23 Oct The Paradox of Fear by Vonique Schmidt, LPCC
Halloween is that time of year when we curl up on the couch, grab some popcorn, and put in a horror movie. We might spend the next few nights checking under our beds, closing closet doors, and taking extra precautions to ensure our safety. Fear is an interesting emotion because it serves several different functions. Fear ignites our fight, flight, or freeze response – it awakens survival mechanisms in our brains telling us to get out of dodge, throw up our fists, or play dead. Fear is the ultimate indicator letting us know whether our survival is threatened or not. So why do we put ourselves in situations where this response is superficially ignited?
The answer is two-fold but simple. Fear can be fun. It pumps adrenaline and can be thrilling with activities such as skydiving, going on a rollercoaster, or cliff diving. Secondly, when we sit down and watch a horror film, or walk through a corn maze where monsters jump out at us, we are able to manage our fear and our responses because there is an illusion of control. If we feel too frightened during a horror movie, we bring our knees up to our chest and cover our eyes. If the corn maze becomes too intense, we cling on to our spouse or our friends to make it more bearable. The adrenaline makes us giggle and scream which is different and entertaining. Once we catch our breath, we are also able to rationalize – that chainsaw is made of plastic, that scary face is just make-up, etc. When it comes to true fear versus superficial fear, control holds the key.
I have recently tuned in to a podcast called, “My Favorite Murder,” which is hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. This podcast has created a subculture of men and women who refer to themselves as “murderinos.” Murderinos are folks who are interested in stories of homicide, want justice for the victims, and are generally intrigued by true crime. Something I have found fascinating about this group is that many individuals have shared about how listening to the podcast, which shares nonfiction murder stories each week, has led to an increase in anxiety and paranoia. Perhaps it is because these stories have real victims, individuals who have lost their lives in a brutal fashion, and men and women who never thought this would happen to them. This taints that illusion of control and serves as a reminder that there are real monsters out there. As a side note, we all love the podcast and can’t get enough.
In conclusion, one of the best ways to manage fear and anxiety is to know and understand your triggers and limitations. Listening to one true crime podcast a week might be great, but listening to one each morning on your way to work, that might be too much. During this Halloween season, notice the sensations in your body and how your brain responds to stimuli that are intended to frighten you. If you are aware of your own threshold, it will help manage negative emotional responses activated by fear.