Healthy fun or health risk? The two sides of fear

The good news is that fear can persuade us to avoid dangerous situations or help us flee from an angry bear.

The bad news is that fear can lead to chronic stress, with serious health consequences.

So should that affect your Halloween plans?

Probably not, said Zachary Sikora, medical director of psychology at Northwestern Medicine in suburban Chicago – unless you think scary movies and haunted houses might trigger more serious anxiety, or if you have cardiovascular disease that could be exacerbated by a sudden and dramatic increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

“For most people, experiencing mild to moderate levels of fear in a safe context is good,” he said. “We can embrace that and have fun.”

But whether it’s frivolous fun or terrifying trauma, the psychological impact has physiological results.

“The brain-heart connection is fascinating, and we don’t talk about it enough,” said Dr. Puja Mehta, associate professor of cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “There are direct effects and indirect effects.”