How to be calm in scary situations?

Decreasing fear can be as simple as the presence of another person.

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Fear is one of the most powerful emotions. It has a powerful effect on your mind and body. Anxiety is common in fear that can last for a short time and then pass. Sometimes, it can last long, affecting you as a trauma. This can hold you back from doing things you want or need to do, and it also affects your health.

Many of the world’s highest achievers could not have reached their level of success without learning how to stay calm in scary situations.

To make it easy for everyone, scientists from the University of Wurzburg have discovered a way that may help you develop and maintain a particular state of psychological readiness.

According to their study, fear and the resulting physiological tension can be reduced by the mere presence of another person, even if this person is stranger and does not provide active support. In simple words, decreasing fear can be as simple as the presence of another person.

Grit Hein, Professor for Translational Social Neuroscience at JMU, said, “The reduced anxiety reaction occurred regardless of whether the unknown person belonged to the same or a different ethnic group. Interestingly, the anxiety-reducing effect was stronger when the subjects perceived the other person as less similar – probably because they then assumed that the other person, unlike themselves, was not afraid.”

During the study, participants experienced aversive and neutral sounds alone (alone treatment) or with an unknown person that was physically present without providing active support. The present person was a member of the participants’ ethnical group or a different ethnical group, inspired by studies that have found an impact of similarity on social modulation effects.

Participant’s physical reactions to these sounds were measured via skin resistance – when anxious, the electrical conductivity of the skin changes. This setting prevented social interaction between the two.

The mere presence of that unknown person significantly reduced skin resistance to the aversive sounds compared with the alone condition, in particular in participants with high situational anxiety. Moreover, the effect was stronger if participants perceived that unknown person as dissimilar to themselves.

Meanwhile, the mere presence of another person was sufficient to diminish autonomic responses to aversive events in humans.

So far, only women have been tested in the presence of women. In follow-up studies, scientists are planning to measure the effects when men with men or men with women are exposed to the uncanny situation in the laboratory.

Professor Hein said, “There are hints from stress research that the gender of the present person could play a role. These findings could be used for the treatment of anxiety disorders.”

The results are published in the Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science.