Mastering Fear

Panic and uncertainty trigger a cascade of neurological signals. Understand how they work and you can harness fear to improve your confidence—and your odds of making it home unscathed.

All the logical and rational decisions are taken in our prefrontal cortex. When the fear takes upon us, our sympathetic nervous system takes the whole control upon prefrontal cortex.

Biology explanation of Fight/Flight

This biological system—governed by the amygdala, hypothalamus, and other tiny glands in the back of your skull—houses your fight or flight response. These tiny glands form the human mind’s most ancient autopilot. Once engaged, they take over from your prefrontal cortex (the large zone at the front of your brain that handles planning and rational thinking) and urge your body into fast, impulsive action. That kind of reckless speed was useful for primitive humans; our ancestors needed to face down predators without stopping to analyze the situation. But for modern wilderness survival, a more strategic endeavor, indulging your basic reactions can spell disaster. In doing so, you willfully surrender your best asset: your brain.

How’s Body Experience?

The initial kick you feel is the adrenaline. Energy floods through your body. You can actually taste it—as a metallic tinge on your tongue’s edges—and feel the hot blood pumping into your arms and legs, prepping your muscles for action. Your pupils dilate. Your breathing and heart rate speed up, sweat beads under your arms; your body is getting ready to run. You feel like you could either sprint a marathon or throw up. And your mind is reeling, a cocktail of stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol— kicking your thoughts into overdrive. Now, just after this initial chemical surge, is your chance to act either for fight/flight.

Harness Fear without Panicking

The good news? There are a number of techniques you can use to quickly bring your panic response under control. And the more you practice those techniques in everyday life—say, when you’re told bad news at work or run into an unexpected traffic delay—the more they’ll become second nature when you need them most. Remember: Fear is healthy. It keeps you focused and motivated. The trick to unlocking a survival mindset is learning how to harness that fear without giving in to panic. When you make the conscious choice to do so over and over—to stay calm and keep working on a solution— you’re building resilience. You’re building willpower.

The Zen of SURVIVAL

Use these five strategies to quickly override your panic response and keep a clear head.

#1st—Sit Still: The minute you realize something’s gone wrong, sit down. Drink water and eat a snack; when you’re fueled and hydrated, you’re less likely to make impulsive decisions.

#2nd—Rest Your Gaze: Darting eyes overwhelm your brain with visual stimuli. Take a full minute to focus on looking at a single point instead.

#3rd–Breathe Deeply: Your brain associates fear with fast, shallow breaths. You can trick it into calming down by doing the reverse: Breathe deeply, and focus on making your exhalations longer and slower than your inhalations.

#4th—Chin Up: Likewise, your brain signals insecurity with tense muscles, rounded shoulders, and a crouched posture. Channel confidence by sitting or standing up straight, lifting your chin, and relaxing your facial muscles.

#5th—Get Grounded: Notice your environment. Try to pick out three sounds, three sights, and three smells. This is a calming exercise, and it improves your awareness of your surroundings. That way, when you’re ready to act, you’ll know where to start.

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