Navigating the Fight, Flight, Freeze Response in Muay Thai

Discover how the fight, flight, or freeze response influences your performance in Muay Thai and learn practical strategies to overcome the psychological impact of getting hit hard. In this insightful article, we delve into the science behind the physiological and psychological reactions triggered by powerful blows. Explore techniques rooted in self-compassion, cognitive restructuring, and anxiety calming to restore your confidence and presence in the ring. Uncover the power of resilience and discover how to navigate past setbacks, embracing them as opportunities for growth. Gain valuable insights to optimize your training, enhance your mental fortitude, and unleash your inner strength in the world of Muay Thai.

Getting hit hard during a fight or training session is an inevitable part of the game. It can trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response, which can significantly impact your performance.

It’s important to acknowledge that these effects are more common than you might think, even if not everyone openly discusses them. In this article, we’ll explore practical strategies, backed by science, to help you overcome the psychological impact of getting hit.

Disclaimer: The following is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The content was created for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional if you have a medical condition and/or before making any lifestyle changes.

Understanding the Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response

When people experience the impact of getting hit hard during training or fighting, their bodies instinctively activate the fight, flight, or freeze response. This physiological and psychological reaction is deeply rooted in our evolutionary biology. The amygdala, a key structure in the brain’s limbic system, plays a central role in triggering this response.

The amygdala perceives potential threats and sends signals to other parts of the brain and body, preparing us to confront danger or seek safety. In response to a hard hit, the amygdala activates the sympathetic nervous system, releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. This surge of hormones triggers a cascade of physiological changes, including increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, heightened alertness, and sharpened focus.

The fight response prompts fighters to engage their opponents more aggressively.
The flight response may lead to a desire to retreat or avoid further confrontation.
The freeze response can cause a temporary paralysis or an inability to react effectively.

These reactions vary from person to person and can be influenced by factors such as experience, training, and individual temperament.

Image from NICABM

These physiological responses are not indicative of weakness or failure. They are automatic, ingrained survival mechanisms that have served our ancestors throughout evolution. Understanding the fight, flight, or freeze response can help fighters contextualize their reactions and develop strategies to manage them effectively.

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Before we get into some techniques in dealing with the response, it’s important to approach the matter with compassionate approach towards yourself. It’s essential to avoid dwelling on past negative experiences – this can exacerbate the unwanted response. Instead, focus on self-compassion and personal growth.

By acknowledging that setbacks are a natural part of the journey, fighters can cultivate resilience and bounce back stronger than before. As natural as it is to experience the fight, flight, or freeze response in Muay Thai, it’s equally natural to tap into your innate resilience as a human being.

Techniques for Calming the Response and Restoring Presence

Anxiety and the fight, flight, or freeze response share a significant overlap in their physiological and psychological manifestations. This connection explains why many techniques used to calm anxiety can be effective in managing the response triggered by getting hit in Muay Thai. By understanding this relationship, fighters can employ practical strategies to regain control over their body and mind, promoting a sense of calmness and presence.

Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep, slow breaths activate the body’s relaxation response, helping to counteract the rapid breathing associated with anxiety. Focus on inhaling deeply through the nose, allowing the breath to fill your diaphragm, and exhaling slowly through the mouth.

Huberman Lab shares some breathing techniques that people can do anywhere to immediately calm themselves down immediately. The “physiological sigh” should be of particular importance to those in Muay Thai.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Engaging in mindfulness practices and meditation can cultivate a state of present-moment awareness, redirecting attention away from anxious thoughts and promoting a sense of calmness. Incorporate mindfulness techniques into your training routine to enhance mental clarity and emotional resilience.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This technique involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups to promote physical and mental relaxation. By consciously releasing tension from the body, fighters can alleviate the physical manifestations of anxiety and promote a more grounded state. This can be used in conjunction with the visualization.

Visual Imagery (Visualization)

Utilize visualization techniques to create mental images of successful performances and positive outcomes. Play scenarios in your head of you getting hit. Take in all your senses – as this scenario is playing, how tense are your muscles? How fast is your breathing? What are you thinking of? Where is your focus? Rehearse your response, the response you want to achieve to overcome this. Rinse and repeat.

Visualization Archives – NCSA

Cognitive Restructuring

Challenge and reframe negative thoughts associated with the fear of getting hit hard. Replace self-doubt and negative expectations with realistic and positive affirmations. By reshaping your mindset, you can reduce anxiety and enhance performance. Some examples include:

  • Replace “I can’t handle getting hit” with more empowering and realistic affirmations such as “I am strong and resilient. I can handle anything that comes my way because I practiced.”
  • Replace “If I get hit hard, it means I’m a failure” with “Getting hit hard is a chance for me to learn, adapt, and improve my skills.”

Pre-Fight Routine

Establish a consistent pre-fight routine that includes relaxation exercises, visualization, and calming rituals. This routine can help create a sense of familiarity and confidence, reducing anxiety and optimizing performance.

Moving Forward

Other methods you can take in addition to what was mentioned above to help you change your fight, flight, freeze response:

  • Seeking support. Surround yourself with a supportive network of coaches, training partners, and mentors who understand the challenges of the sport. Share your feelings and concerns with them, and seek their guidance and advice. Their support and perspective can provide valuable insights and help you regain confidence.
  • See a professional. Sport psychologists are trained with help you through these type of things! If you feel like it’s hard to do on your own without structured guidance, it would benefit you to see one.

Muay Thai is not just a physical battle; it’s a journey of self-discovery, growth, and resilience. Each experience, whether positive or challenging, contributes to your development as a fighter and as an individual. It’s through facing adversity and conquering fear that you discover the depth of your inner strength.

If you want an in-depth guide to training in Thailand, I’ve got just the thing.

Fighter, social media manager, content creator and writer. Currently training and fighting full time in Bangkok. Originally from NYC.

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