How to Embrace Being Scared at Halloween and in Business

Posted by martin.parnell |

This week, people in many countries, including Canada, will be celebrating Hallowe’en. According to Wikipedia: “Halloween or Hallowe'en (a contraction of Hallows' Evening), is a celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. 

It is widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals. Others believe, however, that Halloween began solely as a Christian holiday, separate from other ancient festivals. Traditionally, Halloween activities include trick or treat, attending costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, telling scary stories, and watching horror stories.”

 So, what is it that makes people want to dress up in crazy costumes and either scare or be scared? I read a post from the WebMD archives entitled “Why do Thrill Seekers Love Being Scared? “ It explains that “Virtually everyone knows what it's like to feel really scared: A pounding heartbeat. Faster breathing. Nervous perspiration. Butterflies in the stomach.

But whether that fright is caused by watching a nail-biting horror movie, listening to a spine-chilling story, or prowling through a dark-as-night haunted house on Halloween, some people actually revel in feeling frightened.............. Experts believe that it's not uncommon for individuals to push the envelope, seeing how much fear they can tolerate, and ultimately feeling a sense of satisfaction when they're able to endure the anxiety.”

Frank Farley, PhD, psychologist at Temple University, tells us "There's a long history of people being intensely curious about the 'dark side,' and trying to make sense of it. Through movies, we're able to see horror in front of our eyes, and some people are extremely fascinated by it. They're interested in the unusual and the bizarre because they don't understand it and it's so different from our everyday lives."

Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association, has studied people who have what he calls "type T" (thrill-seeking) personalities. These men and women thrive on the uncertainty and the intensity associated with activities that most people consider to be hair-raising -- from riding roller coasters to bungee jumping. According to Farley, “some people enjoy the physical sensations that can accompany being scared -- from the adrenaline rush to the racing heart to the perspiring palms.”

For more than two decades, Glenn Sparks, PhD, has studied the way men, women, and children respond to terrifying images in the media. "Some people have a need to expose themselves to sensations that are different from the routine," he says. "While experiencing a frightening movie may have some negatives, individuals often derive gratification because the experience is different."

Several studies have shown that males like scary films much more than females do. "It's not that they truly enjoy being scared," says Sparks, professor of communication at Purdue University. "But they get great satisfaction being able to say that they conquered and mastered something that was threatening. They enjoy the feeling that they 'made it through.” Quite commonly, at the end of the terrifying movie, an individual may walk out of thetheater with a profound sense of relief, adds Sparks. "He may just be happy that the film is over."

As for children, an event like Halloween can provide an enjoyable and safe way to explore and experience fear, knowing that the goblins and witches stalking their neighborhood are only make-believe. Leon Rappoport, PhD, describes Halloween as something akin to an exorcism, allowing children to work through and release pent-up emotions and anxieties.

"They're being given the license to probe at least the superficial anxieties about magical transformations, which, in the imagination of a child, are not completely foreign," says Rappoport, professor of psychology at Kansas State University. "The experience provides a sort of relief in much the way that an exorcism could be said to do."

Research from David Zald, professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, shows that people differ in their chemical response to thrilling situations. One of the main hormones released during scary and thrilling activities is dopamine, and it turns out some individuals may get more of a kick from this dopamine response than others do. Basically, some people’s brains lack what Zald describes as “brakes” on the dopamine release and re-uptake in the brain. This means some people are going to really enjoy thrilling, scary, and risky situations while others, not so much.” 

In business, things can get scary too. You only have to Google “The Scary side of business” and you will find pages and pages of articles about the scarier aspects of being in business or creating a new one. But there must be a reason why so many people are prepared to confront these issues.  

Perhaps you know someone who thrives on the scarier side of business? The person who will leave things to the last minute, take the extra risk when pitching an idea, push the limit when negotiating a contract? Whether you are involved in business, running your own or thinking of starting a new one, aspects of it can be scary. 

But there may be a positive side, for instance, if it forces you to be more creative, work collaboratively to reach your goal, invent new ways of doing things, perhaps use skills you didn’t know you had. Also, that rush of Dopamine helps in focus and attention. 

None of us can live without encountering some fearful situations but maybe, like those who will be enjoying the spirit of Halloween, we should embrace them and enjoy that rush of Dopamine, though for some, once a year may be enough!

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, is being released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential” and has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality. Find out more about Martin at  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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