A weird thing about me is that I LOVE horror movies and I suffer from anxiety. If I see a centipede in my apartment, I’ll be awake all night, fearful that it will somehow make it’s way to my bed. When I worry about something, it’s like I can’t turn my brain off.
So, over the years I’ve fielded questions from well-meaning family and friends who don’t understand why I consume so much horror. I love scary movies, I read all the creepypasta I can get my hands on, I’m obsessed with Stephen King, and I even like to visit scary locations like famously haunted hotels. It seems to go against common sense. If I have a hard enough time with my real life worries, why am I inserting new (fictional) fears into my life? I’ve never known the scientific reason, I just know I love being scared. It’s my favorite form of entertainment.
Well, it turns out there’s a scientific reason horror tends to be relaxing for me and other people with anxiety. One social scientist, Dr. Mathias Clasen, has been studying horror films and mental health since 2001. He explains, “there’s psychological distance when we watch a horror film. We know it’s not real—or at least, some parts of our brain know it isn’t real… The genre allows us to voluntarily — and under controlled circumstances — get experience with negative emotion.”
Experiencing anxiety while knowing, objectively, that we are “safe” gives us practice fact-checking whether our worries are real. The fun is in feeling the psychological and physiological effects of fear while knowing there isn’t any actual danger.
Personally, I find the highs and lows of a horror movie to be relaxing. My anxiety may be heightened at the climax of the plot, but by the time everything is over it almost feels like a post-workout glow. I’m more relaxed than I was when the movie started, or maybe just tired from the dose of adrenaline. Other people who suffer from anxiety have noticed this same effect, and say that horror movies can serve as self-care for them.
Next time you’ve had a particularly stressful week, find a scary movie on Netflix (here’s some streaming right now) and see if it works for you.