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Scary Movies Can Help People With Anxiety *Relax*. Wait, What?

If you’ve been to the movie theaters or scrolled through a streaming service lately, you’ve probably noticed that horror movies become much more popular leading up to Halloween. Trailers for these movies are everywhere, and there is no shortage of options to watch something this weekend that will surely give you a scare. 

Our fascination with scary movies dates back to the release of Dracula in 1931. This was when the horror genre was officially codified, and people have been obsessed ever since. Since then, movies like The Exorcist, The Shining, The Ring, and Paranormal Activity have given audiences second thoughts about going into dark places alone. 

There is a thrill in watching a scary movie that creates an experience that is unlike any other genre. But does that thrill come with some additional considerations for our health? Well, it depends. 

For example, scary movies might not be the best option for anyone that already suffers from anxiety. Studies have shown that watching horrific images can trigger unwanted thoughts and feelings and increase levels of anxiety or panic in certain people.

It isn’t all bad news, though. Another study published in 2020  found that horror films can actually be quite relaxing for some people with anxiety disorders due to the “anticipation of threat from environmental cues, and the reaction to threat onset.” In other words, there is a certain predictability to the jumps and slashes of a scary movie that some people with anxiety find comforting since they know it is coming. 

Do scary movies cause or improve anxiety?

But what if you don’t have any pre-existing anxiety disorders? Is there still something inherently unhealthy about horror films for the average moviegoer? It is important to consider that we get a thrill out of scary movies because they put us in a sympathetic, fight-or-flight state. This is why our heart pounds, our palms get sweaty, and we jump out of our seats. 

That kind of thrill makes horror movies so fun, but it is also an elevated state that will impact the quality of your sleep that night and possibly in the few nights that follow. We all know that sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our health, so in that sense, scary movies may not be the best option for the health-conscious moviegoer. 

The key takeaway? Scary movies will most likely immediately impact your sleep, which isn’t ideal. However, as long as you aren’t watching horror movies a part of your daily bedtime routine, a single scary movie’s occasional impact seems pretty negligible. 

Even for those that suffer from anxiety, the research is split on whether scary movies are harmful or helpful. So enjoy your favorite scary movies this weekend. Chances are, the snacks at the movie theater would be more of a health concern than the actual movie you choose to watch.

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