Scared to Death!


We are all affected right now by the stressors of world events, from TV news broadcasts to social media, the world looks like a very scary place.   Due to this constant coverage we are finding more people are being ‘triggered’ by these events and are literally being ‘scared into a physical sickness’.  Interestingly, our minds chemically find value in being ‘scared’ and so some people intentionally watch frightening movies and put themselves into ‘death defying’ activities.

The body gets a ‘high’ or a rush when challenging itself in a psychological, physiological or a behavioral state that feels as if it is a threat to survival whether actual or perceived.  This creates an increase or an activation of arousal in the autonomic and neuroendocrine system.  Therefore watching a frightening movie or playing an activating online game where a perceived threat is ‘just around the corner’ makes our bodies respond just as if it is really happening to us in the moment.

The body and brain is affected by this sustained feeling of fear and chronic stress.  There is a release of steroid and stress hormones, including glucocorticoids and cortisol, these affect the heart, lungs, circulation, metabolism, immune system and skin.  There is also a release of catecholamine’s; dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline).  These activate the amygdala which creates an emotional response.  The brain releases a small protein that decreases sleep and increases a sense of anxiety (encouraging the ability to fight or run).  Lastly, chronic stress and fear will affect cognition; long & short-term memory, concentration, intellectual tasks and the interpretation of social signals.  The brain will not be able to ‘switch’ thoughts creating an inflexible brain that perseverates on ideas and negative thoughts.

We are sadly exposed to stress daily in our lives.  Did you know…

  • More children are killed by hand guns each year than by leukemia
  • More woman are killed by their partners annually than all the soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001

(Bessel van der Kolk- How PTSD Affects Mind, Brain & Biology” presentation Chicago, 2014)

And just to put into perspective the FEAR of being killed in a terrorist attack as the media is trying to instill as compared to other ways of dying…

  • Drowning in a bathtub: 1 in 685,000
  • Struck by lightning: 1 in 576,000
  • A car accident: 1 in 18,585
  • Dying from Heart Disease: 1 in 5
  • Dying from cancer: 1 in 7
  • Dying from a Stroke: 1 in 23

And the Odds of dying in an act of terrorism on a plane: 1 in 25 million and in ANY terrorist attack 1 in 9.3 million!

The ways we can reduce FEAR in our lives are varied, but consider trying to reduce your fear by using some of the following techniques:

Turning off the news on TVThey report the same stories over and over and report in a method (auditory and visual) that instills fear.  Instead, read the topics you want to know more about in a reliable subscription to a newspaper online.  

Stop ‘following’ fear based people on Social Media.  The social media sites are highly addictive.  They support a brain state of gossip and voyeurism.  These two elements along with the feeling of anonymity allows and supports the ability that the individual can say anything without repercussion.   This empowers some people to actually become a new persona online, saying and eventually doing things they would never have done in their natural environment.

Surround yourself with kindness and perpetuate qualities of altruism, trust and honestyIt has been researched that people that react and respond in a way that they can feel good about creates a strong, confident and productive individual.  The Physiology of (Dis)Honesty: Does it Impact Health?

Try using a stress reduction system.  There are many ways of reducing stress such as neurofeedback, biofeedback, yoga, meditation, walking in nature, singing, humming, reading, playing and Instrument or engaging in consensual sex.  Our bodies get accustomed to what we ‘feed it’.  When we drink every night alcohol is it’s favored drink, when we focus on calming activities our brains crave that feeling, supply it with these techniques and reset your internal environment so when you do respond with a ‘fight or flight’ response it is an accurate physiological response.


But Why?

Why do people yell at each other and then wonder why their kids are oppositional and defiant to them, or to their friends & their teachers?  “If all the ‘love’ they see at home is in the form of yelling (or hitting) doesn’t it make sense that they think this is how to show their love?”

Why do parents, swear and use sarcasm to each other and then wonder why their kids are such ‘smart-asses’?  “Sarcasm is the most sophisticated form of language, it is saying one thing and meaning another, this takes high level thinking and most children have not formed this level of reasoning and ‘play’ with language until they are much older.  So for a young child to try to experiment with this language technique it comes across funny and cute as a young child imitates their adult role models but as they grow a little more it is as if they are being a ‘smart-ass’”.

Why is this generation of children so much more violent? ” This is a complex answer and I am positive there are many answers from more chemicals in our food (GMO’s) and more ‘noise’ in the environment to less ‘family-time’.  Also we are seeing a surge in electronics, video games, less communication and human contact in play time.  

Longer periods of time ‘pretending’ to shoot and kill people or animals on video games, can desensitize individuals and reinforce cruelty.  Movies are less family entertaining and are mixing humor and violence together giving the impression it is not only ‘ok to be mean’ but it is funny!  The more realistic and scarier a movie is when focusing on ‘doom and threat’ adds fear which also creates a cocktail of chemicals in our brains.  Our bodies respond just as if we are right there in the room with that killer, sweaty palms, increased heart rate and breathing shorter and more shallow.

 There is a fine line between pretend and reality for many people.  They see more and more realistic deaths, with blood and guts spurting across the screen and a ‘real adrenaline rush’ (including a change in Neurochemistry with increased cortisol, and the ‘addictive, pleasure center’ is activated with a dopamine rush.  Creating a false sense of reality because our bodies are responding as if to say “whew, we made it through that one let’s try it again”! 

Experiments have been done for a very long time on the modeling that children witness and how that will dictate the children’s response to others as well as their learned aggression. the original Bobo Doll experiment from 1961 (4.08 minutes) helps to describe psychologically what happens with children.  This experiment has been replicated many times in many ways over the years with each new experiment confirming the original findings!

The American Psychological Association has now confirmed a link between playing violent video games and aggression. I truly do not believe it is just a few games here and there that causes this violent behavior, I find that a combination of risk factors including the individual’s feelings of loneliness, self-confidence, depression and what they have been modeled at home that can set the perfect scenario for a mental storm for aggression”.