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Anatomy of a Fight
 

 

Responding to Danger

Our minds and bodies respond reflexively to danger. When the brain registers a threat, it sends out a set of orders to the body to prepare it. The heart rate increases, vasoconstriction occurs, breathing speeds up, and the adrenal gland kicks into high gear. As a result, physiological changes occur.

The heart can actually increase the body’s blood volume threefold when under extreme stress. It increases its rate so that some people experience a pounding heart. In extreme circumstances, the heart may even skip beats.

Vasoconstriction is the body’s way of ensuring that the vital organs get plenty of life-saving oxygenated blood. The blood vessels of the outer limbs constrict to force the blood into the torso and head. Symptoms can range from cold hands and feet to completely numb arms and legs. Due to the increased blood flow, the artery directly behind the inner ear becomes dilated, applying an increased pressure on the inner ear, which prevents the eardrum from functioning properly. This can lead to diminished hearing and, under high levels of stress aural exclusion (temporary deafness). Increased blood pressure in the head can even lead to complete ocular exclusion (temporary blindness).

In addition to blood loss in the extremities, any bodily function not associated with immediate survival loses its blood supply, such as the gastrointestinal tract. This causes the symptoms of stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea and dry mouth. Another side effect is that the body voids itself (bladder and bowels), so that it doesn’t have to waste precious blood processing food and waste.

The taste of fear occurs due to this realignment of bodily functions in survival mode. What, you can taste fear? Absolutely. This is the coppery taste or “cotton mouth” that a person gripped by fear experiences. This condition is caused by the body severely reducing, or eliminating, the production of saliva. As well, knocking of the knees is caused by the lack of blood flow to the legs.


 

 


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