A Short Anatomy of Fear

Written by Paula. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

Black Belt Grading Project 2013

Paula Clarke

A Short Anatomy of Fear


When considering self-defence we consider and accept the reality that somebody out there wishes to cause you harm whether it be physical or mental.  Accepting this reality may be the first step in dealing with whatever harm comes your way but understanding that a natural human reaction to a harmful situation is to fear it and then we can deal with how that fear will affect our mind and body and affect how we conduct ourselves and the situation.


Because of this I felt that it was an important aspect to look at when looking at the bigger picture of self-defence and protection as surely to protect ourselves we must first arm ourselves with as much knowledge as we can.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of fear is;


  • an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm:


An unpleasant emotion? What does that actually do to our bodies?

Fear is one of our natural survival instincts/responses that kick in when we are faced with real or implied danger or threat and the reaction to this impulse is the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism it is a reaction that has been around since the beginning of time and is designed to keep us safe.


Imagine a caveman faced with his very first sabre tooth tiger what should he do? Run away as fast as he can (Flight) or stand tall use the primitive weapons that he has to defend himself (fight) or do nothing and be eaten? One of the first two could arguably save his life.


“DANGER IS REAL FEAR IS A CHOICE” (Cypher Raige – After Earth)


Fear itself is a chemical reaction that happens in our brain it starts with a stressful stimulus that ends with the release of chemicals into the brain that cause a variety of responses.


The Brain


If we start with the brain, there are five main aspects of the brain involved in a fear response, these parts of the brain involved in sending these stimuli to the rest of the body are;


Thalumus                 –          this is the part of your brain that decides where to send incoming sensory data i.e what you see, hear, feel


Sensory cortex       –          this interprets the sensory data


Hippocampus         –          this stores and receives conscious memories


Amygdala                –          this decodes emotions and determines possible threat


Hypothalamus       –         this is the part of the brain that activates the fight or flight response.




Parts of the Brain 

The Brain's response to fear, fear and the brain, what does your brain do when it's afraid, fear is the mindkiller


Once the brain has begun the fear process it sends out signals that the body will follow, These reactions all occur because your body is preparing to respond to an emergency, it increases the blood flow to your muscles, increase your blood sugar to give you a burst of energy and can solely focus your mind on the one thing that is scaring you.


In the face of an unprovoked attack that one thing that is initiating the fear is  the person that is attacking you and the situation that you find yourself in. This could be focused on the weapon aimed at you i.e a knife or the prospect of what may happen to you. In my opinion the most important part of all the above mentioned stimuli and processes, in the face of danger from an attacker is the Hypothalamus and whether your body can produce the correct fight or flight stimulus.

To produce the fight or flight stimulus the hypothalamus activates two systems;

The sympathetic nervous system – this uses the bodies nerve pathways to initiate a reaction by the body

The adrenal-cortical system – this uses the bloodstream for a similar effect.

The overall effect of the two should be that your body speeds up, tenses up and becomes very alert ready to take action, and fast, impulses are sent out which trigger a release of adrenaline into the bloodstream which increase the heart rate.



Possible Body reactions to fear


The Body's response to Fear, Fear and the body, Physical symptons of fear, scared




Most behavioural therapists will conclude that to overcome a fear you must face it by continually exposure to the thing that scares you, however when it comes to being attacked there is not a quick fix method of exposure to fix the fear, it is an unpredictable situation, however you can practice forms of self-defence which over time will condition you to react quickly in a certain way when attacked and not to freeze and panic with the unpredictability of an attack, using the hippocampus section  of our brain to retrieve the memories of how to defend ourselves perhaps


In some case it may be entirely correct to take the flight option and run as fast as you can away from the threat posed to you, which may be the correct reaction when faced with a weapon of some description, but more than likely at some point you will have to initiate the ‘fight’ stimulus and fend off said attacker.


Is the fear of violence a genuine one?


A gallup poll conducted in 2005 revealed the most common fear of teenagers in the united states, the list of top ten fears was as follows;


1 Terrorist attacks

2 Spiders

3 Death

4 Failure

5 War

6 Heights

7 Crime / violence

8 Being alone

9 The future

10 Nuclear War


The poll also concluded that most of these fears were continued into adulthood but that some can be very individual for example those people who lived in a city were much more fearful of muggings/violence than those who live in the countryside.  But does this perception of relative safety outside of cities help people or stop them for seeking the defensive mechanisms that we all need to know?


How do we overcome fear? What can we do to help us to react in the right way?


Learn – learn about the thing that scares you

Train – in ways to overcome the fear repeatedly and continuously so that it becomes reactionary and you have a little knowledge to arm yourself with.



“Forewarned is forearmed” isn’t that what they say ? maybe the best way to deal with fear is to accept that it is a natural part of life and it is there to help us……………………..


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