COLUMBIA, S.C. — Halloween is this week and while we often think of treats like costumes and candy, another part of the holiday includes tricks including, haunted houses, scary movies, black cats, creepy clowns, spiders and dark ally’s things that when combined can be scary and freaky.
The reality is everyone can get scared, fear is unavoidable and a survival mechanism for all humans. As far as evolution is concerned, fear is ancient. We can thank our ancestors for the gift of fear.
What happens when you're scared?
When we get scared our bodies and senses feel some sort of potential threat. Our body then activates a chemical and hormone reaction releasing adrenaline causing the “fight or flight” response. Priming the body with the blood, energy and focus it requires to freezing us in our tracks, to battle for our lives or to escape as quickly as possible. Any creature that doesn't run and hide from dangerous situations or bigger animals is more likely to be removed from the gene pool before it's given the chance to procreate.
Human brains process and respond to fear differently from other animals. People can process that fear and tamp it down once they consciously understand that they are not really in danger.
In fact, many people enjoy creating the thrill of fear because once the fight or flight signal stops the brain releases endorphins causing what some doctors say is “rest and digest.” Heart rate and breathing slows and goosebumps relax. Basically, the chemical reaction following the fear is like an opioid like sense of Euphoria.
Can fear be healthy?
We all have fears from time to time. That's true no matter how big we are or brave we can be. Fear can even be good for you sometimes and even help you stay healthy. Fear of getting too close to a campfire may save you from a bad burn. And fear of getting a bad grade on a test might make you study more.
According to some psychologist’s fear can also give us a sense of closeness with others, like when you take your date to a scary movie. While that can lead to positive results, sometimes those chemical and hormonal reactions can put extra strain on the heart. It can be especially damaging to people with preexisting medical conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease or those who are unaware they may have a heart condition.
The scary Halloween bottom line, the fear response is primal. It has kept us alive for centuries, can inspire us to enjoy the ghostly holiday spirit. However, it can be unpleasant for some people. If you don’t prefer terror or surprises and rather avoid those stress causing side effects, try taking slow deep breaths or opt out of the haunted house and horror movies all together.
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