Attacked, from Leo Jia

December 17, 2012 |

 This article is an incredible story, likely being told by a neuroscientist, on how the fear mechanism in the brain helped a woman escape from the jaws and paws of a mountain lion.

A few lessons are quoted below:

1. When the fear brain's responses align with the crisis at hand and we follow its instincts, we can become virtually superhuman.

2. In the first flush of terror, the body releases two powerful substances into the body: cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol prepares the muscles for vigorous activity by releasing their key fuel, glucose, into the bloodstream. Adrenaline further prepares the body by revving up the heart rate, constricting blood vessels and opening airways. In the brain, a variant of adrenaline wipes out pain and fatigue and focuses concentration on the threat at hand.

3. When panic is triggered, it overrides the complex reasoning of the logical mind and switches on a suite of automatic behaviors. These can feel so overwhelming—and so un-willed—that it's like being taken over by an outside force.

Tonic immobility, better known as playing possum, is an ancient behavioral strategy that's designed to fool a predator into believing that its prey is already dead and therefore not palatable. Tonic immobility is a long-shot strategy. The only way it will work is if it lulls an attacker into letting its guard down.

5. Somehow during her blackout, her midbrain had switched to a fourth panic mode. Now every fiber of her being was geared up to fight.

6. One of the many incredible powers that the fear response unleashes is imperviousness to pain.

7. Gone was the mental fog of panic that had gripped her just a moment ago. Now she saw everything with crystalline clarity, as if the world were moving in slow motion.

8. Still, the one part of that day that Groves holds valuable is the insight it gave her into her own resilience, into the powers of her own fear mind, a part of herself she'd never experienced until that day.


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