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This time of year often brings excitement into the air as the leaves begin to change; we pull out our cozy sweaters and enjoy some pumpkin spice. “It’s no surprise that 40 percent of Americans say that fall is their favorite season, beating out second-place summer by a comfortable margin, according to a poll by international research and data analytics group, YouGov” (Andersen, 2020).” Though, a large number of people do not feel this way, the change from summer to fall can often evoke negative feelings such as worry and fear (Andersen, 2020). Researchers believe that autumn anxiety can be linked to the larger number of events that occur between September to December more than any other time of year. With the change of seasons into fall, comes less hours of sunlight leading to lower production of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, and an increase in cortisol, our stress hormone. With these environmental and physical changes, fear finds a way to creep into our thoughts as we transition into the next season.
Fear can be an intense emotion that hinders our decision making process, creating an emotional, physical, and mental response. When enjoying the thrill of a roller-coaster ride or watching a scary movie the brain’s amygdala messages the nervous system, and the human body responds by creating stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. In return, the heart and blood pressure intensify, allowing the body to respond with either fight or flight. “Fear is our survival response,” says Northwestern Medicine Clinical Psychologist Zachary Sikora, PsyD.
So, what makes a scary movie enjoyable? Fear really is physical and can even become pleasurable. Fearful experiences arouse and excite the brain. Your body and brain can remain aroused even after a fearful event has occurred allowing the excitation transfer process to occur. During this process, excitement lingers and other emotions may be felt more intensely for a period of time even if they do not directly relate to the fearful encounter. Additionally, your brain produces dopamine, which elicits pleasure, during staged fear experiences (Northwestern Medicine).
So what are we really fearful about? Fear can easily become a common reaction to an event or object. Fear keeps us safe and allows us to take a careful, calculated approach to people, places, and things we experience. Fear is a complex emotion that can be positive and healthy, but when used too often can have negative side effects. It is important that we take the time to assess our fears and bring them into the conscious mind. One of the most helpful approaches is to list your worries and take a look at each thought, questioning the likelihood of that worry coming true. Recent research suggests that 91.4% of our worries do not come true (Sarah Fielding August 8, 2019). The human mind has the capabilities to dream up the worst case scenario if we allow it to, after all the acronym for F.E.A.R. is False Evidence Appearing Real. When fear finds its way into your thoughts and feelings, take a moment to acknowledge it, challenge any unrealistic thoughts, calm your body, and release the fear. Letting go of fear and worry can be one of the most freeing and exhilarating experiences.
Angela Gray Salyers, MA, MS, LPC
Business Development Coordinator, Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services
Angela Gray Salyers is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Mississippi and Alabama and she earned an International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium as an Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor. She works as a Business Development Coordinator with Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services, located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she conducts clinical assessments for all of the organization’s service lines. Additionally, Ms. Salyers educates professionals from throughout the country about Pine Grove’s nationally recognized and respected treatment programs. Prior to working in Business Development, she worked with Pine Grove as an Outreach Coordinator within Alabama and the Mississippi Gulf Coast regions from 2017-2019. Ms. Salyers earned her undergraduate degree in Dance Education and Paralegal Studies from The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS. She earned her Master’s degree in General Psychology from Pace University, New York, NY, and a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from The University of West Alabama in Livingston, AL. Ms. Salyers is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-500) with Yoga Alliance and currently teaches in Fairhope, AL. She has professional experience working with the HIV/AIDS population in a Ryan White Clinic, where she provided psychosocial evaluations, counseling, and case management services. Ms. Salyers also worked as a Residential Coordinator, caring for patients with chemical dependency at a residential addiction treatment center in Spanish Fort, AL. She is a member of the Alabama Counseling Association, Alabama Alcohol and Drug Association, Faces and Voices of Recovery, and serves on the Steering Committee for The Gulf Coast Conference.
About Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services:
Located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services is one of the nation’s most comprehensive treatment campuses. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs treat gender specific substance abuse including specialized tracks for co-occurring eating disorders and trauma. Additionally, Pine Grove offers an Intensive Outpatient substance abuse healing program for adults and a separate treatment program specifically for those who are age 55 plus. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual addiction. Inpatient Services including an Adult Psychiatric Unit, along with a Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, and Outpatient Services are other components. Pine Grove is a division of Forrest Health, a partnership of healthcare organizations across South Mississippi, and the behavioral healthcare extension of Forrest General Hospital, a 547 bed, level II Regional Trauma Center. Established in 1984, Pine Grove has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for 37 years. For more information, please visit www.pinegrovetreatment.com and call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673).
Andersen, C. H. (2020, December 4). Autumn anxiety is real: Why the fall season makes you more stressed. The Healthy. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://www.thehealthy.com/mental-health/anxiety/what-is-autumn-anxiety/.
Northwestern Medicine. (n.d.). 5 things you never knew about fear. Northwestern Medicine. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/emotional-health/5-things-you-never-knew-about-fear.
Sarah Fielding August 8, 2019. (2019, August 8). New study shows 91 percent of fears don’t come true. Best Life. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://bestlifeonline.com/anxiety-vs-reality-study/.