Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
On the scariest day of the year, many like to give someone a good old fashioned fright. While you may relish in scaring others, it’s important to know it can have a negative health effect.
Fear can weaken your immune system, which is a collection of billions of cells. Some of those cells target organs whose primary job is keeping you healthy and fight off disease. Immune system cells travel throughout your body defending it against antigens, such as viruses. Cortisol, or the “stress hormone” is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands that regulates a wide variety of processes through the body including metabolism and immune response.
Fear can cause cardiovascular damage and gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also decrease fertility. It can accelerate aging and premature death. It can also damage parts of the brain such as the hippocampus (complex area deep in the brain that plays a role in learning and memory) and can impair long-term memories. Fear interrupts processes of the brain that regulate emotions and can negatively impact thinking and decision making.
Fear presents itself in many ways. It intensifies while watching a scary movie. One in four people become anxious or fearful walking alone at night. Scaring someone from behind seems harmless, but can physically affect the body as the neurological system releases intense chemicals in response to a threat. While rare, jumping out and scaring someone can trigger a number of responses from a heart attack to PTSD.
It turns out you can be so frightened you can temporarily lose your sight or hearing. Dr. Martin Samuels, chair of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said the reaction is part of the “fight or flight” response during which the brain redirects all energy to vital body functions.
While there is no definitive proof that a good fright will turn a person’s hair white, there is a condition called Marie Antoinette syndrome that makes it appear as though you’ve gone grey virtually overnight. As legend has it, the night before she was to be executed by guillotine, Marie Antoinette’s hair turned white. Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said hair loss in reaction to fear may come after a traumatic emotional event. Fortunately for most, this is a temporary situation.
The old saying “pale as a ghost” may be truer than you think. When faced with a major fright or threat, the body instantly sends blood to vital organs which triggers muscles and organs making a loss of color in the face very apparent.
A citing of ghosts saying “boo” first appeared in print from author Gilbert Crokatt in 1738. He defined it as a word used in the north of Scotland to frighten crying children. On this Halloween eve if your inclination is to sneak up behind someone with a heartfelt “boo,” think about switching it and offering a treat instead.
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