Why a Few Scary Tricks This Halloween Can Be a Natural, Healthy Treat
7 minute read
Halloween means candy apples, costumes, trick-or-treating, and of course, big scares. Haunted houses, scary movies, and creepy decorations are everywhere this time of year, and many people can’t get enough of them.
Typically, we avoid things that we are afraid of, and many people enjoy Halloween but prefer to avoid the scary parts. However, they may want to think again, as research has found that exposure to this fear in small doses may actually be good for us.
What We Know About Fear
Fear causes anxiety and triggers a natural stress response within our bodies. The stress response is designed to prepare us physically for fight or flight.
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When we feel scared, the brain triggers the release of norepinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol which act upon the nervous system to prepare your body for action. This can have a few different reactions in your body:
Accelerated heartbeat: The increased adrenaline production causes your heart to beat faster, which can be a problem if you have any cardiovascular health concerns. For the most part, though, this just serves to increase blood flow and keep your muscles ready to flee or fight, deepening on the threat.
Weakness: Because the fear response is designed to promote survival, you may also experience weakness and an inability to move. This is where the phrase “frozen with fear” comes from.
Playing dead essentially is a survival mechanism and may be a reaction to the presence of something scary.
Digestive changes: Stress or fear cause your body to go into overdrive. When your body systems are moving faster than normal, your digestive processes can be disrupted.
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The body also diverts blood away from the digestive system to body parts that need to be ready for action, which can alter your digestive health temporarily.
This fear or stress response is initiated in the presence of actual as well as perceived danger, so Halloween serves as the ultimate trigger. There is literally something scary around every corner. Because of the physical changes in your body, prolonged fear can be dangerous to your health, but the occasional “boo” from behind really is not that bad for you.
The Fun Side of Fear
So long as you don’t have a weak heart or any other serious condition, these smaller scares shouldn’t harm you. In fact, there seems to be some mental health benefits associated with Halloween scares.
The monsters jumping out and the creepy masks appearing behind you do get your heart racing. Despite being scared, there is a small rush associated with fear that prompts us to feel good.
Just think about it: People are usually laughing when they come out of haunted houses. The rush comes from the surge of adrenaline pumped through our bodies.
Designed to give us the push we need to fight or flight, these chemicals create an overall good feeling when the brain realizes there is no true threat. Halloween scares are fun because they are safe and we end up craving that rush of adrenaline.
You really do not have any control over the stress or fear response in your body. Yes, you can put yourself in a situation where you know you will get scared, such as a haunted house, but the physical response is out of your control.
The fun lies in the fact that you control how you think about these scary situations. Because they are associated with safe fun, the physical reaction does not prompt a true fear response mentally.
We also feel a sense of excitement once the fear has passed. By surviving a scary experience and finding enjoyment out of it, we seek this arousal again and again. This is also the reason many daredevils continue to seek death-defying stunts.
While the Halloween scares are not the same as real life threats, the brain still feels accomplishment for surviving and you in turn feel excited. This goes a long way in encouraging self-esteem and positive thinking.
How Fear Can Benefit You
The apprehension associated with worry and anxiety takes your focus away from depressive thoughts and actions. Understanding this helps us to potentially design more effective treatment options for depression.
In addition to helping reduce depression, there are other psychological benefits to fear. Experiencing fear allows you to get in touch with your own vulnerabilities, which is a healthy and mindful practice.
Facing fears and vulnerability allows you to better accept the negative emotions associated with them, which in turn helps you grow and learn to overpower them. The mindfulness aspect of facing fears is therefore beneficial to your mental and emotional health.
The presence of fear also causes physical changes in your brain that promote learning. Any exposure to fear serves as a new learning experience, which allows your brain to learn new ways to accept and process information accordingly.
The brain is continuously looking to change and grow, so switching things up with a little fear every now and then can help develop the neuroplasticity of your brain.
Unlike habits that become wired into our subconscious, new experiences drive our brain to look for more. Just as switching up your routine in life can get you out of a rut, new experiences and sensations give your brain something new.
There is no need to seek out danger and real threats to achieve this. The occasional scare during the Halloween season is enough to excite and challenge your brain and keep you anticipated for the next time.
The Bottom Line
By controlling how you internally label Halloween scares, they become fun and enjoyable. The physical response is still there but mentally, you are aware that there is no true threat.
It turns out that being scared can actually do you some good from time to time. A good scare will get your heart racing, blood pumping, and muscles poised for action, but it is not as scary for your health as you may think.