, controlled breathing and self-affirmation techniques will assist you to control the negative effects of the adrenaline dump by breaking the cycle of increasing tension, enabling you to remain calm and focused in a high stress situation.


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Travis Holland

Travis Holland
Managing Director
Holland Thomas
Travis Holland email address

Should you wish to discuss strategies to improve your staff’s safety in their work environment, please feel welcome to contact Holland Thomas.

Passionate about creating safer workplaces our goal is to enhance wellbeing for all concerned whilst also delivering improved operational and financial performance.

This blog draws on our years of experience delivering our M.A.B.™ Staff Safety Training (Contextualised Prevention and Management of Aggressive Behaviours) across Australia and the development of My Safety Buddy, our smartphone app and web portal based lone worker safety solution.

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