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Fear Itself: Why Halloween is a Thrill

There’s a reason we like to be scared and look forward to “safe” opportunities to be frightened. For a scream, this Halloween or anytime, visit Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

Halloween comes from a time when nights were really dark, dangers were very near, and the evolved human fight-or-flight instinct was working on managing fear.

Bonding Over Fear

Fear is part of the fun at HalloweenRitualizing and sharing the natural response to a scary environment helped. Sharing ghost stories confirmed group solidarity that mitigated the heightened fright of isolation, and established traditions such as bonfires, scripted interactions, and designated food enhanced a sense of control. The Celts called October 31 “Samhain”—fear of Halloween is still known as Samhainophobia—and it became the Christian holiday of All Hallow’s Eve, the root of its modern name.

“From a psychological point of view, one’s fears were projected out and onto the creatures of the otherworld,” Andrew Polard wrote in Psychology Today. “In doing so, the Celts were not ridding themselves of their fears, but instead coping with them within their communities.”

Scary, But Fear Not

Neuroscientists Arash Javanbakht and Linda Saab, writing in Inverse, agree that the holiday helps organize thoughts of fear. “When you enter a haunted house during Halloween season, for example, anticipating a ghoul jumping out at you and knowing it isn’t really a threat, you can quickly relabel the experience,” they said. “In contrast, if you were walking in a dark alley at night and a stranger began chasing you, both your emotional and thinking areas of the brain would be in agreement that the situation is dangerous, and it’s time to flee!”

For people with Samhainophobia, the holiday can be a hard time. Even if they avoid known triggers such as haunted houses or their specific fears such as ghosts, witches, vampires, zombies, blood, gore, and masks, social gatherings of the season often include impromptu “Boos!” The phobia is usually easy to treat, says Lisa Fritscher. People with mild cases can visualize success navigating a frightening event or enlist a friend to ease anxiety. Professionals can help with more severe cases.

 Be Brave of Heart

“Halloween is a fun holiday,” Polard says. “I know I will enjoy it. But let us also remember why Halloween still strikes a chord in us until this very day. There is a bit of a Celtic heart beating in our chest. We all need people and a bright fire to cope with the ghosts we create in the dark corners of our minds.”

For friendly frights, visit Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park soon!


Alpine Coaster is open with new green sleds!