The fight-or-flight response is an instinctive reaction that occurs in your body in the presence of danger – this can be either physical (fear for your life), or mental (worry/stress).
The term ‘fight-or-flight’ represents the choices that our ancient ancestors had to make when faced with danger, like suddenly being confronted by a sabre-toothed tiger. They could either fight or flee… or in the worst case ‘freeze’. It is important to note that the response can be triggered due to real threats, imaginary threats or past memories of treats.
Real - Someone spinning in front of you
Imaginary - What could happen in a race – thoughts of crashing (physical) or performing badly (mental)
Past memories – On Monday worrying about your poor performance at the weekend, or it could even be an embarrassing thing you have done or said
The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety. The following are examples of the changes that can take place:
Increase in heart rate and breathing – This provides the body with the energy and oxygen needed to fuel a rapid response to danger
Trembling - The muscles tense and become primed for action, which can cause trembling or shaking
Eyes - Your pupils dilate to help you see better - your peripheral vision is also heightened
Brain - Mental activity and alertness increase for quick decision making
Blood - Your blood flow to muscles will increase to prepare for flight or fight
Skin and sweat glands - Sweating increases. Hands and feet often feel cold as blood supplies are diverted to the brain and muscles.
Salivary glands: There is a decreased flow of saliva. Your mouth can feel dry.
A lot of these responses will sound very familiar for us as pre-race nerves or when we were younger they would be described as ‘butterflies’ in our stomach, example of which could be: before a school match, sports day, reading in class or even a trip to the dentist.
As we can see from the body’s reaction to the fight or flight response (above) there are many positive aspects that professional drivers use to help them (this is where the great drivers separate themselves from the good drivers):
They feel alert and are excited to get the qualifying session or race started
They feel physically primed for action
They are more mentally alert and can focus clearly on the task in hand
They feel ready to tackle any challenge that comes their way
They will feel their heart beating harder, but they know it’s natural and helpful
Negative ‘butterflies’ - (performance anxiety):
When pre-race nerves are allowed to take you over they can cause:
You to become over-excited about the race and feel scared before you start
You to feel physically sick to your stomach
You have excess internal chatter and you can’t think clearly or calmly
You worry about what you might encounter during the race
You feel physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate and this makes you anxious and uptight
Managing pre-race nerves:
Have faith in your preparation - One major cause of race-day stress is the unknown
Have faith in your training – You know you have done it over and over in training
Be prepared - Use your pre-performance routine
Meditate - One minute of quality Zen time at the start line can lower heart rates and improve the connection to and awareness of your body