The Problem with Fear

At East Texas Krav Maga we teach students to defend themselves. We often find what brought those students to our door is fear. They know deep down inside we live in a violent society where bad people do bad things. As we work with them toward their goals, we often uncover other fears that have to do with their relationships, their jobs, their past.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are better able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”

That’s what we do in class and that’s the goal of this series. We want to look fear in the face, to rip off the mask and to find how to keep it from crippling us no matter when it rears its ugly head. Let’s clarify what, exactly we mean when we say fear.

Fear vs. Anxiety

When we say fear, we’re talking about is the body’s reaction when you’re actually in danger. Here’s the difference between anxiety and fear:

  • Anxiety – This feeling creates unpleasant sensations of nervousness, apprehension or foreboding. It’s like worry. You don’t know if the bad thing is going to happen, but you are uneasy because it might.
  • Fear – You experience the body’s fight or flight response to a perceived imminent threat. You’re actually in danger.

Both anxiety and fear have helped the human race survive. They’re both powerful, motivating emotions. They can also create problems.

Your Body on Fear

When you perceive danger, a chain reaction happens in your body, catapulting you into fight or flight mode. In the brain, your thalamus receives the danger signal and passes the red alert on to your hypothalamus. At that point your adrenal glands dump adrenaline into your body and blood rushes to your muscles so you’re ready to either fight or run away.

The whole thing happens almost instantaneously. Once it starts, you can’t stop your body’s reaction. Here’s what you experience:

  • Pupils dilate as your body prepares itself to be watchful for an escape. You may experience tunnel vision.
  • Your heart rate and breathing accelerate.
  • Your body feels shaky and you may tremble. Blood flow to muscles may make you feel tense.
  • Your skin becomes flushed or pale.
  • You begin to sweat so perspiration can cool you during exertion.
  • Salivation and digestion shuts down. Your mouth feels dry and your stomach feels like a stone.
  • You may lose control of your bladder or bowels.

After the threat is over, the body starts trying to get back to normal. If you fought or ran away you may feel exhausted from burning all that adrenaline. If the threat was psychological, you might feel restless and jumpy because it’s still in your system.

The fight or flight response is supposed to help you either defend yourself or get away. It’s very primal. The focus isn’t to use logic, so you can’t rely on your reasoning skills to help you when you’re in danger.

When Fear Can Kill

American Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman is a psychology professor at West Point and former Army Ranger. His book On Combat is a must-read. Grossman uses a color-coded graph to explain what happens to your heart rate when you experience fear and how that impacts the rest of your body.

 

Heart Rate – beats per min.Body ConditionWhat You Feel
60-85WhiteMost people’s normal heart rate at rest.
90-110YellowFine motor skills Reduce
115-145RedComplex motor skills Reduce
145-175GrayTunnel Vision

Auditory Exclusion

Loss of Cognitive Function

175 or higherBlackFight and Flight

Freezing

Irrational Thoughts

Submissive Behaviour

Loss of bowel/bladder function

 

Note this reaction has to do with perceived danger. When you run a 5k, your heart rate stays up for as long as it takes you to reach the finish line and you’re still able to compile your grocery list and remember where you put your car keys. The fight or flight response isn’t triggered.

However, when someone puts a knife to your throat, how you respond could save or end your life. If you can’t rely on your reasoning or your fine motor skills, what can you do?

In the rest of this series we’ll talk about the difference between good fear and bad fear, how to use your fears to prepare for the worst and why principle based training is the best way to prepare your body to respond in ways that can save your life. Between now and then, why not try a free class at Krav Maga? Here’s a link.

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