Why was the cold war a scary place to live in?

The cold war was a frightening time period to live in because there was no actual fighting between the Russians and the Americans. The scariness occurred from the tension between the two nations, and the anxiety of a potential nuclear war. A nuclear war would essentially end humanity, so many people lived in fear of the mass death and destruction that could occur. Both the Americans and the Russians did not want to be the first country to attack, yet they did not want to be attacked first.
In this time period, the first country to launch a nuclear weapon would, in theory, suffer less civilian deaths because they would have destroyed more of the other country first. However, it is likely that if one country detected the other preparing to attack, a preventive attack would occur first, resulting mass destruction to both sides.

This all caused a great deal of anxiety throughout the world, including parts of the Middle East and South American, where proxy wars between the Americans and Soviets occurred. An example of this is the Afghanistan-Russia war, in which the Americans secretly funded the Afghani's with money and weapons to fight the Russians. This resulted in the Soviets being too far in debt to compete with the Americans on a global scale, and lead to the end of the Cold War.