The Best Ways to Ease Halloween Anxiety

The Best Ways to Ease Halloween Anxiety

7 minute read

Halloween is right around the corner, the scariest holiday of the year. Haunted houses and scary movies can trigger emotions that are not enjoyable. In fact, they can provoke feelings of anxiety.

Halloween activates the sense of someone being in danger and being caught off-guard, igniting fear of human survival. This isn't just a cultural phenomenon. It's biological.

Some people are wired differently than others, which can affect how easily they are spooked.

Fear and the science of it

Getting in touch with fears starts in the brain. The circuit that deals with responding to threats runs through the amygdala, which has to do with emotions, and the periaqueductal gray (PAG) region, which controls survival responses.

The amygdala is constantly calculating the potential threat value of your environment and feeding that information to your PAG.

The PAG gives you that big startle response if the amygdala feeds it information indicating that something is potentially threatening, or not, depending on the circumstance

A rush of adrenaline is the result, which in turn leads to:

  • A heightened sense of attention and focus

  • An increased heart rate

  • Dilated pupils

When the initial alarm bells sound, the hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex activate. They work together to help us determine how serious this surprise-scary thing is.

A person with a chainsaw inside a haunted house may startle and jump before their brain registers that they are not in danger. People with anxiety may remain frightened despite realizing that they are not in danger. It's more difficult for an anxious brain to modulate between the emotional and the rational brains. The amygdala is going to be quicker to activate and stay more active for longer.

Since your mind is already alert, experiences like watching scary movies and visiting haunted houses can be even scarier than if a friend snuck up behind you in the middle of the day. They are already feeling anxious, so when the bad thing happens, the body is ready to deal with it even bigger than if they were just sitting around.

How to cope

Developing coping strategies can help ease and even reduce your anxiety around Halloween, even though you can't control how you feel.

Identify the problem and acknowledge it

If you experience Halloween-related anxiety, you may feel embarrassed, but invalidating your feelings will only make things worse.

When you acknowledge your feelings, don't beat yourself up about them. It's one of the fastest ways to make things harder on yourself. Practice mindful self-compassion and don't shame yourself for having fears.

Examine your feelings and why you have them

When you were younger, maybe a relative jumped up behind you at a Halloween party and scared you, or maybe you lived through a break-in. Talking to a therapist or journaling about your fears and anxieties can help you move forward.

Knowing where the fear came from allows you to use that thinking part of your brain to challenge this irrational fear

Understand that sometimes, it’s just biology

Try to accept your fear. It's just the way your brain deals with things. The scary characters may be fake, but the fear is real.

Knowing when to avoid and when to confront

Choosing to face your fears instead of avoiding scary movies or haunted houses can be helpful. The best treatment for anxiety is to embrace the things that scare us. Using cognitive behavioral therapy, you can confront your fears by exposing yourself to them in a controlled environment with a therapist. Over time, you gradually learn to cope with them.

You may be able to construct a level of tolerance to fear that allows you to watch a movie with a few scary scenes, but a haunted house may not be for you. If avoiding the haunted house doesn't significantly reduce your quality of life, then that's perfectly fine.

In case it isn't negatively affecting your life or you don't feel like you're missing out by not going to a haunted house, don't worry about it - you don't have to.

Practice mindfulness breathing

When you activate this relaxation response, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us to shut off those alarm bells.

The best time to practice mindfulness breathing will vary from person to person. It may be right now or just before watching a scary movie or going into a haunted house.

Do you need to get through the haunted house before you practice mindfulness breathing, or is it helpful for you to practice mindfulness breathing at the moment? Mindful breathing can induce a relaxation response.

Challenge your thoughts

Haunted houses may seem terrifying, but that doesn't mean that dolls come to life or that zombies are real. Try taking a moment to ask yourself, “Is this real? Could this really happen?”

We often take our thoughts as actual truth, but sometimes we need to challenge them. Some movies have plots that seem more plausible. That can be terrifying. However, it’s important to ask whether it’s realistic and how likely it is that it’ll actually happen in this case.

If you think about how unlikely it is to happen in real life, it can help distance you from the fear.

Frame the situation in a new way

You should always remember that when you're watching a movie that's scarier than you expected, the actors were paid a lot of money, and they were probably having a great time filming the scene.

The mantra that you repeat during these scary moments might even be "I am safe" or "This isn't real."

Seek the support of your friends

Try to rely on your friends for help and comfort when attending haunted houses and scary movies.

We look at faces when we are scared, and we read their emotions. One of the positive effects of feelings being contagious is that they can create a calming effect.

If your friends can laugh at some of the scary characters inside a haunted house, it may help you relax. You should also set boundaries and expectations, such as asking your friend to join you in a haunted house or agreeing not to be made fun of if you leave a movie theater at any time during the screening.

You have the choice of how you want to celebrate Halloween.

Come up with other ways to celebrate

The best part of Halloween is not about ghosts, goblins, or thrillers. Each of us enjoys Halloween in different ways at different levels. Focus on the parts that do not scare you, and make your Halloween as enjoyable as possible.

Organize a cozy fire-pit party and serve pumpkin-flavored desserts. Decorate your house with decorations that are festive and feature pumpkins smiling instead of spooky monsters and cobwebs.

Organize themed parties and invite guests to create costumes for celebrities, animals, and other non-threatening themes.

Go back to the way you celebrated Halloween as a child and enjoy the holiday through their eyes. Get into the Halloween spirit by visiting corn mazes, trick-or-treating, and dressing up your family. If you don't have children, you can join a friend or relative who does.

Don't be afraid to ask your friends for support, and realize you can find a way to celebrate Halloween that suits your lifestyle.

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