ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Changes In Body Chemistry In The Face of Fear

Updated on February 15, 2017

Fear Reactions

Years ago while in high school, I was babysitting three very young children as I had done many times before. They were all safely tucked in bed. In an utterly stupid move I discovered the movie, "When a Stranger Calls" on television and decided to watch it. Those of you who have watched the original 1979 version starring Carol Kane and Charles Durning will realize my error immediately. A babysitter, caring for small children repeatedly answers the phone hearing a gruff whisper saying, "Have you checked the children?" From the very first phone call she answers, I got the chills and the hair on the nape of my neck rose in alarm. My auditory perception increased dramatically and I heard foreboding noises not apparent before. I was deathly afraid to check the children in my charge.

Facing Your Fears

Do you love watching a horror flick to test your ability to take fear head on?

See results

Facing Fear

Eventually I forced myself to go check the children even though my brain screamed it was a mistake. My fear was palpable. Sweat trickled down my brow. At any moment I feared a madman would turn the corner and walk quickly down the stairs, bloodied knife in hand! In the movie, the fate of the children was not a good one. Of course, my three charges were found sound asleep unaware of my pounding fear.

Fear Is Rational

What causes our hearts to race and the heightened auditory perceptions, the fear sweat trickling down our brow, the hackles raised? There are biological reasons for these reactions that go back to our early evolution when we were the hunted rather than the hunter. Let's examine the change in our physiology in the face of fear. It is coming closer to that annual celebration of Halloween. What better time to examine why those things that go bump in the night make us feel the way we all do.


Biology of Fear Reactions

Your reaction to fear is a primitive response shared by all animals. It is called your "fight or flight" mechanism which is located in the amygdala located deep in your temporal lobe. After watching a Halloween horror film fest, you need to flee that knife-wielding maniac you fear is lurking around the corner. Your amygdala sends out the red alert, "Danger, danger!"

  1. Blood chemistry is triggered to change so your blood coagulates faster just in case the maniac hits his mark. As well, constricted blood vessels mean less blood loss. Your heart rate skyrockets which is that pounding you hear in your chest as the maniac closes in on his target.
  2. Your hormones change also. Cortisol and adrenalin speed your metabolism - your muscles are stronger and you have more energy. As well, your body creates natural painkillers, so if your increased strength doesn't get you out of reach of the maniac, you won't feel that first blow. If you can deliver a strong kick to his head, you just might get to the door before he catches up with you again.
  3. Fear increases activity in your sympathetic nerves and epinephrine secretions increase from the adrenal gland. Both act on your sweat glands especially the palms of your hands and armpits resulting in a cold sweat which may make it difficult to turn that doorknob and escape the clutches of you know who!
  4. Blood is not only directed to the muscles and heart but also to the central nervous system including the brain. Those heightened auditory perceptions including the soft whisper of shoes on carpet from your approaching serial killer are more easily heard due to the extra blood flow and energy.
  5. Fear also causes the rising of neck hair and goosebumps. This reaction may be a throw back to our fur-bearing ancestors. We've probably all seen cats or dogs react to danger by raising the fur on their back and necks. It makes them look bigger; therefore, more threatening and hopefully their attacker will leave them alone. Both of these responses - goosebumps and rising neck hair - do signal of impending danger but the knife-wielding serial killer probably won't find you any more of a threat. Hopefully your increased muscle strength and energy will take you out of the front door and not up the stairs. You don't want to be that foolish boy or girl that we love to scream at behind fingers over our eyes, "Don't go that way!!!!!"


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 

      7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      Interesting chemistry lesson. The why of what we feel. How we're able to lift a car or throw another human being under extreme duress. :)

    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I'm hoping that its an appropriate thing to do regarding hubpages. I intended all of the linked articles to part of a Halloween series so it seemed to make sense. Thanks for the story. I think we all liked to get scared once in awhile. Maybe the adrenaline rush gives us somekind of good feeling as an aftershock. Not sure! I know my kids love to get scared on roller coasters. Same idea?

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      7 years ago from California

      Nice physiology lesson. Now tell me why I would want to have this experience. I watched Psycho when I was in the 9th grade,while waiting for my mom to get home from work one night. She was late.-I really like the way you linked you hubs. I started with one and was drawn to the next.

    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks for the support princesswithapen. Glad to have another follower. I'll be adding more hubs of a similar nature over the next couple of weeks in honor of Halloween. Hope to hear from you again.

    • princesswithapen profile image


      7 years ago

      Wonderful hub, Teresa

      The face of fear can weaken the best of us. And sweaty palms, like you've mentioned, are an easy give away. Loved reading this.


    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks ladies, I had so much fun writing this. My love for science was fun to mix with my love for Halloween. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 

      7 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      Great hub and voted up

      As Stephanie says you have a knack of personalizing the science behind the fear. I enjoyed reading this.

      It always amazes me in the movies that the victims ALWAYS head upstairs where they are likely to be trapped. I am sure I would be headed for the door but hope I never have to find out.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      7 years ago from USA

      Wow! This is a most interesting biology lesson! You have a wonderful way of personalizing the science behind the fear response to make it really good reading as well as easily understandable. Great hub! Voted Up!

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 

      7 years ago

      Voted up, useful, interesting, AWESOME and bookmarked. I will think about your hub whenever I hide behind my furniture during a scary horror flick. Fascinating for this time of year!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)