Thought you may appreciate an extract from an article of mine on the topic of fear and the fight or flight response. Sorry it is long but the full article is 8 pages with more to add before its published.Hope you enjoy
Fear and Fight or Flight.
It’s important to recognise that what you are feeling is not fear; it is simply your body’s preparation to respond to a threat or danger. Fear is often associated with the sensations of Flight and Fight, but fear only plays an initial role in the triggering of the response. It actually comes into play beyond the initial stimulus. The stimulus must first be observed before it is interpreted as dangerous, fear acts as a warning mechanism with in this interpretation phase. Simply put Fear is our measure of danger and threat. The things that produce the greatest fears in us are the ones that pose the greatest threat. This should not be confused with Phobias, which are irrational fears of specific stimuli and poses a whole topic in itself.
Fear is often seen as a negative phenomenon, and in the case of phobias it generally is, but really fear is much more of a positive experience. It acts as our built in “stupid prevention mechanism”, that is, it stops us doing stupid and dangerous things. When we do over ride this mechanism and do things that are risky, then fear heightens our awareness of the danger and thus enables us to counter that danger. Fear is actually very empowering, the bodies response to fear, the fight and flight response, prepares your body for action, in fact action that is faster and stronger then usual, as mentioned earlier your body is like it is super charged.
The danger is not in the fear itself, but in the refusal to accept that fear. Apathy and denial, “this is not happening” or “why is this happening to me”, results in the person being over fixated on the fear itself instead of dealing with the cause of the fear. It results in the freeze syndrome, and is a major cause of failure for martial artists (and non-martial artists) in real violence. It’s not the lack of skill or ability that that fails us when real world violence presents itself, The street thug isn’t better then the martial artist, the martial artist is just not prepared for that level of intensity of fight or flight, they read this as fear and become fixated on it. The fight or flight felt in the dojo or the ring is not nearly as intense as it is when there is a real risk of losing your life.
Can you control fight or flight response?
You can’t control the actual response as such, once triggered it is automatic. The control comes at the interpretation point of the process. In most cases fear is the determining factor for the intensity of the response, the greater the fear the greater the response. A related factor is the perceived level of threat, the greater the level of threat the greater the fear associated to it. You can’t control the response process but you do have a say over the intensity. The key is to control the fear.
You overcome this fear the same way as you would with any fear or phobia; you face it. You become accustomed to it. When you become familiar with the cause of the fear you eventually your fear of it is reduced. Practice makes perfect, practice dealing with fear and you become better at dealing with it. I’m not suggesting you go out and seek street fights or muggings. Instead utilise, Adrenal stress familiarisation into your training see below.
Confidence is one of the main factors in overcoming fear. Your level of confidence in dealing with a threat will influence your perceived fear of that threat. The more confidence you have in successfully handling the danger the less you fear that danger. A simple way of building confidence is via familiarisation. The more exposure you have to a stimulus the more confident you become at facing it. Familiarity brings about confidence through reinforcement. It is important to focus on success in handling the threat and not fail. It is the continued success or improvement towards success that truly brings confidence and reduces the fear of the stimulus.
Lets look at the some common treatments for phobias, the principles of which can be assimilated into self-protection training. There are, of course, a number of different psychological treatments available for phobias; here we are going to concentrate on exposure therapies as they relate directly to what we have just been talking about. We will use arachnephobia or the fear of spiders as an analogy.
Exposure Therapy is a phobia treatment involving the exposure to the phobic stimulus in a safe and controlled setting. One method of exposure treatment is via “Flooding”. Flooding is where the person is immersed in the fear reflex until the fear itself fades away. The person is literally flooded with the stimulus, to a point where the subject becomes accustomed to the stimulus and the resulting fear. Many adrenal stress familiarisation drills utilize flooding Senshido’s “Emotional Invocation Drill” is a great example and Geoff Thompson’s Infamous “Animal Days” involve a great deal of flooding type experiences.
Similar to flooding but undertaken in a progressive step –by-step fashion is “Systematic Desensitization”. Here the subject is exposed to the stimulus in increasing degrees. The treatment for arachnophobia (fear of spiders) frequently involves Systematic Desensitization. Typically the person will be exposed only slightly to the stimulus, they may just look at a photo of a spider. The next step is to look at a plastic spider and then handle the plastic spider. Next they may observe a real but dead spider and then touch the dead spider. Next they will observe a live spider at a distance and behind a class shield and then without the shield and so on until eventually they are able to physically handle a real live spider. This approach can easily be adopted in self–protection training by exposing the student to increasingly “realistic” scenarios including more and more variables, greater contact more aggression and so on. This approach is often used by Martial arts clubs for sparing; lower grades start with no or little contact increasing the level of contact belt by belt or step by step until they are able to properly spar full or near full contact.
The benefits of increasing the level of familiarisation of a fearful stimulus gradually are pretty obvious, but the real benefit of the therapy is derived from the inclusion of “Counter-Conditioning”. Here the subject is encouraged to substitute another response for the fear response when exposed to the phobic stimulus. Relaxation is often a substitute as it is incompatible with feeling fearful or anxious. By consciously relaxing and controlling your breathing (deep, controlled breath facilitates relaxation) when exposed to the stimulus you effectively counter the intensity of its fear-induced effect. Fight and flight will probably still be invoked, but because you train yourself to relax the fear is perceived as less stressful and thus the fight and flight response operates at a lower intensity.
It doesn’t have to be relaxation that is used as the substitute; you can train yourself to react in any particular way when in the presence of the stimulus. You could, for example, train yourself to automatically raise your hands etc
Again I hope that is of use to someone.