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Imagine you are stranded and alone in a dark place. You can barely see your hands out in front of your face and you are wondering how you even got there in the first place. You feel frozen grass crunch eerily under your feet and it’s cold and very very quiet. Already you feel your heart rate start to increase. You keep walking forward because you know staying in one spot probably will not get you out of this situation. Then you hear a noise. A noise like a stick breaking and you start to make out trees ahead and it is much darker beyond them. Then, the hairs on the back of your neck start to prickle because ever so faintly, right behind you, you hear the sound of ragged breathing. Panic overtakes you and you turn to face the source while backing up and away as far as possible. When you see the shadow of a person, you scream! AHHHHHH! “Hey! Gotcha!” the voice says and you realize it’s your best friend and you were in one of those scary corn mazes this whole time. Your adrenaline is racing and you’re breathing deep breaths. “Oh my God!” you yell at your friend, “you are such a D-bag!” And you start laughing together as you hug and both head out of the maze.

Think about that wave of relief you feel when the fear moment is over, and you realize everything is going to be ok. The rush of adrenaline is therapeutic and it helps to improve how we fight stress. I hate stress so much because I get stressed about being too stressed. You know what I mean? But when I watch a scary movie with my boyfriend, and the evil monster jumps out and then I jump while digging my nails into my boyfriend, we start cracking up and laughing afterwards. It’s like we make fun of each other for getting scared off of a movie. It’s fun! I have fun getting scared with my boyfriend because it helps us bond closer in those moments and that is just plain healthy. Don’t you agree?

Hollywood has been scaring us for over a century! They knew there was something to this scary movie stuff. It sold in the box offices and people could not seem to get enough of it. Fear is a human obsession. In the first episode of "American Horror Story Cult", the character Kai (played by Evan Peters) is in a courtroom and he informs the court that fear is the thing that is valued among all other things. Because it has value. It can be used to control the world. Of course American Horror Story is a fictional, albeit amazing TV series, but the unstable Kai does have some kind of a point. Many, many people are drawn to getting scared in some way or another. They seek it out by going to haunted attractions during halloween. Some people will hide behind things only to jump out and startle others. Or binge watch really creepy and bloody horror movies. Some people even like to experience fear by skydiving, or paragliding or some other manner of thing that involves falling from great heights and ideally landing where it is safe.

We do all of this because we as humans are emotion junkies. We have to feel all the emotions. It’s like emotions are Pokémon, and we are kids from the 90s. We GOTTA CATCH EM’ ALL!! Doctors and professionals will tell you, you need to feel all of your emotions so that you can learn to appreciate your range and understand who you are inside. That means feeling negative emotions along with the positive ones. It’s why when I’m sad, I choose to go home, eat half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and watch a sad movie like “My Dog Skip” or “The Neverending Story”. It feels good to do those things in the moment and it is the same thing with Halloween and October and Dia de Los Muertos. It is a time for us to come together and bond over being scared. It is the time we have chosen as Americans to celebrate the emotion of fear.

Of course, as my father says, extremes are never good. It matters what kind of fear you are experiencing. Too much stressful fear can be harmful. After you watch a few horror flicks, you may have nightmares or feel the need to sleep with some kind of weapon near your bed. I always try to grab for my handy dandy “Stabbing Scissors” whenever I hear a bump in the night. Relax, I’ve never used my scissors for stabbing, just crafting. But, they are my main house weapon should I ever need one. God forbid. Anywho, back to my point. There are wrong, bad kinds of fear out there. That, of course, is the kind of fear that you don’t sign up for. It is when there is an actual physical threat to your body. Like when a soldier is on the battlefield and they know they might never come home to see their family because they are a POW (prisoner of war). Or people escaping the destructive forces of a hurricane; (Our hearts are with the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma & Maria) knowing that they have just lost everything and feeling helpless. That kind of fear is corrosive and harmful. It can lead to detrimental conditions like PTSD and OCD.

It is important to avoid stress and anxiety as best you can. We’ve all heard that a million times. But it is especially true if you suffer from acute anxiety. Putting yourself into too much of a scary situation can trigger negative stress hormones that harm your body. Your body doesn’t know the difference between a real fear situation and simulated one. Your body responds to stimuli. Your brain’s amygdala is responsible for knowing whether not the thing you feel fear from is real or not. Signals are sent to the amygdala and then you know whether or not you are in control of the situation. Your body can then get scared while your brain is all like, “Man, this crap ain’t real!” Or if it is real, then your fight or flight instinct will most likely kick in.

Knowing how much stress from simulated fear you can handle comes down to knowing your body and familiarizing yourself with what your limits are. If you enjoy going to scary attractions, then by all means, keep doing what you love! That kind of scariness is an excellent form of stress release. But, if you start to feel overly panicked, nauseous and you are not in control of your actions, then you need to avoid those types of situations. People who suffer from PTSD or OCD are mostly definitely included in the group that needs to avoid scary situations. Any kind of simulated fear designed for entertainment could trigger memories from a past trauma. There is nothing healthy about that. Know your limits, keep safe and just feel your emotions. Go ahead! Let yourself get scared... but in a good way! / Issue 196 - September 2018
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