How does watching horror affect one’s ability to handle anxiety and stressful situations?

Serial killers, radioactive monsters, and evil spirits. When one mentions relaxation and relief, these 3 things are never what one thinks of. The film genre of horror is designed to elicit feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety into its viewers. Gruesome murders and jump scares have long been considered crucial elements of horror and fear. If someone were to recommend a horror film about spiders to an arachnophobe, you would think they were heartless. However, many recent studies have proven that watching horror has much more benefits than disadvantages. 

Smile (2022) – IMDB

If you read my last blog post about why people watch horror, you would know that people who watch horror are actually better prepared for stressful situations. In fact, a study conducted over the Covid-19 pandemic proved that people who watched horror films were better prepared for the psychological stress of a pandemic than people who did not watch horror. Watching horror films allows the viewer to develop coping strategies for these stressful situations, meaning they will be better off when the real life “horror” arises. This comes from the fact that not every part of your brain registers that what you are seeing is a movie. Now, a key part of watching horror is being able to understand that it is just a movie, but the parts of your body that control adrenaline, heart rate, and other fear induced hormones view it as a real threat, giving the viewer the ability to undergo and become accustomed to the sensation. 

Johnathan Barkan – IMDB

Horror can also be used by people who are undergoing traumatic experiences as coping mechanisms and strategies. Filmmaker Johnathan Barkan said that while his sister was battling cancer, he turned to horror for its cathartic abilities. When asked of his experience, he said “I just knew that there was some faceless, invisible monster that was attacking her. Horror became a way to face that monster and, more importantly, to see that monster, that evil, vanquished.” Understanding how you respond to scary situations gives people more power over how they act in everyday life. Through watching horror, one can learn about fear responses, while simultaneously learning how to regulate emotions. Horror is often used as a way to desensitize someone to phobias and trauma. One of the reasons people watch horror is for that sense of accomplishment after surviving such a film. If someone were to get through a film that focuses around a phobia of theirs, that phobia won’t be nearly as terrifying since they triumphed over the phobia by watching the film in the first place. 

Horror isn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. Like I mentioned before, the goal of a horror film is to shock and scare the audience. The subsequent energy high makes it difficult for even the most experienced horror fanatic to fall asleep, especially the night after watching the film. Sleep can be affected even more by internalizing moments from the film into nightmares. Even though horror can help people overcome fears and become mentally stronger, it is recommended that people who suffer from anxiety avoid horror films. People who suffer from anxiety are more likely to have negative reactions from horror, since horror is supposed to elicit those anxious feelings in people. Anxiety sensitivity, the fear of sensations associated with anxiety, often leads to intrusive thoughts and increased levels of panic while watching horror. Doctors can recommend someone diagnosed with anxiety watch horror to face their fears and develop confidence, but this method does not work for everyone and should be approached with caution. 

Jason Voorhees, the killer from the Friday the 13th series – Wikipedia

Horror is not a genre designed for everyone. Many people love scaring themselves and experiencing that adrenaline rush, others hate the shock and fear associated with horror. But, hate it or love it, watching horror offers much more positive opportunities than negative drawbacks. Horror has progressed from a genre that many thought promoted sadism and cruelty to a way to develop self confidence and mental toughness. All film genres allow people to get lost in the film, but who would’ve thought that the genre designed to stress and scare people would be recommended by doctors to develop psychological toughness. It’s a weird world we live in when people use jump scares to calm themselves down. 

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