Fears can imprison us, haunt us, and cause us to view our lives through a lens of darkness and negativity.
Fear is an intense physiological, emotional, and mental reaction that sends stress hormones and adrenaline surging throughout the body and brain, and causes the heart rate to soar. Intense, overwhelming fear literally shuts off parts of our brain and can lead to obsessive, negative thinking, nightmares, and a persistent state of heightened vigilance and reactivity.
When haunted by our fears it is best to retreat or to venture forward to face them, even to laugh in the face of our fears?
Research has shown that it is through approach not avoidance that we overcome our fears. Neuroscience researchers have found that engaging in mindfulness-based practices which actually focus our attention on our fears can enhance our ability to tolerate and regulate intense emotions. Mindfulness practices can, in essence, neutralize our reactions to the things that scare us.
When we are gripped by fear, the limbic system in our brain is activated and parts of the prefrontal cortex, the center of reflection, problem solving, insight and positive emotions such as empathy, are deactivated. The limbic system is the area associated with the fight, flight or freeze response, and negative emotions. Activation of this area of the brain causes us to remain on guard for the things that threaten us and to view almost all things as threatening and negative.
Halloween, this modern day “carnival of mirth”, gives us the opportunity to not only approach but also to laugh at the things that scare us. Laughter calms our fears by producing endorphins, activating the prefrontal cortex and deactivating the limbic system, thus toning down the fight, flight and freeze response.
As observed by the poet Nicholas Gordon: “Halloween wraps fear in innocence, as though it were a slightly sour sweet. Let terror, then, be turned into a treat.”
(Originally published via the Examiner)