Thursday, February 1, 2018

Anxiety: Amygdala Gets Bored

My second book is tentatively titled Understanding Our Natural and Learned Responses to a Threat. It integrates the theories of fight-or-flight, stress, emotion and cognition to understand our natural responses to a threat. All of the methods taught by activities associated with preparing a person to engage in a violent encounter are actually interventions in the evolutionary 'survival process.' I have come to appreciate that the theory associated with understanding our natural and learned responses to a threat are also applicable to the mental health condition of anxiety and panic disorders. Consequently, a concluding chapter in that book expands the readership to those experiencing, or more importantly attempting to support, those who experienced anxiety and/or panic disorders.

My stepdaughter came home from her first day of year nine at school. She explained how she was nervous for the first few classes because she didn't know anyone in the classes. What happened after those first few hours? She got 'bored.' No more nervousness, aka anxiety, and boredom prevailed.

That is anxiety. Our amygdala scans the environment for threats and opportunities. When it detects a threat, real or otherwise, it initiates a defence sequence that we call anxiety (or fear). When that threat is not realised, our amydala gets bored and switches off.

That in a nutshell is anxiety. It is also anxiety's remedy - 'exposure therapy', by whatever name. Amygdala detects a threat, real or not, and reacts accordingly, and the more exposure it has to that stimulus the more it realises that it is not a threat and therefore does not react as if it is a threat.

I know. I know because I have been diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder, and I have observed the above in action.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine - Feature Story

The latest edition of Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine (Vol 31 No 6/Dec '17 - Jan '18) published my 'Why do we punch? How human hands evolved for punching' as their feature story.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Fractured Hyoid Bone and Martial Arts Practice

I am in the process of finalising my first book on the science behind fighting techniques. One of the chapters is devoted to strangulation techniques (shime waza). In that chapter I refer to an injury I sustained to my throat when participating in a demonstration with Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan. Researching that injury led me to a study of a similar injury sustained by a taekwondo athlete when he was kicked in the throat during a competition bout. The following is taken from my draft, and to understand the extract you'll need to know that the hyoid bone is located in the anterior neck at the level of the C3 vertebra.

The biggest non-fatal injury risk associated with the use of neck restraints is damage to the airway. Force applied to the front of the throat can cause haemorrhaging in the neck and fractures of the hyoid bone and/or larynx. Are these fractures fatal? DiMaio and DiMaio[i] suggest that these fractures and associated hematomas are not necessarily fatal and are merely markers of force applied to the neck.

An example of DiMaio and DiMaio’s nonfatal injuries to the neck as a result of forces applied with a strangulation technique is the injury I sustained doing a demonstration with Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan (see Appendix) at the conclusion of a summer camp in Norway. De Jong was demonstrating defences using a jo, a wooden staff approximately 1.27m (4.2ft) in length. His timing on my punch was off a bit but he took me down anyway and wedged the jo across my throat as the defence requires. He applied a little more force than normal to make up for the timing problem which resulted in an injury to my throat structures. According to my GP (general practitioner), the injury may have been a fractured hyoid bone as I had trouble swallowing and painful swallowing for some period of time and the hyoid bone is often fractured in strangulations.

When investigating my GP’s suggested diagnosis, I came across a case report[ii] of a thirteen year old taekwondo athlete who collapsed after receiving a kick to the anterior neck. Lateral radiographs revealed fracture of the hyoid. Based on their review of the literature, the authors of the report suggest that striking and choking techniques commonly employed in martial arts provide potential mechanisms for hyoid bone fractures. Disturbingly, given that I did not seek treatment for the injury, the authors of the report also suggest that all patients suffering a hyoid bone fracture must be observed for a 48-72 hour period as previously asymptomatic patients may develop rapid hemoptysis, edema, ecchymosis and spasm resulting in life threatening asphyxia, requiring a tracheostomy and retro-pharyngeal drainage.

[i] DiMaio and DiMaio, op cit n 7.
[ii] J. Porr, M. Laframboise, M. Kazemi, Traumatic hyoid bone fracture – a case report and review of the literature, The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 56(4), 2012, pp 269-274.

Friday, May 26, 2017

What Is Pain?

