Some disjointed thoughts on fear:
Dealing with fear, terror and trepidation, all the little variations on an emotional reaction to a bad thing is more complex than I would like it to be. Trying to explain to K the other day that I haven't felt real fear (if you define fear as the monkey in your brain screaming, "Oh my god we're all gonna die!!!!") in a long time. It's more trepidation- something else, definitely not a monkey and not screaming- giving a long suffering sigh and saying, "This is not going to end well." And then you get to work.
Here's the question- is there really a difference and if so, where did it come from?
Little background. I'm a believer in the James-Lange theory of emotion, which states roughly that we make up the emotions after the fact. Not:
1) See the bear
2) Get scared
1) See the bear
3) Realize that you were scared
There are a lot of subtly different flavors, but there are only a handful of basic hormone cocktails that your body dumps into your bloodstream in times of stress. Your palms sweat, your knees shake, you forget to breathe, there's a rushing sound in your ears... If you just saw a bear, you know you were afraid. If you just saw a beautiful stranger, the same symptoms can seem like love at first sight, or at least infatuation*. The emotion, in the sense of the label, how we explain it to ourselves, comes well after the chemical reaction.
So, when people talk about dealing with fear, dealing with adrenaline, what are the tools? What are we really talking about? The chemical or the label?
There was a long space where I was almost completely burned out. Getting trapped upside down in a kayak in icy water was annoying. Good odds I was going to die and pretty sure it would be an embarrassing way to die, but the hormone cocktail trickling into my veins really didn't rise to the level of fear.
That's different, though. It wasn't some trained skill or even being inured, there was a physical issue- my body wasn't producing a normal dose of adrenaline. It allowed me to think more clearly, which worked out fine. But it wasn't a good thing. Not healthy at all. Plus most of my hobbies quit being fun.
Normal times, I still feel the symptoms, if I have time. If I know things are going to go bad, there's a little burning sensation in the back of my head and it feels like my ears are trying to stand up like an alert dog. Sometimes the palms get sweaty. My voice doesn't get squeaky like it used to (except for the first few seconds public speaking). I haven't got the shakes, even a finger tremor, in years. It doesn't feel as intense as when I was a rookie, but how do you tell if there is less adrenaline in your system of if the level of adrenaline just doesn't seem unusual? Do I not get the shakes because my body doesn't want to, or because I have more practice controlling it? Is there a difference? Functionally, maybe not, but if there is a difference in mechanism it means different ways to achieve the condition (assuming you would want to.)
Emotionally, what adrenaline there is, doesn't feel like it used to. It used to be heavily based on a fear of injury or death or (and this is huge, but almost never explicitly stated) helplessness or impotence: If I hit this guy with everything I have and nothing happens; if he destroys me without breaking a sweat like I am nothing, then what am I? What did all this training or working out really mean? It's a very sub-surface thought and very, very common. Most of the fear in a fight, especially a one-on-one, is social, not physical. Subconsciously, I think that this fear drives a lot of training and gear collecting and other types of macho posturing. (Not all training is macho posturing, but whether it is or not depends on the student, not the training.)
That social fear of helplessness doesn't seem to enter into it much anymore. If I think about the hormones beyond just noticing them hit my system, it usually translates as performance anxiety- what if I look stupid to the officers I have been teaching? It's less personal, less about my health or identity and far more about their faith in my teaching.
One piece of that is huge- 'just notice the hormones'. There really isn't any need to label them. Most of the time I don't, and that seems to work fine. How much of the cognitive deficit in stress situations is because the human monkey is trying to come to terms with an emotional state instead of just feeling it and moving on?
* And you can reliably trigger this in another person, consciously inducing the feeling that often gets translated as 'romantic love.'