‘Tis the season of ghosts and goblins — that special time of year that brings renditions of severed heads and mutilated faces, eyeballs and fingers without their bodies, werewolves, vampires, zombies, lunatics, and creepy dolls — striking fear in our hearts and our wallets (Americans spend $6.9 billion on Halloween each year).
We are not alone. Variations on Halloween exist across numerous cultures, from Day of the Dead in Latin America and Festival of the Hungry Ghosts in Asia to the Celtic Samhain, still widely celebrated in Ireland and Scotland. Is the world full of raging masochists, sadists, and sociopaths, or is there another explanation for our fascination with the dark side?
Indeed, there is. Although the stray psycho certainly exists, the vast majority of people who enjoy haunted houses and horror movies are simply facing our own worst fears. And as it turns out, that's a very healthy thing.
Fear is not only mental and emotional, but physiological as well, pumping stress hormones and adrenaline through our bodies and minds. It can imprison us, stunt our growth, and keep us paralyzed. This sounds like the greatest excuse ever to run and hide from anything that scares us, but research has shown time and again that facing (not avoiding) our fears is the way to overcome them. According to neuroscientists, playing out and exploring scary scenarios helps us tolerate and regulate intense emotions, curtailing our reactions to the things we fear most. This is, in fact, one of the functions of dreams — a gift from our subconscious to help us cope with our worries.
Halloween, horror movies, and roller coasters all provide opportunities for us to face our fears, coming out stronger on the other side, survivors one and all! The catch, though, is that most of us are much more afraid of embarrassment, rejection, criticism, and failure than we are of zombies. And these are the fears that hold us back — from sharing our crazy, innovative ideas with upper management, from necessary confrontations, from asking for promotions, from seeking new jobs, or from striking out as an entrepreneur when we've outgrown our workplace.
If we could just practice putting ourselves out there on a regular basis, risking judgment or consequence, eventually it would become second nature, and we'd develop a lot more of that precious commodity we call “confidence.” Lack of confidence is, after all, nothing more than fear. They are one and the same. To overcome that fear, it must be faced over and over again, the way we face goblins, murderous clowns and unruly teenagers on Halloween.
Practice presenting your ideas to some of your more critical friends; go on interviews for jobs before you actually need one; share an embarrassing secret with someone you normally wouldn't. Volunteer for public speaking. The list goes on. And you will grow. It would be impossible not to. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and let's face it, saying something dumb won't kill you, even if it really, really feels that way. So get out there, scare yourself silly, and have a happy Halloween!
Jennifer Leavitt divides her time between editing for the Scarsdale Inquirer, managing content at Talent Zoo, teaching SEO and PR, and writing feature articles for magazines, newspapers and web sites.She has won writing, editorial, and advertorial awards from the New York Press Association, and an advertising award from The New York Times.
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