The effects of fear on the mind


INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Getting scared is something many people find fun around Halloween. But how does your mind react when you get the scare?

Many parents will take their children to a haunted house or possibly show them a horror movie this week. But depending on where their minds are at, some children might not be able to handle something like that.

Whenever something pops out at us and gives us a good scare, we get ready to fight, flight, or freeze.

“My initial fear reaction is to essentially take whoever is in front of me and shield myself,” Mandi Amigh said.

The reactions are left over from when humans had natural predators. However, in a haunted house, or scary movie, everything is done where there isn’t truly a threat.

“Often with that novelty comes, sort of, that rush or excitement and some pleasure,” IU Health Methodist Hospital Medical Director of Psychiatry Dr. Diane Reis said.

But not everyone can make the distinction between fantasy and reality, especially kids. So when they get a scare and they’re not ready, it can really affect them.

“I actually had a bad experience when I was younger as well when someone came out with a chainsaw,” Amigh said. “So as a result now, just even the sound of it kind of heightens my extra senses and makes me a lot more aware of things.”

But what they’re experiencing is most likely some anxiety or distress.

Trauma happens in children because of very real, threatening monsters in every day life, such as abuse and neglect over time.

“It essentially primes that stress response,” Dr. Reis said. “So that we respond a little too actively to things in our environment or in our inner worlds that aren’t actually threats. If adrenaline is sort of the accelerator for our body, it means that our accelerator is just a little too sensitive and so any time we tap it, it really takes off.”

So even though there may be tears and nightmares after a big scare, parents don’t have to worry about a scary costume causing long-term consequences.

“At the time it may be really tough on the kid,” Reis said. “For most kids it’s unlikely to significantly change their biology so that they would be at risk for something like PTSD in the future.”

While kids can recover after big scares, doctors recommend waiting to take your kids to a scary place until they can distinguish between fantasy and reality on their own.

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