Halloween is just around the corner. That means haunted houses, horror movies, terrifying costumes and elaborate decorations of horrible evil anything. A week ago, we featured an article about the science of being scared — what makes us actually scared of all this spookiness around Halloween, and why some things are scarier than others.
Yes, our reaction to being scared is deeply biological. Halloween fun preys on our genetic and behavior adaptation of dealing with stressful situations via rapidly raising our heartbeats, increasing adrenaline… that rush we feel right after being scared is our bodies getting us ready to fight the monster, or flee.
To expand on last week’s topic, we started wondering… can a Halloween “trick” be too scary? Can we be so scared that it actually causes us harm?
The simple fact is that the biological response to scary situations of rapidly increasing heartbeat and flooding our bodies with adrenaline has been developed to benefit our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who were dealing with real danger from predators and fellow hunters on a daily basis throughout their lifetimes. The dangers we face, and our need for responses to dangerous situations today is a far cry from our hunter-gatherer ancient ancestors. Over the thousands of years of civilization, we have become rather sedentary and inactive — most of us today spend our days behind a desk or walk about with very little actual physical activity. Most of our stress is a mid-level, long-term stress associated with jobs, finances and family. Many generations of not needing to utilize our “fight or flight” mechanisms impaired our abilities to correctly and effectively respond to situation of sudden, high stress.
Adrenaline, the chemical that floods our bodies in these situations of sudden, high stress is a toxic chemical in large amounts. It can cause our hearts to beat/vibrate so rapidly, the heart can get into a rhythm not suitable for properly pumping blood through our bodies… this is referred to as ventricular fibrillation. If the heart stops pumping blood, we stop living… plain and simple.
Although those with heart decease are at more of a risk, anyone can potentially suffer from an adrenaline overdose just from being scared. Keeping your heart healthy with exercise and a good diet is the key to being able to better handle situations of sudden stress, or rather getting your heart to respond to adrenaline in a less dangerous manner.
With all that being said, we wish you a good, and healthy, scare this Halloween!