‘FIfty feet, Danny!” screams Lucy as she climbs to the top of the Big One, the UK’s tallest rollercoaster. “One hundred feet … one hundred and fifty feet … two huns …” she continues. did you understand; We are high,” I answer. “Oh my God, my God, my God! Aaaarg!” we shout as our car reaches the top of the track and slams back to earth at 70mph.
I’ve come to Blackpool Pleasure Beach to scare myself with a friend. Fear is said to be as good for mental health as mindfulness supplements. I’m also hoping that exposing myself to intense fear will help me deal with my panic of public speaking. After exiting the ride, everything appears a little sharper, colors look brighter and sounds are just plain—rollercoaster zen.
“One of my best friends is a yoga instructor and highly trained in meditation,” says Margie Kerr, author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear, over the phone from Denver, Colorado. “And we joke, because we are trying to get to the same state by two different routes. She is going through focus meditation and I just scare myself. All that rumor, all that inner noise is silent, because the body is saying: ‘No, we need to focus our energy and resources on being alive, so we’re just going to shut down all that inner dialogue and here we go’ moment.'”
Kerr is a sociologist and her book is a science travelogue that explores fear and why people pursue it. In it, she rides the extreme rollercoaster, braves “horror houses” (horror-themed walking tours where actors are employed to intimidate visitors), stays overnight in an abandoned prison and becomes one of the tallest in North America. Brave the edgewalk at the skyscraper CN Tower.
“I grew up a fan of horror movies and haunted houses and was a bit of a thrill-seeker,” says Kerr. “I guess that’s what interested me in the beginning. And still just trying to understand: Why do people like to do scary things? Why do I like to do scary things?”
Well? “Oh, so many reasons,” Kerr says. “The physical high is the natural high. People talk about all the endorphins, adrenaline, and the changes that happen in the body when our sympathetic nervous system increases its activity and circulates all these different hormones and neurochemicals, which is right. In context, can make us feel strong and powerful.”
These benefits explain why some treatments try to push people out of their comfort zones by exposing them to things that scare them. Exposure therapy is a psychological treatment designed to help patients face the fears they are avoiding in a safe environment. Kerr is working on making such treatments more fun to reduce the dropout rate, which she says can be up to 50%.
Some of the treatments take place in virtual-reality environments, such as a crowded train full of hostile passengers in absurd costumes staring judgmentally at patients. “They’re not being told to try to calm down. They’re being told they can scream, they can laugh. We start there and then work up to a subway car full of humans. The idea is that, after having a fun, scary experience, humans don’t have to be as scary in comparison,” Kerr says.
Context is important, as fear and arousal share a similar physiological footprint; The only difference is how we frame the experiences in our minds. Encountering a predatory grizzly bear and walking on a rollercoaster will produce similar chemicals, but they are very different emotional experiences.
As long as you get your dose of fear in the right setting, you can reap its benefits. “These very intense emotional experiences can bring people closer together, especially if there’s already a positive bond between people in groups; it can strengthen it. And we actually form strong memories when we’re doing something highly emotional. Because we want to remember the things that hurt us or that make us feel good.
Kerr thinks that chronic, everyday fears — health concerns, worries about bills, creating a social faux pas — may explain why we tend to look for more threats in your face: “I wonder that sometimes we really want to That intense danger, because it’s satisfying, in a way, to experience fear – to experience all that intensity and then find relief. So, happiness comes after it is over. There’s just this feeling: ‘The danger is over, I can relax.'”
The sympathetic nervous system handles the fight-or-flight response we experience during a threatening encounter, and the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the sense of relief and presence we feel after its passage.
When Kerr crossed the Edgewalk, she leaned back into her harness on the edge of the 553-metre-tall building and into the Toronto sky. She “experienced her body in a whole new way” and was overwhelmed with fear. But that day is now a happy “keystone” memory for her—one that she can carry around in times of stress. “I think about that moment and it inspires me. I feel like it taps into some kind of physical memory, where I’m just remembering that I can do this. And I remember that.” Feels good. I wish everyone had such a very deliberate memory that empowers them.”
Inspired by Kerr’s bravery, I try to do as many sinister things as possible in the weeks following my conversation. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research into how often one must experience intense fear to reap the benefits of speaking Kerr, but I would recommend doing something that scares you at least once in your life. Are. It can make you feel awfully good.
