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Why We Like to Be Scared

Fight, flight, or fright, we can’t help feeling fearful

Whether it's hopping on board a rollercoaster, to braving I-45 speeders on a Saturday night, or willingly attending a haunted house, we enjoy exposing ourselves to situations that scare us. 

But why do we insist on getting scared voluntarily? 

Conventional medicine tells us that we are surrounded by two types of fears at any given time: innate fears (fears that are ‘built in’ and part of us from birth) and learned fears, which manifest themselves from situations. Innate fears include falling, loud noises, shadowed shapes in the dark, or being stalked by something meaner and larger than you. These innate fears are hardwired into us as they are into most animals; they’re the type of fear designed to keep us safe by raising red flags in our psyche. 

Learned fears can stem from anything like a scary movie or a roach crawling across your foot. While some fears qualify as phobias and go far beyond just being a little scared of something, most learned fears are easily managed by humans, as we have the capacity to learn from these fears themselves and make them more manageable.

Whether our fears are formed into our DNA while we are still in the womb or learned from experience, or they’re a specific personal fear shared by all, one inescapable point is that sometimes we seek out these fears of our own volition. Our brain response to fear can be pleasurable, like jumping out of an aircraft time and time again.

When experiencing fear, several parts of the brain join up to process the input of the scary situation, shunt to the relevant emotional outlet, and activates the ‘fight or flight’ response in us.

The ‘fight or flight’ response tends to give us the biggest thrill or chill from being scared witless. Being scared triggers the release of body chemicals that result in increases of heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pupil size, which all go to survival. An increased heart rate increases the availability of oxygen to the heart; the increased circulation shunts blood vessels you wouldn’t need at that moment to your muscles and brain; raising your breathing rate adds oxygen to your blood; and your dilated pupils allow in more light to improve vision.

A fright to the system also releases endorphins and a hormone called dopamine, which are ‘feel-good’ body chemicals. Dopamine is released after a satisfying meal or happy romantic encounter. Scientists have even postulated that this hormone release also fills us with a sense of peace at the end of our lives and might even account for some ‘seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.’

It is the ‘fight or flight’ response that tends to give us the biggest thrill or chill from being scared witless. Being scared triggers the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This increases heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pupil size, which all go to survival. 

This month, you can use the Halloween season to embrace the creepy-crawlies, and dive into a nearby haunted house or scary movie marathon, and quite possibly end up on the far side feeling better about things.

There is a local spine-tingling outlet for you to partake in. Lamplight Ghost Tours features 90-minute walking tours of nearby Montgomery. Whether a public or private tour, you’ll enjoy starting and ending in the First State Bank building, the oldest commercial building in town that has some unique history and a ghost or two. It also houses a wine bar to give you some liquid courage. And be sure to tell them we sent you.

“Fear is a basic, intense emotion aroused by the detection of imminent threat, involving an immediate alarm reaction that mobilizes the organism by triggering a set of physiological changes including rapid heartbeat, redirection of blood flow toward the gut, tensing of the muscles, and a general mobilization to take action.”

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