From its association with witches, werewolves, and vampires to scary movies like Frankenstein, Halloween has developed a reputation for being the ‘scary’ holiday.
When all mammals (including people) get scared, a small area of the brain, called the “amygdala”, kicks into action. The amygdala sets off a “fight or flight” reaction. Here, our bodies’ go into high alert to either react aggressively or run away from a potential threat.
In nature, this works well. For example, it’s good for a zebra to know that a lion is nearby so that it can react quickly. If it didn't, it’s possible that the zebra could become lunch!
But humans are special. It turns out that our amygdala also reacts when we imagine threats. This includes when we think of scary things. This can be from noises in the dark, a scary movie, or even if we take an ordinary object or animal that by itself is not necessarily scary (like a doll, a clown, a bird) and develop a story that turns it into something very scary.
So why would we put ourselves through this? Some people like scary things because they think critically about them, making them less scary. For example: “That movie was really scary, but it’s nice to know that the ‘blood’ is actually ketchup.” Others like scary things because they like being afraid with friends and family. For example: “Wow, that was terrifying! But I sure am glad that I’m here with my friends; I can’t wait to watch our next scary movie!”
So, if you’re feeling a little afraid on Halloween, a good trick to remind yourself of is that all the costumes, lights, and illusions of a Halloween night are made for the purpose of working with your natural feelings of fear.
Importantly, know that being afraid of something is healthy! Not only does it teach us what we don’t like, but it can also give us the courage to face our fears. Most of all, the scary things we imagine don’t always need to be so scary. You can lessen your fears over time by looking at them in different, less scary, ways.
On this note, we wish you all a very Happy Halloween!