Horror lover? How genetics scares some fans
October 8, 2021 – Fear is a normal reaction, especially if you’re watching horror movies or walking down an alley by yourself in the dark. There’s a reason you feel fear almost like physical.
Genetically, our DNA is so wired that some people love the things that scream “Boo!” at night when others loathe it, or why some crave horror movies while others shrink from the thought.
If you flinch even at signs of fictional horror, don’t worry: your natural reflex has a reason for it.
“Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is released in the blood when someone watches a horror movie,” says Shana Feibel, DO, a psychiatrist at the Lindner Center of HOPE near Cincinnati, Ohio. “It causes the sympathetic nervous system to take control, creating a feeling of fight or flight that prepares the body to respond to a perceived threat.”
Feibel, also an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati, says horror movies can hyperventilate and get your heart rate racing, giving your legs more energy to run faster in an actual fight-or-flight situation.
The main reason you may have a higher startle response than others is because of your oxytocin levels, a hormone and neurotransmitter released by the brain’s hypothalamus that calm you down. A higher level of oxytocin means you are less afraid, while a lower value means you are easily afraid.
But why do some people have lower scores than others?
“The sensitivity of their oxytocin receptors varies greatly in people, which means that a given level of oxytocin can have big or small effects,” said Joe Cohen, founder and CEO of SelfDecode, a Miami health reporting service.
The gene that contains the receptor for oxytocin is OXTR, and the less sensitive it is, the more likely you are to have anxiety, panic attacks, and anxiety.
“There’s a part of this gene that makes some people less anxious, less afraid and less frightened,” says Cohen. “That explains why some people are as little frightened as the sound of a closed door.”
Aside from oxytocin, there are other hormones in the body that are responsible for causing the hair on your arms or neck to stick out when you are scared. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are three important stress hormones that work hand in hand with oxytocin. “These hormones can be terrible in certain situations,” says Cohen.
Basically, there should always be a balance.
“These hormones put your body in a flight-or-fight response,” he says. “It activates your nervous system and gets you going, like the adrenaline rush that happens when you’re scared or when you exercise.”
Cohen explains, “There are certain people who have genes that make their cortisol levels rise, or once they go up, they don’t go down as easily. As a result, they don’t know how to get it back to normal after a stressful situation. “
But he says that oxytocin, serotonin, GABA, and BDNF – a hormone secreted by your brain when you exercise and aids your memory – all help reduce cortisol.
“Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurochemical that is mainly secreted in the brain. It’s a chemical that the brain uses to communicate between neurons, ”says Cohen. “It tells the brain to calm down and the neurons to stop firing.”
Studies show that people with different GABA receptors have different levels of anxiety, anxiety and stress. When your body is not producing enough GABA, you have greater levels of anxiety.
The role of cannabinoids in anxiety
A natural way to find balance is for your body to produce its natural cannabinoids, which help shut down our stress response.
An enzyme called FAAH helps break down these cannabinoids. The lower your FAAH level, the more likely it is that you will calm down quickly after being scared. Those of us with higher levels tend to remain stressed after a shock.
Some people smoke herbal cannabinoids (marijuana or cannabis) for their sedative effects. Now the science behind it shows why pot makes you calmer.
The chemical CBD found in marijuana activates a receptor in your body that boosts serotonin production. That boost relieves stress and makes you happier and less anxious, says Rebecca Abraham, a certified cannabis nurse and founder of Acute on Chronic LLC in Illinois.
“Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft increase serotonin absorption and are used to treat people with anxiety disorders,” she says.
But just because cannabis has been shown to help with anxiety and anxiety doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any side effects.
Abraham says that higher doses of cannabis will activate your fight-or-flight response in the sympathetic nervous system, causing you to feel unnecessarily anxious.
Passed on by families
Fear is also a hereditary trait, which means that it can be passed on from parents to child. Even twins who grew up separately tend to have the same phobias because they share the same DNA that is responsible for the fears they feel.
Edie Moser, a licensed social worker and journalist based in Pennsylvania, says she inherited certain fears from her father.
“My father grew up in a low-income family and was afraid he’d had enough. As a result, he worked inordinately long hours to support us, ”she says. “I inherited that fear and became a workaholic who kept doing multiple jobs at the same time to make sure my financial needs were met.”
While medication can fight anxiety, different people have different ways to deal with it.
Moser says she speaks to family and friends who offer support. She also engages in positive affirmation and what she calls “Godversations” to put herself together.
Feibel suggests that therapy can help people overcome their fears.
She says, “One of the best forms of therapy is exposure therapy. It can help a person gradually get used to something they fear, reducing the fear each time. “
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