The UK’s highest rollercoaster piques my interest, but ultimately leaves me unsatisfied. A sense of wonder and danger is more likely to produce Kerr’s “fear factor”—and better suited for this is a different ride at Pleasure Beach. Icon twist, turn, loop and roll like a drunken gymnast – it’s awesome and sublime.
My experience was off to a bad start. Two staff members manage to convince me that my harness is unsafe. One of them struggles to clip me, but never mind – his colleague is coming over to sort it out. He turns around and barely touches the harness. “It’s ‘ret,” he says with a wink—and we’re off.
All the blood leaves my face as Lucy and I walk off the stage. “I’m gonna die!” I say as I feel myself slipping into my chair. I scream and scream and scream, which makes Lucy laugh and laugh and laugh. It rules sod that the soundtrack to my death is frantic laughter. I certainly don’t die, and I feel calmer when it’s all over. But I imagine a cup of tea would have achieved the same effect.
fear factor 5/5
pasje del terror
People pay a lot of money to scare strangers in the dark, usually in labyrinthine corridors, where actors recreate famous scenes from horror movies.
I also choose Pasagé del Terror over Pleasure Beach. Online reviewers promise great acting and big scares, so I feel anxious as Lucy and I enter a dark path together. To help me achieve maximum fear, Lucy nominated me to lead our group.
Maybe the actors’ timing is off, or the lack of real danger is stinging everything, but I’m totally adamant. Still, the women behind me got what they paid for: chills, thrills, adrenaline and screams, followed by hugs and kisses at the end, no doubt when their parasympathetic nervous system released loving chemicals. were rewarded for their bravery with
Fear Factor 2/5
midnight in the woods
Writer John York claims that every story, horror or otherwise, can be reduced to a journey through the woods after dark – so I just take it with a twist. In the middle of my midnight stroll through a piece of Pennine Age wood, I decide to sit on a fallen tree trunk and watch a horror movie on my phone. It’s not lost on me that I’m the weirdest thing in the woods at the time.
After the movie, as I walk out of the thicket, I swear I see faces in the dark. My sympathetic nervous system is firing on all cylinders when I finally turn it into a quiet suburban cul-de-sac.
Fear Factor 3/5
Climbing creates two major fear boxes for me: fear of heights and fear of falling.
Saturday mornings are wet and foggy as I bowl the shores of Indians Head in Saddleworth, Greater Manchester, which resembles a Native American chief. I am completely exhausted as I reach the rocks at the top. I have zero climbing experience, but the rocks are about 4.5 meters (15 feet) high, so I don’t need a climbing rope, harness or carabiner.
However, I start to doubt whether this is true as I reach the rock I’ve chosen – the chief’s nose. I have lost the footrest and hand grip and am not confident enough to climb down. Therefore, I am left with two options: to fall to the ground or cling to the rescue.
I choose the former and press my torso as hard as possible into the cliff face to create as much friction as possible as I slide down and land firmly, but safely, on my feet. But, my heel hurts. A small price to pay, because, if I had retreated a bit, I would have dropped Boulder City behind me.
I was of no use here, just scared and stupid. If I were you, I’d get a climbing wall and an instructor.
fear factor 5/5
There is a burnt, abandoned mill under the path of the bridge that runs next to my house. It has a haunted Victorian quality, especially at night.
I’m not afraid of ghosts, mainly because they don’t exist – but even if they did, what’s there to be afraid of? They cannot touch you, leave you harmed. The worst thing they can do is to startle you and make you question your sanity. Being a ghost must be the worst form after death. In old houses only certain people can see ghosts at night and their whereabouts are scaring the foolish people.
Still, the dark and Victorian architecture makes me feel like someone is watching us. My brother and I enter the interior of the mill through a rotting wooden door and walk relentlessly around rusted, broken looms and displaced flagstones by torchlight. There’s a lot of graffiti inside, “so we haven’t come alone”, I say when I feel like I have something on my shoulder. He gets some bat poo, but that doesn’t stop me from getting scared and running away from the mill as a colony of bats flutters above. Still, when we get it back on the reins, I chuckle.
Fear Factor 4/5
Daniel Lavelle’s book, Down and Out: Surviving the Homelessness Crisis, is published by Wildfire (£18.99). To Support Guardian and Observer, order your copy here GuardianBookshop.com, Delivery charges may apply