In the book I'm currently writing, I explain:

A distinction is made between offensive and defensive aggression. Offensive aggression is when a person seeks to inflict injury or pain upon a person who is or has not been attempting to inflict injury or pain upon them. Defensive aggression is when a person seeks to inflict injury or pain upon a person who is or has been attempting to inflict injury or pain upon them. Offensive and defensive aggression are at the heart of Survival and Combat Activities (see Introduction). Injury and pain are at the heart of offensive and defensive aggression, therefore, injury and pain are at the heart of all Survival and Combat Activities methods. What are the two subjects that are never explicitly studied in Survival and Combat Activities literature? Injury and pain. 

I cover, uniquely in Survival and Combat Activities literature, the subject of injury and pain.

Currently I'm working on the chapter on pain. The first issue to cover is, what is pain? That is a question that is more difficult to answer than you might imagine.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) introduced the most widely used definition of pain. The IASP defined pain as an ‘unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.' So, pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience.

The sensory aspect of pain refers to nociception, however, pain may be experienced in the abscence of nociception, e.g., in the case of phantom limb pain when pain is experienced in a limb that does not exist.

The emotional aspect of pain, that is where it gets interesting. What emotion is experienced with pain? The answer to that question is lacking in the literature.

Is pain an emotion like fear or anger? Not according to the vast majority of those that study emotion.

According to Broom, pain is an aversive sensation and feeling. His definition of pain is similar to the IASP definition but differs in detail. The aversive sensation is the sensory experience of the IASP definition, however, Broom distinguishes between emotions and feelings. You can experience a feeling without experiencing an emotion, therefore, you can experience pain with no emotional experience.

Izard distinguishes between drives and emotion. Pain is a drive for Izard which is often accompanied by an emotion. Pain is often accompanied by fear, according to Izard, which is why it is used as a weapon by Survival and Combat Activities. However, pain is also accompanied by anger and aggression which is why the use of pain as a weapon sometimes backfires.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Blindsight - A Possible Explanation

I was doing some blindfold training with two training partners after a jujutsu class one night while I was still orange belt (I think). Sensei Greg Palmer was watching us train and suggested an exercise.

I was blindfolded and the other two were not. Upon Greg's instruction, the three of use walked randomly around the dojo until he instructed us to stop and stand still. Greg asked me to point to X and when I had pointed he asked me to point to Y.

I'm relatively open-minded and so tried to visualise or feel something that would guide me to their individual locations. Nothing. Out of frustration I pointed to a spot when asked to point to X and likewise for Y. 'This is rubbish,' I thought.

When I took off my blindfold I found I had pointed directly at X when asked to do so and was about five degrees off for Y. X was my regular training partner and Y I only trained with sporadically.

We conducted the exercise again with the same results. The same results including that I felt or perceived nothing but I pointed directly at X each time I was asked to do so and off by five degrees for Y.

During the last session, I turned while we were walking around the dojo (blindfolded). Greg asked why I turned. 'There was a wall in front of me,' I replied. There was.

The final time, Greg asked me to point to X, Y, and the nearest wall. He then asked me how far they were away from me. Spot on with X and the wall and slightly off with Y.

I don't know how I did it. I never tried it again in case I couldn't replicate the results, preferring to have that unblemished memory of something quite extraordinary. Today I read an article on 'blindsight' that may (or may not) explain my experience.

 It ranks among the most curious phenomena in cognitive neuroscience. A handful of people in the world have “blindsight”: they are blind, but their non-conscious brain can still sense their surroundings.
 "The way Dutton explained it was ‘Don’t think about it too much, just go and do it. Don’t think too much in your mind.’ It was my subconscious mind telling me how to do that task and to avoid hitting the chairs.
“I can walk around the house ok, and tidy things up. But I can’t see them. I know they’re there. My brain is telling me. It’s the same if the family have left things lying in the middle of the living room floor. I say ‘you need to tidy up, so I don’t trip over these things’. If there is something lying there, like a handbag or shoes, I can see it and I miss it, or I go to pick it up.
“But I’ll try to look at you, and I know you’re sitting there, sitting close… but I just can’t see you."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Gift of Anger

Gavin de Becker wrote The Gift of Fear. This post concerns the 'gift of anger.'

In the book I'm writing about our natural and learned responses to a threat, I explain how many people refer to the fight-or-flight concept to explain our natural responses to a threat. I also explain how most of those people have a limited and flawed understanding of the concept (and that the concept itself is limited and flawed).

