Your question: Why do you get scared when you’re about to fight?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this article, I will explain why you may experience fear or anxiety in fight situations, either physical or verbal, exploring the origin of fear and the fight or flight response, as well as some strategies to calm this fear.

Discussions are necessary in your daily lives. Whether you want to or not, you are going to have confrontations with people because of your different points of view. The fear of fighting is common, because people naturally fear that your integrity will be violated, physically or emotionally. Therefore, arguments can be frightening and trigger deep fear and anxiety for many people. Fights themselves are stressful because whether physical or not they involve a risk that you must take. Fear of fighting is also related to fear of death and illness, feeling that you will be physically harmed.

Understanding your “Fight or Flight” response

The origin of fear in general is in the amygdala. The amygdala is a complex organ, composed of at least 13 different subnuclei that have different functions, but are generally related to the management of emotions, the fear response and the release of cortisol (known as the stress hormone) (1).

In your brain, when the amygdala detects a stimulus that seems threatening and could cause you physical or moral harm, it sends physical and emotional signals to your body that cause what you know as fear. People act differently to fear, and there is a process called fight or flight that exemplifies your typical reactions to a frightening situation.

The fight or flight response implies that in the presence of a fear or anxiety generating stimulus, you will react in two possible ways. The person can fight, that is to say, confront the frightening stimulus, filling his body with adrenaline to act. Have you heard stories of people who, in the face of a mugging, rush at the attacker or who, in an argument, get up the courage to tell someone everything they have in store? That is the fight response.

In the flight response, the person avoids the intimidating stimulus by passivity, physically fleeing the scene or becoming paralyzed both physically and emotionally. In the case of the assailant or a verbal argument, the flight response causes you to run away or to remain absolutely silent, holding your words.

How can you avoid being afraid of fights?

Understand that there are no “wrong” reactions to fear in general. If you are reading this, it is possible that you feel frustrated and “cowardly” for not facing fights of any kind. I would like you to understand that your fear is normal and common, and does not represent a negative characteristic of you. However, if it causes you significant discomfort, it is necessary to change things to improve your condition. To cope with the intense fear associated with fighting, some strategies are:

Martial arts

If your fear is related to physical fights, a valuable strategy is to enroll in martial arts or karate groups. These spaces, when guided by a professional, work individually and collectively on the fear associated with fighting. The professionals of these fighting spaces know that the mind has a close relationship with the body, so they will provide you with adequate techniques to control your fear of fighting, in addition to allowing socialization in a new space that will reduce your feeling of anxiety, shame and alienation related to the fear of fighting (2).

Relaxation and breathing

Fear in general is an emotion that destabilizes your body, therefore, it is your responsibility to implement strategies that make you feel more relieved when the fear overflows. Relaxation and breathing techniques are very useful when the feeling of fear invades your body. Maybe before a fight of any kind you start to feel your heart racing, your palms sweat and your limbs go numb.

You begin to imagine a myriad of catastrophic scenarios. Whether you are alone or in public, relaxation allows you to relieve these symptoms. You should close your eyes and inhale and exhale in 3-second intervals. In the meantime, repeat in your mind key phrases that generate motivation and pride. “You got this”, “you have prepared for this moment”, “you are capable of doing it”, to mention a few examples.

Reinforce your self-esteem

Much of the fear of fighting is related to the fear of failure and humiliation. You must first reconcile yourself to the idea that you will not win every fight and argument you face. You must accept yourself as a fallible human being, who is not defined by his victories and defeats but by the effort he constantly makes to improve. Also, you must work on your self-confidence, reinforcing yourself on a daily basis with confidence-building phrases, avoiding self-critical and humiliating thoughts, and reminding yourself that at the end of the day, you are doing your best.

In my experience…

Cognitive behavioral therapy is extremely useful for treating fears and anxiety in general. In my experience, working with this therapeutic approach allows people to connect with their emotions, fears and traumas, facing them and taking control of the overwhelming situation they are experiencing. My final recommendation would be to go to a professional who will alleviate any remaining doubts and allow you to find the treatment that is right for you.

Remember that you have the ability to improve your psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression you feel hopeless. We can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention in psychological counseling is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. You are already doing something and wanting to change always leads you in the right direction.

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