Strengthening our Response to Fear
So is there anything we can do to give our upstairs brain a leg up in this struggle? Indeed in the immediate moment there is a simple technique, but it needs to be practiced. By consciously slowing down your breathing you can physiologically interrupt the amygdala emergency response. Essentially we are trying to override this response. Suggestions on breathing techniques vary, but one method often recommended is to inhale down deep from your stomach for four seconds, hold for one second, then exhale for five seconds. By continuing with this pattern we can help tip the balance in keeping our thinking brain in the game. While operating from the upstairs brain doesn't guarantee we will make the correct threat/risk assessment, it certainly can help us make decisions on a more rational and empirical basis.
As is hopefully becoming apparent, the answer to the question posed is complex. Essentially most people have to struggle to assess a situation on the presenting facts alone. These facts get colored by our own history, often unconscious, and can have a profound effect on how these facts are interpreted. Developing an awareness of your own likely fear triggers can go a long way toward making good upstairs decisions. It is also very helpful for people to develop situational awareness for their travel locations. Are there known risks? Especially if someone is going to a higher risk environment, consider getting a briefing of current security conditions. Talking with locals is often helpful to get a sense of what is actually worth being cautious of and fearful about. This will allow your upstairs brain to prepare to recognize situations as they develop and hopefully rehearse more appropriate responses.
What are your fear triggers? How can you increase awareness for your context? What information do you still need in order to accurately assess risk?
for a video of Don explaining a breathing technique, click here.