Overcoming Fears By Facing Them? UPR Reporters Explore
Your heart starts racing, palms sweating, your muscles tense and goosebumps arise, there are butterflies in your stomach—you’re experiencing one of the basic human emotions: fear.
Fear is the work of the amygdala, a small part of the brain that can trigger a fight or flight response in less than a second. Some fears are learned and even cultural, while others have no borders, for example a fear of snakes, spiders or heights.
"I'm exhausted with fear," Elaine said.
With so many things to be scared of in the world, researchers have long focused on how to stop fear. According to Columbia University professor Carolyn Rodriguez, by facing our fears we can trick our brains into overcoming what scares us. The more you face the fear, the more you trick your brain into releasing opioid chemicals that actually produce a feeling of comfort.
UPR reporters Elaine Taylor and Taylor Halversen set out to see if they could overcome their fears by facing them directly.
One of Taylor’s biggest fears is paranormal activity and ghosts, while the leathery skin and crooked, lifeless joints of mummies make Elaine’s skin crawl. Taylor and Elaine each took a turn coming into uncomfortable proximity to what scares them most by taking a Ghost Tour in Logan City and watching a PBS documentary about mummies. They told UPR about the experience of trying to overcome their fears.
"Taylor, if you remember, as we were driving to the ghost tour I kept trying to get you a little scared for what was about to happen. You weren’t having any of it. That was, until the devil tried to contact you via butt dial," Elaine said.
“So, I took out my phone to see what time it is because we’re running a little late and my butt had dialed the number 6-6-6,” Taylor said.
“How does that make you feel about this evening, Taylor,” Elaine said.
“I was in the zone like ‘I can rationalize my way through this’ and then that happened, and now I’m like, ‘What am I doing,’” Taylor said.
"Besides this lucky break for terrifying Taylor, the rest of the ghost walk was not too eventful," Elaine said.
"To just be able to come... and enjoy it for what it is and not make it more, [what] it's not, is really awesome," Taylor said.
"At one point some creepy people followed us down dark ally, but I’m pretty sure I was more scared than Taylor. We listened to some stories that almost did the trick, but it didn’t seem to push Taylor over the edge; she remained very logical and calm the whole time. However, something must have gotten to her because between scary stories, Taylor had a revelation related to fear."
“I am so superstitious when it comes to things like that, and to just be able to come and have fun and see my friends who are here and enjoy it for what it is and not make it more, [what] it’s not, is really awesome,” Taylor said.
"This revelation was not something I would have during my time with the mummies," Elaine said.
"Screaming is was what happened at Elaine’s first glimpse of a mummy on the screen. I looked over and she was huddled on the couch covering her eyes, breathing shallowly. Throughout the movie the jumps, shrieks and sounds of disgust kept coming," Taylor said.
“I’m going to have… Oh my God, no! Uull, it’s like a dried piece of fruit," Elaine said.
"I noticed that as the documentary continued, she began to verbally appreciate some of the science behind mummification, perhaps trying to rationalize her way out of an uncomfortable experience," Taylor said.
"That’s where the legend of Cyclops came from. Babies are born like that sometimes,” Elaine said.
"By the end, she had significantly calmed down, no longer squirming or shrieking. Had she overcome her fear through prolonged exposure? I asked her," Taylor said.
“How do you feel you have changed because of this experience," Taylor asked.
“I’m exhausted with fear. I don’t think this helped my fear of mummies, whatsoever,” Elaine said.
"According to science, fears can be overcome, but perhaps not through such casual exposure," Taylor said.
"I don’t think exposure to any number of mummies will cure me of my fear," Elaine said.