It is said that bravery is merely the ability of one person to keep his head for five minutes longer than everyone else who has panicked. That "keeping" one's head might be a result of training, luck or just personality, but it can and does make all the difference.
We can counter fear, however. The best method, FBI trainers say, is to get control of your breathing. “Combat breathing” is a simple variant on Lamaze or yoga training—breathe in four counts, hold four counts, exhale four counts, and repeat. It works because breathing is a combination of the somatic (which we control) and the autonomic (which we can’t easily control) nervous systems. Regulation of the autonomic system deescalates the biological-fear response and returns our higher-level brain functions to full capacity. So one of the best ways you can prepare yourself to overcome fear in a crisis is as simple as a meditation, Lamaze, or yoga class.Interesting is the science behind fear and its response.
Fortunately, in many disasters, someone is often biologically and psychologically well-suited for dealing with the chaos. Such people typically are the most likely to survive or to shepherd a docile group of survivors out of a disaster zone. What makes them different? Some have a natural psychological buffer that allows them to bounce back from extreme stress. Examination of people who always perform well in extreme circumstances has shown high levels in the blood of “neuropeptide Y”—a compound that allows one to stay mentally focused under stress. It’s so closely correlated with success in pressure situations that it is almost a biological marker for selection into elite groups for military special operations.
If you’re lucky enough to have someone like this in your group during a disaster, your chances of survival are much better. But even those of us not so disposed can, through training and experience, manufacture a workable degree of self-confidence.