While scary movies are exciting and people love the adrenaline rush that they give, they can sometimes trigger the symptoms of anxiety by making people feel that they are in a threatening situation.
The adrenaline released during the movie can activate the sympathetic nervous system which is designed to respond to threats by putting the body into a “flight or fight” response. This can lead to certain physical responses like a racing heart, sweating, and muscle contractions.
The movies are meant to put viewers in that mode and elicit stress. However, sometimes those feelings can last even after the film ends. In extreme cases, some people can experience anxiety attacks, sleep disturbances, and even panic attacks.
Here are five things a viewer can do if they feel anxious during or after watching a horror movie:
1. Change the activity
If a horror movie makes you uncomfortable, it is important to distract yourself. Professionals who deal with people with anxiety disorders often recommend activities that help shift the focus from the triggering activity. For example, simply focusing intentionally on your breathing, but not too much, can help replace the negative feelings.
You can shift to a comedy or romantic movie next or repeat your favourite show. Having an adult colouring book can be quite helpful as well as scrolling through funny TikToks.
2. Grounding techniques
Grounding techniques are often recommended by psychologists and psychiatrists to help people get their bodies back in control.
Other than breathing exercises, for example, the 4-7-8 breathing style and belly breathing, a common grounding technique is to focus on the surroundings. Humans have five senses: Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling. Use each of the senses in your environment. For instance, notice five blue things in the room.
3. Know your limits
Every individual has a different threshold. You must know what your limit is and what content you can peacefully consume. You might be someone who cannot tolerate gore movies. Some people might not be able to watch them at all and some could view them once a year.
There are other differences too. Maybe you can watch movies surrounding aliens but not related to home invasions and robberies. It is important to know your boundaries, be mindful of them and communicate them in your social circle.
4. Keep the lights on
Horror movies can trigger overthinking and make you think about non-existent monsters behind curtains, under the bed, and in your cupboard. This can cause sleep difficulties which can in turn increase anxiety.
After a scary movie, make sure there are no shadows in the room. This is only possible if you keep the lights on.
Social support can do wonders in case of anxiety. Make sure you have close people around you while watching triggering movies. Studies have shown that pets reduce anxiety too. If you live alone, staying in touch with loved ones through the phone can help.