Tachypsychia is a must talk about subject when one discusses survival events, or personal involvement in a survival/combative situation.
For someone affected by tachypsychia, time either seems to:
- lengthen, making everything seem slow, or
- contract, so things seem like they’re moving in a speeding blur.
People frequently associate tachypsychia with what is called the “fight or flight” response, and martial arts instructors often refer to it as the “tachy psyche” effect.
What is Tachypsychia?
Let’s start with the scientific definition: Tachypsychia is a neurological condition that alters the perception of time, usually introduced by physical exertion, prolonged stress, drug use, or a traumatic event.
Biologically, tachypsychia is triggered after you experience high levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, which are induced by stress. These chemicals affect the visual system, especially the processing speed of your visual uptake.
Because of this, during tachypsychia you are likely to have a feeling that time is either moving faster or slower. Epinephrine hormones cause this effect, due to increased brain activity. The condition might also have slowing brain activities, which are caused by Catecholamine washout.
Seeing Things in “Slow Motion”
The question many people ask is, do you see things flowing in slow motion? The aspect of seeing things moving in slow motion is quite unusual. Specifically, it is a phenomenon called “akinetopsia.”
While in this state, someone can see objects without perceiving the movement for a certain period. Because of this, seconds can feel like minutes, and minutes feel like hours.
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Other Effects That Correlate With Tachypsychia Situations
The most common experience during tachypsychia is the feeling that time has either increased or slowed down, but during these situations, it’s common to experience other physical changes as well, ranging from:
- Increased heart and blood pressure rates, which may cause fainting. This is not an advantageous condition to experience when trying to survive!
- Dilation of bronchial passages and the pupils, which causes a higher absorption of oxygen into the blood stream (good) and allows more light into the pupils, leaving us with visual exclusion or tunnel vision (bad).
- Auditory exclusion or sensitivity
- An increase in pain tolerance
- Loss of color vision
- Short term memory loss
- Decreased fine motor skills
- Decreased communication skills
- Decreased coordination
- A release of glucose into our system generating extra energy
It is also common for individuals to have serious misrepresentations of their surroundings during the events, through a combination or their altered perception of time, as well as transient partial color blindness and tunnel vision.
Other than the superhuman effects we can experience during tachypsychia, there may also be some unpleasant side effects. It’s possible to lose track of your urinary tract and bowels after adrenaline is triggered. After the stressful experience that triggered tachypsychia, the body might feel burnt out or mentally taxed.
The “Fight or Flight” Response
The flight or fight response is very closely related to tachypsychia, and an experience everyone has gone through either consciously or unconsciously when faced with acute stress.
Biologically, the fight or flight situation affects the primitive instincts of human survival. Hormones are released, including: epinephrine, neurotransmitters, and catecholamine. Cortisol, estrogen, and dopamine might also affect our reaction to stressful situations.
People have testified of abnormal things that others do in a life or death situation. A sudden release of adrenaline causes people to do supernatural things, like a woman lifting a car to save her baby from a crash. During these situations, the reasoning part of your brain is not a function. It stops, and the response action overrides (not unlike the effects of cocaine and methamphetamines).
We become very vigilant, and all senses are on high alert and much more robust. The muscle memory acts without getting direction from the brain. It’s associated with jumping, running, or fighting back, with the crucial objective being survival. Breathing increases to allow the muscles to have more oxygen, and helps to scream louder.
Another interesting phenomenon called cutis anserina can also occur. This is where there’s tension in your skin due to fear or excitement, causing your hairs to quite literally “stand on end.”
In a fire emergency, a victim may complain that they have been waiting over 30 minutes since they called 9-1-1. After the emergency is studied, the situation reveals that less than 10 minutes had elapsed since the victim called out.
In this scenario, the victim is under a high level of stress as they are watching the emergency scene unfold before them. Their inability to stop the stressor will add even more stress. Time can become distorted and may seem like 30 minutes instead of 10.
Tachypsychia scenarios can also happen frequently with firefighters themselves, and emergency responder officers. When a commander gives their juniors tasks, for instance, stretching the hose line into the right position to fight the blazing house fire, it can seem like their team members are moving very slow, and things are not done quickly enough.
How To Manage and Combat Tachypsychia
Tachypsychia is a hormonal condition and is chemically induced. This means there is very little you can do to manage the condition. As you experience more stressful situations, you may gradually adjust to the hormone releases and accompanying sensory effects.
In the case of emergency responders, it is essential to keep the passage of time. The dispatcher might announce the passage of time over the radio, in intervals of at least ten or five minutes. They can call out 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 15 minutes and so on.
When I introduce this subject in firearms classes, I always come back to training. And by that, I mean good, relational, appropriate, meaningful training. This is what I mean:
Basic Skills – shooting one round at a time, deliberately, slowly, accurately, sight picture, sight alignment, center mass, good solid skills.
Advanced Skills – improve on your basic skills! Become more accurate, faster, smoother, better.
Apart from that, these tips may help cope with the effects of tachypsychia:
1. Exercise and be in a better physical condition. An improved cardio or heart health is a crucial player in working on the adverse effects of stress.
2. Try to relax. Easier said than done, but essential in being able to understand and make decisions, while dealing with your body’s response to acute survival.
3. For emergency responders and those with licensed firearms, spend quality training with the equipment. Be confident even in times of crisis. Quality training is what comes through for you in bad times.
To Sum It Up
Tachypsychia can be controlled if you learn to avoid stress and control how you react to stress. But it’s important to keep in mind that our bodies are programmed to behave in certain ways to keep us alive. When you’re in a life or death situation, a fight or flight response can be the very thing that saves you.
What is Tachypsychia?
Also called the fight or flight response, Tachypsychia is a neurological condition that alters the perception of time, usually introduced by physical exertion, drug use, or a traumatic event. Tachypsychia is believed to accompany numerous physical changes. Upon being stimulated by fear or anger, the adrenal medulla may automatically produce the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenalin) directly into the blood stream.
What is it called when time seems to slow down?
The medical and scientific term for this is “tachypsychia.” People affected by tachypsychia experience the perception of lengthening of time, making actions appear to slow down. It can also cause time to seemingly contract, making objects appear to be moving in a speeding blur.
Why does adrenaline slow time?
Upon being stimulated by fear or anger, the adrenal medulla may automatically produce the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenalin) directly into the blood stream, increasing the brain activity, and causing the feeling that time has either increased or slowed down.