Your Brain On Stress

This was published in the Night Stick the official publication for New Hampshire Police Association (Volume 77 Spring 2012 edition)

As your brain is your most important weapon, the effects of physical stress is often underappreciated for its effects on cognition for those who go into harms way, such military personnel, law enforcement, and other groups.

It’s been a generally held belief that cerebral blood flow (CBF) remains relatively steady during exercise, but recent studies (1,2) suggest that’s not the case. CBF appears to depend on a multitude of factors, including exercise intensity. With lower intensity steady state forms of exercise – all things being equal, such as hydration, etc, – CBF may increase, but during high intensity intermittent forms of exercise (like wrestling with another human being in a life or death struggle for example), appears to decrease. This may partially explain the cognitive decline people experience during high intensity exercise.

This information very much applies to law enforcement as it does for the military. Under psychological stress, demand for CBF increases, while supply may decrease, resulting in additional cognitive decline.

If a person has not experienced that cognitive decline under training conditions – and so has some experience and understanding of its effects – the results could prove fatal during a “real life” encounter.

If one has not experienced some job related stress training, they often find even simple directions difficult to follow during their first exposure to it. For example, simple directions regarding which targets to engage in which order, or other simple instructions, fail to happen…

Obviously, this will differ greatly with the persons experience, training, fitness, etc., but it’s well established that physical + psychological stress = decline in cognitive abilities and that’s old news for most and common sense.

The specific effects of stress, physical and psychological, on cognitive abilities is a large and growing topic of interest and research for the military and law enforcement.

Basic take home: some form of stress training, where higher intensity, intermittent, training combined with firearms- hopefully following some job/task relevant movement patterns – will help best prepare those who are likely to face violent encounters that require an ability to function under physical and psychological stress simultaneously.

Cont: Magazine/NHPA Knightstick Spring 2012.pdf

Matt Landfair

Matt Six Actual
Staff member
DARC training has proven this to be true. Ops on day one seem to be overwhelming compared to the last day, yet the last day is far more difficult, complex, with more moving parts.