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Cardiac Coherence, The Guide to Combat Stress

Operational cardiac coherence (CCO) or how to best manage the effects of stress in combat situations.

The human body, when confronted with a situation of intense stress, activates a series of defense mechanisms and mobilizes all the resources at its disposal to optimize its performance.

These biological and psychophysiological responses have been programmed immutably since the dawn of time in the "primitive" (reptilian) brain of the human being to ensure the survival of the individual in particular and the species in general.

But there is also a flip side to this coin: some reactions that are associated with intense stress, unfortunately, have a much less beneficial impact from an operational point of view.

Indeed, human reactions triggered by stress have not evolved at all since the dawn of humanity.

For example:

- Trembling (far from being adapted to the accuracy of a shot).

- Short-range vision loss (difficult to reconcile with the use of mechanical sights).

- The alteration of fine motor skills (making significantly more complex the handling of weapons such as reloading, or even the action of the finger on the trigger).


On the other hand, the spectrum of threats has expanded considerably and the technical means to deal with them have been perfected since the use of the club or the invention of cut flint.

In short, the human being is inherently not adapted to the "modern" conditions of combat.

Stress: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

When stress overwhelms us it can take different forms, go through different phases depending on the suddenness, duration or intensity of contact with the triggering stimuli (anything that represents a threat).

If at some stages stress is generally beneficial and increases our overall capacity to help us cope with the situation (this is called "adapted stress"), in other cases the behaviors it will trigger can be extremely disabling. We will then speak of "stress over" and the "inappropriate" reactions then generated can take different forms more or less penalizing.

In particular, a distinction should be made between:

The state of astonishment (paralysis, dissociation that inhibits any action).

Agitation (disordered movements unsuited to the situation).

Panic flight (irrational reaction that does not take into account the environment and its dangers).

Automatic action (the subject in shock acts without being aware of his own actions).

Stress can therefore have very serious consequences. It seems essential for a professional to be able to deploy certain strategies that allow him to maintain as high a level of emotional control as possible. And this for as long as necessary: in other words, learn to maintain what can colloquially be described as "composure".

The nervous system: Is there a pilot in the plane?

Before considering the options available to us to achieve this, it is important to explore some of the mechanisms involved in this complex process.

Our so-called "peripheral" nervous system consists of:

On the one hand, a so-called "somatic" nervous system manages everything that is sensory (transmission to the brain of all the information coming from our sensory system). This system mainly manages the information transmitted by the brain consciously to the musculoskeletal system.

And on the other hand, what is called the "neurovegetative" (or autonomous) system that manages, among other things, all our vital functions and everything that does not involve a conscious process (what could be described as the "autopilot" of the body): heartbeat, tremors, hormonal secretions, etc.

This "autonomic" nervous system consists of two subsystems with antagonistic functions:

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) responsible for managing the "action" by alerting the body to prepare it for physical and / or intellectual activities.

The parasympathetic nervous system (SNPS) is responsible for "rest". In particular, it is responsible for slowing down the heart rate.

Dr. David Servan-Schreiber (author of the book "Cure") compares the SNS and SNPS respectively to an "accelerator" and a "brake".

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