Horror movies can actually help people cope with anxiety

19 November 2018, 13:03 | Updated: 19 November 2018, 16:09

Pennywise from 'IT' and Toni Collette in Hereditary
Pennywise from 'IT' and Toni Collette in Hereditary. Picture: Warner Bros / A24
Woodrow Whyte

By Woodrow Whyte

For some people, horror films actually help them cope with their anxiety.

Things that raise our anxiety levels: talking on the phone, being a crowded public place, and watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. That's pretty "normal" for a lot of us. For some people, however, horror films actually help them cope with their anxiety.

Anxiety is best described as a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives but some people find it hard to control their worries and it can negatively affect their daily lives. The main symptoms include panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder. Sound familiar? You can check the signs that you might have anxiety here.

In an article for Broadly, writer Abby Moss, who suffers from generalised anxiety disorder, wrote that while she can keep her anxiety under control through medication and exercise, "But when it gets really bad, there's one instant fix that makes me feel better: a horror film. The gorier, darker, and more disturbing, the better." [H/T Teen Vogue]


"When I first noticed the effectiveness of this unconventional way of coping with anxiety, I pretty much freaked out: What was I, some kind of psychopath who derives comfort from the suffering of others? Is it just me? I asked on /r/anxiety, the Reddit forum for the topic. Is there something wrong with me?

While horror films aren't a true alternative to seeking medical help if you need it, I was nevertheless inundated with responses from people saying they'd noticed the same thing. "I too have noticed horror movies make me feel better," said one user. "It creates a different anxiety, an anxiety that isn't about me, ya know?"

After hearing from people on Reddit who also relieve there anxiety with horror movies, Abby asked several scientists why some people turn to horror films, which ostensibly should increase anxiety, to relieve their symptoms.


The tl;dr is that there isn't a definitive answer but a number of theories. Some theorised that the horror genre allows sufferers to voluntarily—and under controlled circumstances—get experience with negative emotion and become less fearful of them.

Steph Hovey, an assistant psychologist at the Tavistock Centre and Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, told Abby that "anxiety can develop from experiences in our childhood which affect the way we see the world as adults." So perhaps a horror movie is about confronting fear, in a safe environment and with the help of people she trusts. "Memories of enjoying horror movies with friends when you were younger could be helping you to deal with your anxiety by stopping you from overreacting. Because you've encountered these feelings of nervousness and fear before, but know that nothing bad actually happened, you may be more equipped to deal with these feelings now."

This technique doesn't work for everyone, and if horror films do make you more anxious then put the Scream boxset down and watch The Kissing Booth (again) instead. Do horror movies make you less or more anxious? Let us know @popbuzz.