The fear you overcome from walking through haunted houses and watching classic Michael Myers movies this Halloween could help to lower your stress levels overall.
When done right, a horror movie marathon can even alleviate some of the anxiety you experience on a daily basis, according to Michelle Cutler, an associate professor of clinical psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
“There’s actually a neurobiological response that comes when we do something that’s scary, especially if it’s done in a community with other people and if we’re able to get through it,” Cutler says.
“We get a rush of adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine, and that actually translates into feelings of euphoria and satisfaction or even empowerment once that fear subsides.”
To trigger this response, you’ll need to be intentional and set up your environment for the best experience.
5 tips for using spooky season to reduce stress, lower anxiety
Here are some things you can do before or during scary experiences for a positive effect on your mental health:
- Surround yourself with people that make you feel safe
- Remind yourself that you are in control
- Reaffirm that you aren’t in danger
- Address any traumas that may arise beforehand
- Regulate your nervous system with deep breathing and by thinking about comfortable experiences or people who bring you joy
“When something’s controllable, when we know that we’re choosing to do it, we know when it’s going to start and end, we know that we can get out of it, that makes us have agency in the situation,” says Cutler.
“It’s not like this is happening to us. It’s something that we’re choosing to do, and that whole mindset can have a huge difference on the way we’re impacted by it.”
Know your limits and stick to them
If you know that entering haunted houses or watching certain horror movies will only heighten your levels of anxiety, it’s completely okay to stay away from them, says Cutler.
You’ll only receive the positive effects of participating in those activities if they feel like a choice, she adds. “You don’t want to do this if this doesn’t sound like a good idea,” she says.
“Recognize where you’re starting from and make that intentional choice, ‘Do I really want to do this? Is this going to be helpful?’ knowing that it does have the potential to increase a fear response.”
Consider doing these other activities to embrace Halloween and still experience positive emotions if scary films and haunted houses aren’t your thing:
- Focus on dressing up in fun costumes
- Pass out candy to children from home
- Notice and focus on your children’s enjoyment