Could Horror Films Actually Help Ease Anxiety?
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Could Horror Films Actually Help Ease Anxiety?

Jessica Hamilton July 9, 2022

Jump scares, bloody massacres and possessed children. The horror genre seems like the last place to turn to for comfort.

Yet those with anxiety may find relief in the controlled thrills of these frightening films. Not convinced? Let’s delve into the link between anxiety and horror films.

Horror offers a sense of control 

Horror films offer a sense of control, which those with anxiety often feel they lack. It’s enjoyable because ‘you know where the fear is coming from — the screen in front of you and you can switch it off at any time’, according to Psycom.

You can decide what you see and which scenes you want to cover your eyes for. As opposed to real life, audiences expect the dangers and threats in the horror world, they may be surprised but they aren’t necessarily shocked. The 90-minute running time of horror films often ends with a resolution, a feeling that all is well in the world, which viewers can extend to their own reality. 

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They can distract your mind

Anyone with anxiety will be well aware of the constant negative thought train that never seems to stop.  Well, horror films may be the perfect distraction for a busy mind. It takes your perspective out of your current reality and into a fictional character, whose threat is more immediate. Rather than focusing on your own anxieties, you’re forced to consider someone else’s.

Therapeutic release 

Wes Craven, director and master of the horror genre once said: “Horror movies don’t create fear, they release it”, physiologically speaking, it’s true.

While watching a suspenseful and intense scene your eyes widen your palms sweat and your heart rate increases. Your sympathetic nervous system is responding to a perceived threat. In other words, your flight or fight response has kicked in to protect you from danger.

As you realise that Emma Roberts is the person being chased and that you’re not in any immediate danger, your body calms down. The parasympathetic nervous system relaxes your muscles, releases hormones and starts functioning normally. So if messages don’t fit your idea of relaxation, why not try horror?

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Helps you prepare for real-life horror 

People watch horror films to intentionally scare themselves. However believable a gruesome scene may look, audiences, from the comfort of their cinema seats, know that it isn’t a real-life threat.

Through these anxiety-triggering films, horror fans gain experience in regulating their emotions. Mathias Clasen, a professor specialising in the physiological response to horror said: “When you watch a scary movie, you’re actively regulating your own emotions, for example by reminding yourself that it’s just fiction or covering your eyes or controlling your breathing“. Meaning horror fans may be better equipped to deal with real-life threats.

A perfect example is how horror fans adapted to the coronavirus pandemic, researchers found fans of horror may experience less psychological distress and more resilience during the pandemic. It makes sense, after all, haven’t they already seen the worst?

Horror can trigger anxiety 

While horror has been therapeutically linked to anxiety, it can also trigger it. Psychological research into this correlation cannot extend to everyone. Gruesome and scary scenes can trigger anxiety and linger in the imagination.

If you’ve tried horror films and found they definitely aren’t for you, I certainly would not recommend repeated watching of them.

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Jessica Hamilton is a freelance writer for HITC entertainment and has contributed to several sights across GRV media. She is currently on the MA journalism course at Kingston University and is working towards the NCTJ gold standard diploma which she will receive in April. Jessica has had years of experience writing and, like any young journalist, is keen to gain more. Currently residing in London, she is the editor of the Kingston Courier and has even court-reported at the Old Bailey.