The people who refer to the fight-or-flight concept to describe our natural responses to a threat explain that in response to a threat, fear motivates instinctive fight or flight behaviours that an automatic physiological response prepares the body to enact. Walter Cannon, the founder of the fight-or-flight concept, in fact associated instinctive flight behaviour with fear and fight with anger. This is a small but important detail because if instinctive fight behaviour was associated with fear then there would be no need to develop counter measures to fear when fight is the required behaviour.

Cannon explained, and it has since been demonstrated through countless animal tests, that the initial response to a threat is flight (fear) and that fight (anger) is only engaged in when flight is obstructed. Fear motivated flight but turned to anger and its action tendency of fight when flight was obstructed.

Anger is Nature's go-to response when it wants to get things done. In fact, the director, Ang Lee, took a  leaf out of Nature's playbook when he said, 'Sometimes you have to get angry to get things done.'

James Gilligan explains how he used his 35 years experience in prisons and prison hospitals as his 'laboratory' in which to investigate the causes and prevention of various forms of violence and the relationships between these forms. To cut a long story short, he (with reference to another psychiatrist who formed the same views through the same experience) formed the view that shame is the underlying cause for many/most forms of violence. The shame is so 'painful' that the only way to turn it into a desired feeling of pride is through violence. Shame is painful which leads to anger and its action tendency of fight in order to replace shame with pride.

Nature's go-to response to get things done: shame is painful so turn shame into anger with the action tendency of fight in order to get things done in terms of turning shame into feelings of pride.

You see it every day in the gym, on the training track, and in competition. How do athletes 'get things done' when they are challenged. They get angry. It helps them physically and psychologically overcome the challenges they are facing. That strategy is taken straight from Nature's playbook.

The beserker tradition of yesteryear relied exclusively on this strategy to prepare their warriors for battle. They would perform physical and expressive acts that were designed to elicit not anger but rage in order to prepare their warriors physically and psychologically for battle.

The gift of anger ... when you need to get things done. :)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

We are not afraid

The following image and narrative were posted on Facebook by NewsThump following the attack in London on 22 March 2017:

Don't give them the anger they want. Focus on the amazing job done by the public and emergency services. Don't look at the apparent carnage, look at the people rushing towards the unknown to help others. Make the story about the resilience of London and its citizens. They want your anger, they want your fury - and they want you to focus it on anyone different from you. Don't hand them an easy victory.

I find this fascinating given the work I've done on my second book concerning our natural and learned response to a threat. It integrates the theories of fight-or-flight, stress, emotion, and cognition to explain our evolved survival mechanism and the survival process. It also helps understand our learned responses to a threat as they are all interventions in the survival process.

Given the above narrative shouldn't the image say, 'We are not scared'?

Isn't terrorism associated with terror, an extreme form of fear?

This raises the question, what is the relationship between anger and fear?

Many refer to the fight-or-flight concept to describe our natural responses to a threat. They explain that in response to a perceived threat, fear motivates instinctive flight or fight behaviours that an automatic physiological response prepares the body to enact. That is a limited and flawed understanding of the F-o-F concept, and in fact the F-o-F concept itself is limited and flawed.

The issue I will focus on hear is that the F-o-F concept refers to two emotions not just one. It associates fear with flight and anger with fight. That small but important detail is important because there would be no need to counter/overcome fear if fight was the desired behaviour.

Given the above narrative, how do the terrorists intend to elicit anger rather than fear by killing indiscriminately? And is the reason terrorists want to elicit anger is to motivate the 'enemy' to fight?

Anger has been used since time immemorial to counter/overcome fear in order to fight in war. But so has hate and spite, different forms of anger but with a different focus and different outcomes. A news report today of the exposed civilian Afghan casulties following a NZ SAS raid refers to the troopers being angry at the killing of one of their own. No insurgents were killed, only civilians and in the main women and children. Were they angry, or did they hate the enemy and wanted to inflict pain and suffering to alleviate their suffering? The same may be asked of the Vietnam massacre at My Lai.

It should be noted that anger is nature's go-to response to get things done. For instance, the initial response to a threat is fear and flight, however, if flight is obstructed, nature goes to anger and fight in order to provide the opportunity to flee. Two psychologists associated with US prisons and prison hospital concluded after more than 20 years experience that the greatest cause for violence is shame. The shame is so painful that it elicits anger and its action tendency of fight in order to alleviate that pain. As the director Ang Lee once said, 'Sometimes you have to get angry to get things done.' Nature agrees.

 These are all fascinating issues that I hope to cover in my book. Issues that enable us to better understand our natural and learned responses to a threat.