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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Brown chapter.

Halloween is my favorite time of year: candy, costumes, scary movies–spooky season’s got it all. In honor of Halloween, I always rewatch my favorite old horror movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and The Conjuring. Everyone loves a scary movie, and since October is also Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about how horror movies can be a useful tool for coping with anxiety. The feeling most people get while watching scary movies is experienced daily by people with anxiety disorders. People with anxiety are in constant fight or flight mode, and watching horror movies can paradoxically relieve some of the physical and mental stress associated with the disorder. 

Anyone who has anxiety knows that many triggers occur at the subliminal level, which means you may not be able to pinpoint exactly which stimuli your brain is perceiving as a threat. This can make addressing these feelings extremely difficult. Watching a horror movie however, redirects that negative affect onto something that isn’t real. People with anxiety experience constant distress in everyday situations, and placing themselves in an environment which is appropriate for eliciting that type of reaction is remarkably calming. Being able to identify the origin of the feeling while being in a safe, controllable environment is a rare opportunity for relief and allows people with anxiety to, rather ironically, feel relaxed during scary movies.*

Finishing a horror movie also provides an immense sense of relief. When you’re able to relate to movie characters, you may feel as if you survived through the movie with them. Horror movies usually have satisfying endings and arriving at that resolution allows viewers to return to stable hormone levels and to physically relax. For people with anxiety, seeing a resolution signals to the brain that the threat has been removed. Contrastingly, concerns of real life are often much harder to resolve, and happy endings cannot usually be guaranteed. Making it through the gore of a horror movie is an accomplishment that provides moments of relief, which come rarely to people with anxiety.

Horror movies essentially provide a form of escapism. They can be a great distraction from life’s more general woes. In fact, a correlation exists between horror movie stocks and times of economic recession or war. When societal anxieties are high, many people turn to horror movies as a diversion. Horror movies allow people to turn fear from uncontrollable, more abstract concepts into something they can make sense of.**

I recently have been dealing with anxiety attacks and this approach usually helps to calm me down; however, this might not be right for everyone. Everyone has different triggers and seeing violence elicits greater apprehension in some rather than others. There is no shame in recognizing the fact that horror is not your genre. 

While horror movies are in no way a cure for anxiety, they do have a strange paradoxical relationship with anxiety. Any source of relief, no matter how unorthodox, is a good thing. This Halloween, I will finally be getting around to watching IT: Chapter 2 and I could not be more excited. Happy Spooky Season!



** https://www.thejournal.ie/readme/column-when-the-economys-struggling-horror-moies-do-well-639123-Oct2012/

Erin is a junior at Brown University concentrating in Behavioral Decision Sciences.
Caleigh is the Co-Campus Correspondent of the Brown University chapter of Her Campus. She is in the class of 2021 studying History and French. She has previously held an internship position at Latina Magazine and worked as a social media editor for the Brown Daily Herald. She currently works as a digital marketing consultant for SiO Beauty. Caleigh grew up in New York City, where in her free time she explored neighborhoods looking for the best sushi and pizza, sharing her experiences through her food Instagram @food_overdudes.