Survival 101 > The Fear Factor: Controling Fear

Fear is THE MOST common emotional response to any sensed stressful or emergency. Its physiological and psychological effects can range from slight anxiety, to overwhelming panic, to cardiac arrest. Recognizing fear and having the capacity to control it will increase the odds of surviving an emergency.

In recent polling of our survival students, we asked participants to identify their greatest fears in an outdoor (wilderness) setting. What we discovered:, we posses common fears, perhaps because of genetic memories of primal times.

The following list is a compilation (I am sure it will not surprise many), of the most prevalent fears found in our poll. **Not in any order.
1. Heights.
2. The dark.
3. The unknown.
4. Death.
5. Loneliness.
6. Suffering/pain.
7. Wild animals (spiders and snakes etc.).
How does fear affect YOU? Our physiological reaction to stress and fear are not necessarily a negative.  These responses are a crucial part of our “fight or flight” mechanism, allowing us to adapt and respond properly to unknown or traumatic circumstance. Understanding how this affects us is key to recognizing and controlling these potentially life threatening reactions.
Impairment of Circulatory and Metabolic System: as learned in the survival “Rule of 3’s”, we can survive 3 minutes without oxygen. This explains the great importance of preserving a healthy circulatory system. Impairment of this function can cause: dilated pupils, dizziness and black-outs, racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, headaches, labored breathing, sweating, tightness in chest and possible cardiac arrest.

Impairment of Rational Thought: clear judgment is essential in managing any type of survival or emergency. Your #1 survival tool is your brain, a lack of the ability to rationalize, improvise and find solutions can be harmful to your survival. Hindered judgment manifests itself in the following ways: Shock, denial, shame, a sense of helplessness, depression, loss of hope, confusion, apprehension, panic, hallucinations, loss of appetite and inability to relax.

Impairment of Motor Skills: the ability to perform simple tasks such as striking a match to operating a signaling device can be severely impaired due to adrenaline release and the effects of the aforementioned impairments above. Both fine and complex movements need a steady hand and a calm mind. As the ability to move is hindered, you will experience: uncontrollable shaking of hands and extremities, inability to focus on the task, loss of “hand-eye” co-ordination.
Dealing with and controlling Stress and Fear: Both stress and fear are a necessary part of our human experience, some believe, throwbacks to our primal days when predators hunted US. Mounting an offense and effectively confronting stress and fear is a valuable technique to learn. While these circumstances will always be present, YOUR ability to control them makes YOU the master of your destiny…..

Methods of controlling fear
  • Be Prepared: accept you could find yourself in an emergency, then prepare mentally, physically and spiritually. Always carry a survival kit which fits your skill level and can meet environmental and seasonal threats.  Receive survival training and keep a positive mental attitude.
  • Be Aware: educate yourself on potential threats, personal weakness, weather patterns, possible animal encounters, environmental (i.e. flash flooding, avalanche etc.) and human hazards.
  • S.T.O.P: S-stop, T-think, O-organize, P-plan, when the crap hits the fan, follow this survival acronym.                                                                                           
  • Focus: once a plan of action has been established, focus to carry out your needed result.  Practice Autogenic Breathing technique to control emotions.
  • P.M.A: A Positive Mental Attitude is crucial to getting home alive!! Having the WILL TO LIVE and HOPE will help you uphold that “UNKNOWN” survival factor. Learn the Survivors Mantra to help develop and preserve a positive mental state.
  • Act: once a plan has been set up, follow through, focus on goals.
Autogenic Breathing…
The largest challenge when confronting FEAR: controlling physiological reactions and “keeping your cool”. As we already discussed, if FEAR is a natural expression of the human being, can we gain control over it?  Is it possible to slow or stop its crippling effects?  Simply…YES!

The following technique is often referred to as Autogenic or Combat Breathing. This technique is often used by law enforcement and military personnel.  It works to slow their heart rates, thus minimizing the hormonal dump and the effects of the “fight or flight” mechanism.  This allows greater situational awareness and emotional control.

Autogenic Breathing is a form of meditation based on the idea of passive concentration: which is, achieving relaxation by not actively working to do so (as in progressive relaxation). As focus is given to each inhale and exhale, oxygen is supplied to the body, the mind is calmed and stress is lessened (in a nutshell).

This breathing technique can be used in any situation which can cause stress: before meetings, public speaking engagements, presentations or any event that would cause an elevated heart rate. 

Autogenic breathing:

  • Breath in for a count of 3
  • Hold breath for a count of 3
  • Breathe out for a count of 3
  • Repeat as needed, until heart rate is under control.

Focus on your breaths – in and out, in and out, and in and out. Pay attention to your inhaling and breathing out. Count your breaths. And breathe naturally through your nose.

*To better understand the possible effects of this technique, try after an intense workout session.  You will notice a dramatically decreased recovery time.

The more you practice this technique, the greater the value and the more effective it becomes.  Once mastered, your ability to control and regulate your body’s physiological response to FEAR will be greatly heightened, giving you the needed EDGE to SURVIVE.



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