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Managing fear and anxiety

Posted by in Blog on February 8, 2020

A martial arts newsletter is an odd place to discuss the coronavirus. However, people’s response to the Singapore Government raising its alert level to Dorscon Orange shows that many people lack the skills to manage their anxiety and sense of panic. These are skills we routinely train in our Ninjutsu classes as self-defense requires the ability to make good decisions under pressure.

“Control your emotions or they will control you,” is a famous and important Samurai maxim.

The surest sign that people‚Äôs emotions are controlling them and that they have gone into panic mode is the long queues in supermarkets as people rush to hoard staples. This is a perfect example of panic causing people to make irrational and bad decisions. Hoarding is irrational because it creates the very problem that people fear. People fear there will be a shortage of goods so they rush and stockpile them, and this is the very act that creates the shortage. It’s an example of panic causing people to make bad decisions.

It is easy to criticize hoarders as selfish and ill-educated (and the behaviour certainly is both those things) but the truth is that these people are slaves to their physiology and they lack the skills to free themselves from it.

Physiologically, when faced with danger, the body’s fight, flight or freeze mechanism kicks in, the body is flushed with adrenaline and other hormones that prime the body to fight or flee. This hormonal response comes from deep in the reptilian parts of our brain (more accurately the autonomic, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems) and it overrides our prefrontal cortex’s critical thinking faculties. In short, it makes you fast, strong and stupid. This is what prompts people who do not get a flu shot into hoarding and being too scared to go out because of their fear of the coronavirus, even though the flu infects and kills far more people. The difference is just that people have gotten used to the flu being part of their world so it does not trigger panic.

Dealing with the fight, flight or freeze response and managing our emotions in the face of pressure is a skill than can be learned and trained. A self-defense situation is high pressure one that unfolds in real time. Being able to cope with the ensuing stress, panic and anxiety leaves you with the skills to manage your emotions and make far better decisions when faced with fears in other parts of your life (such as the coronavirus).

Our class sizes have not dropped at all despite the virus fears as our students have learned how not let fear drive their decisions and they know that our classes of 10-12 screened people hardly constitute a large gathering. They have learned the difference between vigilance and panic. They are in control.

The choice is yours whether you wish to live your life in a state of panic and fear or in a state of enlightened freedom, just like the ninja and samurai warriors, whose arts we can teach you.

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