How being Scared with Friends can be a Good Thing

Posted by martin.parnell |
How being Scared with Friends can be a Good Thing

Tomorrow evening, as in many countries, children across Canada will be donning their Halloween costumes and heading out to go trick or treating. 

The strange thing is, at any other time of the year, if you told them that there were ghosts, zombies and monsters on every corner, they would be terrified. But not tomorrow night. The more horror the better.  They will laugh at skeletons dangling from trees, giant spiders crawling up the sides of houses and pumpkins with terrifying faces. 

I wonder if it’s because we regard Halloween as “fun’. Something we enjoy together and, of course, there’s the build-up. Some children will have spent weeks deciding on what they want to be, when it comes to their costume, maybe they spent time making it. Many stores stock Halloween products well in advance and maybe kids get acclimatised. Then, there’s the candy. Go out and be scared, but reward yourself with a bag full of candy. And it’s not just the kids. Many adults will be dressing up too, going to parties or curling up, in front of a screen to watch a scary movie. We too like to take that step out of our comfort zone. 

But, for many adults, they don’t need the excuse of Halloween to go out and deliberately place themselves in a position to be scared. Do you know someone who has done something that has made them feel afraid? Maybe they went skydiving, climbed a mountain or rode a roller coaster. I was at Science North, in Ontario, last year and plucked up the courage to handle a tarantula, so as to show my grandkids that spiders are not to be feared. Actually, I was terrified, almost as much as when I bungee jumped over Victoria Falls. 

I began to wonder whether or not being just a little scared might actually be a good thing. Maybe if we have been confronted by something that scares us, we feel stronger by facing that fear. After all, it’s an emotion we all share and is crucial to our ability to survive. Without that fear factor in our biological make-up, we wouldn’t be able to respond when we are in danger. 

 I did some research and found an article by Jenn Sinrich, in Reader’s Digest that suggests being scared can, actually have some benefits. Sinrich quotes Debbie Mandel, MA, stress-management specialist, radio show host and author of Addicted to Stress. who says that “The excitement generated can also help alleviate depression by the increase in norepinephrine (adrenaline), which in turn increases arousal, excitement and glucose (converted into energy). Being scared takes us completely away from our everyday worries and depression. It’s nearly impossible to be thinking of our pressures and worries when we’re experiencing fear or feeling scared. It works like an eraser for the mind.” 

We all have to face scary things in our lives, some far more serious than others. Some that no amount of laughter and candy can diminish. But when it comes to the smaller things, maybe it is easier to face them when there’s an adult or bunch of friends along with you.  Dr. John, Mayer, MD, leading practicing psychologist, author and expert on violence states, “The hormone oxytocin has been associated with ‘prosocial’ behavior, making us want to bond with others and seek out the comfort of others. The classic image of people huddling together on the couch while watching a scary movie or hugging at a theatre are perfect examples.” 

If that’s the case, I wondered how this theory might apply to how this state of “fear” might translate to the workplace. Maybe we can utilise that feeling to motivate us, especially when working with colleagues. Debbie Mandel reasons that “Many people need that adrenaline rush of the eleventh hour whether it’s to tackle a project at work or a write a paper on deadline. It also helps you delegate and be part of a team. According to evolution we’re tribal, which makes sense that in a work setting we need members of our tribe or team to help us survive that scary saber tooth tiger that is hitting certain goals.” 

On an individual level, we are told that ‘The acute stress that accompanies fear is also good for you, because it keeps you vigilant and wakes you up to perform better as in public speaking or simply waking up in the morning!  Cortisol levels rise in the morning to wake you up from a prolonged period of sleep.” 

So, I guess being a little scared is no bad thing. I’ll bear that in mind, next time I’m waiting in the wings, ready to go on stage and give a keynote presentation. Maybe I should repeat this mantra:  “Fear is good”.

Who knows, it might even help. Anyway, whatever you are doing tomorrow evening, Happy Halloween!

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