Boo! Is Halloween good for your health?

jack o lantern covered in spider web

I gently, deliberately, pushed my blanket aside. I softly rose from the bed and leaned my head around the doorway. No one there. The chill of the tiles on my bare feet sent a shiver through me as I padded over to my son’s room. He was sleeping peacefully.

The front door made a sharp cracking noise as the house settled and goosebumps erupted up my arms. The rose bushes outside swished and tapped and squeaked against the windows and my head flicked quickly towards the noise.

I mentally shook myself. I was being ridiculous. There were no murders lurking outside. No evil spirits roaming the hallways. Apart from me and my two young children, the house was empty (my partner being away on business).

At least, I thought it was empty… I had better check. I crept through the house, checking every room even though I hated myself a little bit for doing it.

This is what I get for reading a horror book before bed.

Considering I could easily reel off at least 10 times this exact scenario has played out in my life, you’d think I’d have stopped watching horror movies and reading true crime books.

Well, not on your life. I love them. Even though they terrify me and have me creeping through the house in the middle of the night like a crazy person. And I’m not alone on this.

Humans love to be scared. Whether it’s rafting down white water rapids or listening to. a podcast of scary stories, we love the adrenaline rush. It courses through your system, your heart rate increases, your blood delivers a big whack of oxygen to your muscles. You’re prepped for fight or flight and it feels energising. Because it is literally energising!

When you’re watching a scary movie and you jump because you thought the monster was about to pop out, but then you see it was actually only the cat, you relax knowing the threat isn’t really real. This relaxation triggers a kind of euphoria.

And the short stress on your system initiates a rush of feel-good hormones dopamine and endorphins, and an antioxidant release. Antioxidants clean up our bodies on a cellular level. Plus, a white blood cell surge boosts your immune system.

The fright also releases oxytocin, which is the love hormone that bonds us to others. In scary situations, it’s a basic survival instinct to seek out and pair up with the people around you to increase your chances of survival. That’s why we cuddle up close on the couch when we’re watching a scary movie.

So you see, being scared out of your wits is the stuff of gold for your health.

And beyond the physical side of things, recreational fear like reading a scary book, going to a haunted house, or watching horror movies on Halloween, may just improve emotional regulation and coping skills in real life.

A study during the COVID lockdowns found that people who were horror movie fans were more resilient than those who weren’t. Fictional frights gave them a kind of practice that helped them cope better in real life.

So this Halloween, you can indulge yourself in all the scary stuff, safe in the knowledge that you’re improving your health and preparing for a zombie apocalypse all at the same time.

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