Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios in Orlando Florida is undeniably frightening. I know this because my daughter convinced me to go with her. Frankly, there wasn’t much convincing. I reasoned if my 9th grader asks me to tag along anywhere, I probably should. After all, how often does that freak of family nature happen? So I mustered all the cool mom swagger I could and set out to make a memory. What I learned surprised me.
First, I realized that I do not like a good scare. It turns out that some people get more of a high from the dopamine hormone released during scary activities than others. I am definitively in the “others” category. In sum, I spent hundreds of dollars to discover that I absolutely do not like to be chased by convincing actors disguised as deranged criminals with chain saws.
Aside from the self-discovery that I am a wimp in terrifying situations, I learned a thing or two about fear and how it relates to our lives every day.
By the end of the ghoulish evening, we and our friends were physically exhausted. The feeling of imminent danger and our natural fight or flight response left us drained. In some strange way, I felt that I was abusing my body and my psyche. Even the next day in the comforts of my own house, I was jumpy to strange sounds and dark spaces. In some small way, I was experiencing PTSD! And this was after only a few horror packed hours. I wondered how much more our bodies and our minds must endure from a lifetime of fear induced stress. Stress at home. Stress at the office. Stress on the road.
On the ride back to my hotel (as I secretly swore I would never again celebrate Halloween) I tried to make sense of this seemingly senseless scary night. Two things resonated with me:
1. Thousands of people were all afraid of the same things. I realized that for so many distinct people from all over the world to be afraid of monsters, werewolves, zombies and spirits… fear must be learned. Or better said, we can learn to fear anything at all. I pondered what our “real lives” would be like if we learned that an unknown outcome or upsetting challenges were actually things to be embraced rather than feared? How would we think about our lives and our relationships and our finances if we actually looked forward to a difficult situation because we believed it would make us stronger or more interesting or more confident?
2. Most of the people that night (not including me, of course) were enjoying themselves. That’s because to really enjoy a scary situation, we have to know that we are actually in a safe environment. Our brain has to process that the threats aren’t actually authentic. What if in the midst of a frightening situation at home or at work, we stopped to think that most of what we fear never actually comes to pass? How would it change things if we actively recalled all of the scenarios we worried about that never materialized…that safety of some sort usually prevails?
Think this retraining of the brain sounds like fantasy? Tell that to Universal Studios celebrating 25 years of messing with our minds.