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  • Writer's pictureMikey

Controlling Your Fear

Fear has positive and negative impacts on performance. It is programmed into your nervous system and gives you the survival instincts you need to keep yourself safe from danger. Not only is adrenaline released when you feel fear but other chemicals as well, such as dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin. There's a good reason for that: serotonin, in particular, helps your brain to work more efficiently. This hyperarousal state allows humans to perform at a high level for short periods of time.

Fear becomes hazardous when it makes you more cautious than really needed to be to stay safe, and when it prevents you from doing things you would otherwise enjoy. Fear is hazardous due to the rapid onset of fatigue, and then that exhaustion carries over into decision making and performance. Prolonged fear has negative impacts on the cardiovascular system, and kidney function just to name a few.

Fear is normal and is an important aspect of life. But often times, fear is confused with performance anxiety.

"Emotions broadly motivate our actions for life-saving (danger) and life-promoting (survival) situations. Too much or little of emotion can cause us problems. Not enough and we may fail to pay attention to storm clouds on the horizon or plan a trip to the grocery store. Too much and we may freeze when we are attacked or over indulge when our team wins the big game. There are also times where some of us have to train to counter a basic emotional response, like how to focus on life saving skills in a time of crisis when everyone else is in a panic. Good training is good emotion regulation."

- Deane Aikins, PhD Associate Professor Wayne State University School of Medicine

Performance Anxiety Versus Fear

What is Fear? Fear is a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. It involves a universal biochemical response as well as a high individual emotional response. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological.

Sometimes fear stems from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers. Fear can also be a symptom of some mental health conditions including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is Performamance Anxiety? The signs ofperformance anxiety in sportsare when you are anxious, nervous, forgetful, or too tight to perform freely in competition. Your fear of embarrassment of worry about losing causes the tension. My view is thatperformance anxietyforathletescomes from an underlying fear of failure.

Typically, we see new students taking a shooting class are fearful and in their head. Some are scared because they’re publically holding a weapon for the first time. But, more over new students are questioning, "What if I screw up and embarrass myself? This scenario is a classic case of performance anxiety.

Occasionally, some students are afraid another student will violate a safety rule and injure them. 

That scenario is an example of fear.

Both of those scenarios are normal and natural reactions to using firearms in a public. These fears and anxieties tend to dissipate once a student realizes that the instructor is a professional who puts students’ safety first. Our instructors encourage students of all skill levels with patience and positive reinforcement.

If at anytime, your instructor or instructors don’t meet that safety standard, if you feel your safety is compromised, act on your rational fear and remove yourself from the class immediately.

Students demontrate compentency through our dry practie portion of every range. Range University students realize they aren’t going to die, kill anyone and/or make a fool of themselves.

But, having stress/fear has a positive impact on learning. Researchers have shown that low and medium levels of the stress hormone, called cortisol, improve learning learning and enhance memory, whereas high levels of the stress hormone have a bad effect on learning and memory. Our courses do not induce a high level of stress which degrade performance and learning.



This sounds pretty self explanatory, but often times that isn't the case. Ask questions about what is causing you to be fearful. Identification of the fear is the first step. Once your fear is labeled you can proceed to the next step.


Fill in the information gaps to keep your mind from inappropriately from filling in the blanks. Getting answers will allow you to better process the fear. Understanding if it is rationale or irrational to be fearful.


How big of a deal, really, is the thing you’re afraid of? We sometimes get so caught up in the success or failure of a particular quest that we lose sense of where it fits in with everything else we value. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen? Sometimes the reality is bad, but often you might find that the fear itself is worse than whatever it is you’re afraid of happening.


The long standing top fear in the United States is public speaking. In many surveys, death itself ranks in second place to standing in front of a group and opening your mouth. If your fear is related to your performance then prepare, practice, and rehearse. Find a reputable source of information regarding the area in which you struggle and focus on developing confidence in that area.


Athletes may imagine the successful completion of a physical task thousands of times before achieving it. This mental mapping ensures that when the body moves, it’s more likely to follow its pre-ordained path. The same practice will prepare you to succeed at whatever you’re trying to achieve


Positive mental attitudeis the philosophy that having an optimistic disposition in every situation in one's life attractspositivechanges and increases achievement. Adherents employ a state of mind that continues to seek, find and execute ways to win, or find a desirable outcome, regardless of the circumstances.


ACT! Face your fear! Stay focused and take one step at a time.

Range University would like to thank, Dr. Deane Aikins, PhD Associate Professor Wayne State University School of Medicine, whom contributed to this post without compensation.

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1 Comment

Luis Alarcon
Luis Alarcon
Nov 04, 2020

Good read. One thing I've noticed at my job (which I won't name, for my job's sake) is that when we get students coming through the rifle phase I'm assigned to, they oft-times make comments about how my cadre is so 'relaxed and eager to have fun". They make their stop after completing the pistol phase, where safety, safety, SAFETY!!!! is over-driven and over-enforced. Sure, I get it. Many of our shooters are new & inexperienced. However, when they come to us & say things like, "We were so scared to screw up during the last phase, that it made it hard to even qualify," or, "All they did was yell at us every time we made a mistake," it…

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