The Health Benefits of Being Scared
Go ahead and watch that horror movie; it's good for you.
The next time a vengeful ghost haunts you from the afterlife, be very afraid. Why? Because there are fantastic health benefits to being scared—the body gets a special kind of good-for-you rush when the mind senses fear. Here are a few healthy reasons why you should hope for more tricks than treats this Halloween (or any time of the year, really).
Epinephrine (aka adrenaline) gives you strength
The stress response begins in the brain. The amygdala identifies a threat, and triggers the hypothalamus to alert the rest of the body like a tiny Paul Revere. The adrenal glands, which rest atop the kidneys, then release the hormone adrenaline in large quantities. “Adrenaline activates the part of our nervous system that puts the human body in ‘survival mode,’” says Jake Deutsch, MD, an emergency medicine physician in New York City. “Eyes dilate, pulses speed up and our blood pressure rises. This is a physiologic response when the brain senses trouble.” This response gives us more stamina and strength under stress. So, if you’re aiming for a PR on the bench press, try imagine a zombie attacking you as you lift.
Norepinephrine production keeps you alert
Adrenaline isn’t the only hormone that kicks into high gear under duress. Norepinephrine is also released from the adrenal glands and brain, keeping you alert and focused instead of panicking. “All that blood rushing to the most critical organ [mid stress-response] needs to be precisely used,” Deutsch says. “‘Nor-epi’ allows clearer thinking under stress, which is precisely why it's used in many antidepressants.” This should give you one-up on your spooky assailant: Embrace your fear, then think your way to safety in a MacGyver-esque way.
Cortisol can save your life
Cortisol is the third hormone released by the adrenal glands when you experience fear, and in short supplies, it can be very beneficial. Cortisol balances bodily fluids and functions, heightening those that are needed for survival while controlling others—like digestion or immunity—that aren’t immediately imperative. “It’s like a thermostat for the body,” says Deutsch. “But like anything, too much can be unhealthy. “Excessive cortisol cause weight gain and endocrine unrest.” Long-term stress and high levels of cortisol suppress the immune system, compromise your sex drive, and spike blood pressure, and in severe cases can lead to a heart attack. To that point, you better hope your scary moment is a one-off, and not a full-blown franchise. (We feel for you, Jamie Lee Curtis.)
Fleeing is healthy, too
Adrenaline is known as the “fight or flight” hormone, and helps you decide if you should wrestle that masked maniac to the ground or run away. Here’s our advice: Run away. Because running is good for you, too.