How Fear Can Be Used to Your Advantage


Fear is essential to survival. Yet it is one of the least accepted human emotions and one of the hardest to master. There are many unpleasant physical reactions to fear that we don’t understand and seem to have no control over. Who hasn’t at one time or another, experienced rubbery legs, cotton mouth, or Olympic caliber sweat glands? Believe it or not, there are ways to modify or prevent the changes that conspire with this emotion and there are advantages to being afraid as well.

First of all let’s examine what is occurring in the body when enveloped in fear. The emotional brain causes great changes in the blood flow throughout our physical structure. A large amount of blood is diverted away from the interior digestive organs where it would not be needed during running, fighting, or simply trembling during a conflict.

Blood is also detoured from the head, neck, face, and brain areas. It is sent instead to the skeletal muscles in the arms, legs, back, chest and belly, which need most of your energy in a crisis. Unfortunately all of this extravagant “gear shifting” results in physiological reactions such as rapid pulse rate, sweating palms, raised blood pressure, rapid breathing and increased muscle tension.

Dealing with these anxiety responses is basically a matter of training. First: RELAX, take a deep breath, unclench your fists, and lower your shoulders. Your blood pressure and breathing will stabilize and your body will be more responsive and move faster and smoother when relaxed.

Another method is to force yourself to concentrate more on your adversaries than your fear of them. At some point you must suspend the fears, prejudices, and mental abstractions that prevent effective response to an opponent’s threat. By penetrating the moment through intense concentration you can attain internal harmony.

A third technique is “systematic desensitization.” this is a time consuming process of desensitizing a person by slowly increasing exposure to their fear through thought transactions or actual encounters. An example: An instructor lets a new student observe a sparring class, then introduces the student to light sparring with lower ranked students, and so forth, making the experience less stressful.

Have you ever noticed how alert and receptive you feel when in a dilemma? Well, this is one way in which fear can actually be advantageous.

Humans are built to become afraid when a situation demands it. This capacity to react automatically to a threat has evolved over eons of trial and error and is one of the qualities that allowed our species to survive.

One way this part of our brain protects us is by causing us to sometimes “freeze” momentarily. When our ancestors were startled by something huge and hairy it was often best just to remain motionless so as to not come to the beast’s attention. Another protective reaction was to run at the first sight of a set of large, sharp teeth and anything connected to it. Our ancestors didn’t analyze the problem, they just ran like crazy.

Best of all our body produces adrenalin, a biochemical a-rouser that prepares our skeletal muscles to consume large amounts of energy –  allowing us to possess seemingly super-human drive and power.

Fear energizes our body and simplifies our thoughts and actions down to the bare essentials for physical survival. If we can avoid danger, our inherited neurophysiology insures that we will run well and fast. If we can aggressively defend ourselves, it assures that we will fight hard and without reservation. It’s as simple as that.