Scream away your worries: The mental health benefits of horror

From helping viewers confront trauma to building resilience, there's a lot more to horror than meets the eye


Entertainment Desk October 24, 2021

Every year in October, film and television recommendations and releases become filled to the brim with horror. From ghosts to serial killers to zombies, fear is the highlight of the Halloween season. However, if you are someone who suffers from anxiety, it can be understandable if you avoid horror films and TV shows like the plague. However, contrary to popular belief, horror flicks actually have the power to relieve anxiety and help you combat your fears. To understand how you can wield the power of spooky stories, here’s a list of the mental health benefits of watching horror films, compiled via Healthline and Psychology Today. So get in your comfiest pyjamas and grab that tub of popcorn, it’s time for a rush of adrenaline!  

Building resilience

There’s a reason horror scares us the way it does. Usually playing with themes of imminent danger and death, the horror genre actually helps viewers confront their own mortality from the safety of their plush couches, in turn helping audiences become more resilient in the face of mortal danger. “Today, we have what we would call ‘surrogacy theory,’ which essentially says horror films allow us, in a way, to control our fear of death by giving us a surrogate experience,” shared Andrew Scahill, author of The Revolting Child in Horror Cinema.  Horror makes our fight or flight response kick in, allowing us to practice being in survival mode without any real danger present.

Dealing with fear and trauma

Horror comes with a host of triggers. From knife-wielding killers to gore, this genre can cause many individuals to come face to face with their trauma. However, according to the founder of Oaklee Psychotherapy in San Francisco, this may not be such a bad thing. “[Horror] can actually teach us how to handle real-world stress better.”

They added, “During a stressful film, we are intentionally exposing ourselves to anxiety-producing stimuli. We usually don’t engage in the same unhealthy coping mechanisms that we utilise in real life. We learn how to manage the stress in the moment. This practice can translate to helping us manage everyday stressors and fears.”

Screaming away your worries  

If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that truly scary films are bound to force a scream or two out of you. However, this may not be so bad. In fact, screaming can be a great way of relieving stress. Screaming without any real danger can actually be a truly cathartic experience, allowing you to purge all the negativity out of your system. In addition to this, the highly engaging nature of horror is bound to get your mind off whatever it is that has been worrying you all day. So press play and relax!

A workout for your heart and brain

If the film or TV show is truly as scary as the claim made by the makers, then it is bound to give your brain and heart quite the workout. According to Psychology Today, the controlled increases in blood pressure each time you get a shock allows for greater flexibility of the arteries, which in turn leads to a healthier heart!

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