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February 1, 2021

High Stress Situations: Reaction and Recovery

Learn how your body reacts to stressful situations.


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Normal Stress vs. Elevated Stress Security Situations 

Every person has been exposed to some degree of stress. Generally, these normal, stressful situations are events that the average person is equipped to deal with, due to knowledge and life experiences. However, on rare occasions, a person is exposed to an elevated, stressful situation.  These out-of-the-ordinary incidents causes an excess level of stress that one is not equipped to handle.  For instance, this would include a situation that poses a threat to one’s life or family, or potential bodily harm.  These high intensity situations, and the element of surprise, can inhibit a person’s ability to react and make rational decisions. 

Hyperactive and Hypoactive 

The reaction to an elevated stress situation differs from person to person, and from incident to incident.  Factors that influence a person’s reaction include the intensity, surprise, and brutality of a threat or incident. This can affect the psychological and physical capabilities of a victim, along with the training they may or may not have dealing with similar situations.   

Generally, we see two reaction types, hyperactivity and hypoactivity. Hyperactivity is when someone exhibits excessive, exaggerated behavior in reaction to an event.  Certain reactions can lead to the person shooting randomly, without any target, using excessive force, or screaming and other disproportionate behavior. This kind of reaction psychologically is a way to deal with the stressful situation, however usually the "solution" lacks rationality and can in turn put the person and others in more danger due to poor judgement. 

Where as hyperactivity, expresses an excessive type of reaction, hypoactivity, is the opposite. A hypoactive response describes a disconnection, removal, and lack of response to a situation.  Essentially, shock. Certain indications of this behavior include freezing, slowed reactions, and disconnection from reality.    

3 Stages of Response

The average person reacts to extreme threats in 3 different stages. 

  1. Shock or surprise: this is a hypoactive reaction.
  2. Regain composure (unfreeze): this is a hyperactive reaction.
  3. Reaction control: there is still an elevated level of stress, but reactions can be effectively controlled. 

Recovery time is the time it takes for a person register that there is a threat to get to the third reaction stage. To effectively deal with present danger, a person’s recovery time needs to be as short as possible

Recovering in Stressful Security Situations

The ability to recover from the initial shock to reaction control in the event of an incident effective reaction, is affected by the situational threat, your preparedness, and training. This is crucial for security guards. The need to react coherently to an elevated stress situation should be automatic. Practicing and training under pressure will help reduce the recovery time and give security guards the knowledge and experience to handle similar, live situations, should they occur. Repetitive training and exercises effectively rewire the response rate to the incidents, allowing for a very brief, almost nonexistent hypoactive and hyperactive response stages. This kind of exercise cannot be learned in theory, it can only be learned in physical training and debriefs.   





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