Healthy fun or health risks?  two faces of fear

Healthy fun or health risks? two faces of fear

Written by American Heart Association News, HealthDay reporter

(health day)

Monday, October 24, 2022 (American Heart Association News) – The good news is that fear can convince us to avoid dangerous situations or help us escape from an angry bear.

The bad news is that fear can lead to chronic stress, with serious health consequences.

So should that affect your Halloween plans?

Probably not, said Zachary Sikora, MD, medical director of psychology at Northwestern Medicine in suburban Chicago, unless you think scary movies and haunted houses might be a more serious concern, or if you have cardiovascular disease that can be exacerbated by the sudden increase And sweet at heart. rate and blood pressure.

“For most people, feeling mild to moderate levels of fear in a safe context is a good thing,” he said. “We can embrace that and have fun.”

But whether it is trivial pleasure or a terrifying shock, the psychological effect has physiological consequences.

“The connection between the heart and the brain is fascinating, and we don’t talk about it enough,” said Dr. Pooja Mehta, MD, associate professor of cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “There are direct effects and indirect effects.”

It begins in the amygdala, two almond-shaped clusters near the base of the brain. “This is the center of fear that reminds us when something threatens us in order to keep us safe,” Sikora said.

This could warn us not to approach the edge of the Grand Canyon. Sudden stress also causes the body to release hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, to provide a sense of alertness and extra energy to deal with a threat. This is the fight or flight response.

“I think our lives would be much shorter,” said Sikora, without fear or the amygdala.

So far, so good. Sikora and Mehta said that problems start when the fear does not recede even if the danger is gone.

“All of these things that happen to your body are good if you’re in a dangerous situation,” Sikora said. “But it’s not good if you’re in bed trying to sleep. When that fear becomes unrestricted, it can really affect our performance and our quality of life.”

From phobias to panic attacks to post-traumatic stress disorder, uncontrolled fear can be life-disrupting and require psychological help. But there are medical consequences, too.

“If you stay in stress physiology mode, you will experience neurohormonal changes,” Mehta said. “Your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure goes up, and there’s more inflammation. These risk factors can eventually lead to heart rhythm problems such as atrial fibrillation or ventricular arrhythmias, compromised blood flow to the heart, and other consequences such as heart failure. .”

Furthermore, she said, the risks may be exacerbated by unhealthy behaviour.

“People who stay in this stress situation tend to make poor lifestyle choices,” Mehta said. “You won’t eat healthily, you won’t exercise as much, and you may not listen to your doctor’s advice. If you’re stressed, there’s a sleep disorder. And we know that’s not good for you from the heart’s point of view, and there can also be social isolation, which is Also a risk factor for cardiovascular problems.

However, many people flock to horror movies, bungee jumps, and other activities that are “good scary.”

Mehta believes the effects are different from an unexpected fear, such as an earthquake or violent attack, and the terror for which you are prepared.

“If I’m going to ride a roller coaster,” she said, “I know what’s going to happen, and I’m ready for it.”

Sikora—despite admitting that he was afraid of a haunted house as a child and still avoids them—concurs.

“I think somewhere in our brains we are consciously aware that although these things are a threat, they are not really a threat,” he said. “So the excitement is fun, not terrifying. And that can cause the brain to release dopamine, which helps us feel happy.”

With Halloween approaching, Sikora advises having fun and trying new experiences, but don’t make your current anxiety worse.

And, Mehta warns, watch out for something that should definitely scare us this Halloween: an overabundance of sugar.

“If you like sweets, instead of sugary drinks and candy bars, have fresh fruit or a bar of dark chocolate,” she said.

American Heart Association news Covers heart and brain health. Not all opinions expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or operated by the American Heart Association, Inc. , All rights reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email

Written by Michael Bricker, American Heart Association News

Copyright © 2022 health day. All rights reserved.

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