Can you be scared to death? Can you really die of fear? It's not just a saying, you actually can die of fright. It’s a stress-induced reaction where some external stimulant is so great the body kicks into a level of overdrive that actually kills you.
Scientists say what dying of fright is like sort of resembles a heart attack: a surge of adrenaline hits you and causes your heart to go crazy. Sometimes being scared to death is a calm experience, where the shock causes you to enter a dreamlike state of consciousness. Dying of fear - as well as dying of a broken heart - are both real, verifiable phenomena caused by the same set of physiological processes. Curious? Hope you don't get too scared.
Although being elderly or having a preexisting heart condition can increase your risk of dying from fright, they certainly aren’t necessary conditions for it. According to doctors, it’s possible for a person with a totally healthy heart to get scared to death. It all depends on the severity of the fright, the length of time your heart spends in distress, and the amount of blood that gets restricted from the brain and organs. So, if you’re someone who knows they have a trigger-like response to fear, be aware of the potential dangers of exposing yourself to too much of it. The good news? Doctors say “reoccurrence is low.” And “studies show only about a five percent of patients have more than one attack.”
Animalistic drive takes over the brain whenever something scary occurs - especially if that thing is so scary it sends your body into a tailspin. Physiologically speaking, the first thing that happens when you're scared to death is a cascade of hormones gets released by the nervous system, preparing the body to either stand its ground and take on a threat or flee from it as quickly as possible. Although this hormonal release is meant to help manage stress in moments of danger, sometimes it can also be the thing that ushers in a series of physical responses that kills you instead.
Sometimes when the fight-or-flight response goes into overdrive it causes the heart to beat uncontrollably, which can be fatal. Take, for example, the death of Danielle Goldberg - a 26-year-old woman who got trapped in an elevator. As her stress escalated in the enclosed space, her heart began to beat rapidly and wildly. She died in the hospital from cardiac arrest shortly after being rescued.
When the body is trying to deal with a terrifying situation, it releases different chemicals. One of those is adrenaline. But if the body releases too much adrenaline, it can prove deadly. High levels can damage an otherwise healthy heart, and they can completely stop a less healthy one. As a result, some people who die of fright do so after this adrenaline release throws them into cardiac arrest causing them to die of a heart attack.