Laura Turner was on a road trip in Iceland with her brother when she found an unconventional method to manage her anxiety: watching horror movies. “It Follows and The Thing provided a really great distraction from the reality of having just had a miscarriage; I could totally forget about my anxiety for a while because the movies were just so completely immersive,” she says.
While the intensity of the films distracts her mentally, Turner, 34, says watching horror movies also has a physical impact. She notices her body bracing to manage the anxiety she knows is coming. “I slow my breath down, especially during the scary parts, almost practicing a sort of meditation so I can be prepared for whatever jump scare is about to hit,” she says. “My eyes are laser focused on the screen, and all my other senses are either dimmed or directed toward the movie.”
It may seem counterintuitive to watch a scary show or movie when you’re struggling with fear or anxiety, but some viewers, like Turner, find horror oddly comforting. And experts think there may be something to the unconventional approach of immersing yourself in fear for fun.
Mathias Clasen, a Denmark-based researcher who studies horror entertainment, says while there aren’t any empirical investigations on how scary movies could improve anxiety, he isn’t surprised that some people with anxiety use horror films to alleviate their worries — and he suspects the ability to prime for a fear you can predict is a major part of the appeal.
Watching something that should be scary without the actual threat attached to it can be enjoyable — a refreshing break from the buzzkill people with anxiety are used to experiencing.
Unlike real life, when your worst fears could come to fruition at just about any given moment, holding a remote in your hand while watching something scary comes with a sense of control. You can fast-forward through the intense parts if you don’t want to watch, turn the TV to mute, or distance yourself from the intensity by reminding yourself that it’s not…