Exploring the Connection: The Link Between Anxiety and Horror

featured, life, psychology, true crime
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Exploring the Connection: The Link Between Anxiety and Horror

Exploring the Connection: The Link Between Anxiety and Horror

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I’m an anxious person by nature. My anxiety has always been with me, like a friend who just never stops hanging around even though you stopped inviting them over years ago. I’ve also loved horror content and spooky shows for as long as I can remember. So, is there a correlation between my anxiety and my horror obsession? 🤔

My So-Called Anxious Life

My So Called Anxious Life: Worry Less

Confession time: I have suffered from severe social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder for most of my life. My first memories of anxiety are being literally terrified to stand up in class and go to the front of the room (where the pencil sharpener was) to sharpen my pencil. I was absolutely horrified to imagine people looking at me, thinking how stupid I looked, any and every other kind of worry, to the point of shaking in my seat. Of course, when I was that young, I didn’t know the word ‘anxiety.’ In fact, it wouldn’t be for many years later that I would hear the term and realize, Oh, this is what this horrible, awful, no good, very bad feeling is.

My anxiety was absolutely debilitating in every sense of the word. In elementary school, I rarely spoke. I never raised my hand in class. People made fun of me constantly, saying things like, “Do you EVER talk?” If I was sick, I rarely stayed home from school, because I was too afraid of all that I would miss in the one day gone and how could I possibly make up for it? I remember vividly being in third grade, worrying to the point of getting sick, all about a school trip that we would take in sixth grade. Three entire years of dread and worry, for something so far away in the future. My anxiety ruled my life and everything I did, everything I thought about.

My Anxiety Took Me Down A Dark Path

When I got to high school, things changed a bit. I started dressing weird (like the “freaks”) and I made one very good friend who had his own mental illnesses. My anxiety still ruled my life, but I was starting to come out of my shell in other ways. And then, midway through sophomore year, I found a tool that shut up that anxious voice in my head, almost completely. That tool? Alcohol.

Yes, from the age of sixteen to thirty-two, I dealt with my extreme anxiety in one very specific way: I dove head first into alcoholism! (0/10 would not recommend.) I was a hopelessly addicted— albeit, high functioning— alcoholic for the majority of my life. This is not something I disclose to many new people in my life, as I still have a mass amount of shame and regret in regards to my alcoholism. It’s extremely embarrassing.
But, that’s another blog post entirely.

Why My Anxiety Fueled My Alcoholism

What drove me to drink was that it was the only way to shut off the constant anxious self talk. I’d always been painfully shy; alcohol made me uninhibited enough to talk to anyone and everyone. I wasn’t worrying about what they were thinking about how I looked or pre-analyzing any phrase that came out of my mouth. The alcohol (predominantly whiskey, later vodka,) completely took away my raging, overbearing anxious thoughts. (The anxious thoughts would roar back on the early hangover days, which made me just drink even more.) Most days, I was simply trying to get through the day without falling apart completely. Alcoholism, as any addiction is, is horrific and debilitating in its own right. I should note that I do NOT recommend substance abuse of any kind as a way to deal with your anxiety. (No for real, just DON’T.) It causes many, many other problems, ruins your health, the list goes on… take my word for it. And it’s not an easy hole to climb out of, once you’re down in it.

Anxiety Returns with a Vengeance

Anyway, back to the anxiety. Now that I’m no longer a raging alcoholic (thank God,) my severe anxiety has returned with a vengeance. And once Covid hit? Forget it. My anxiety’s back to completely dominating my life, and my social phobia is at an all time high. I don’t go to concerts anymore, I turn down invitations to parties, I rarely leave my house to be honest. It’s sad, and it’s something I’m working on. But one thing kind of struck me the other day, a question in regards to all of this. If I’m such an anxious person, why do I love watching horror and scary things so much? Is that normal? Is my love of horror helping my anxiety, or reinforcing it? What’s the link between anxiety and horror obsession? Is it bad to love horror while having such crippling anxiety?

Anxiety and Horror Obsession

I watch primarily real horror stories, true horror of any kind. Topping the list is an incredibly unhealthy amount of true crime content. Also, anything about catastrophic disasters or horrific real life tragedies, a plethora of paranormal content (which mainly stems from my truly huge amount of unresolved grief,) the list goes on and on.

My obsession with all things dark, morbid and spooky made me want to do a deep dive into why my severe anxiety fuels my love of horror content. I know not ALL people with severe anxiety dig this horror content stuff, but I also know I’m not the only one who does.

A Few Anxiety Disorder Statistics

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health – NIMH, “Anxiety Disorders”)
  • Anxiety disorders impact an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults aged 18 to 44 years in any given year, affecting work performance, relationships, and overall quality of life. (Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America – ADAA, “Facts & Statistics”)
  • Women are twice as likely to be affected by generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as men. (Source: ADAA, “Facts & Statistics”)
  • Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, accounting for one-third of the country’s total mental health bill. (Source: ADAA, “Facts & Statistics”)

Reasons Why Some People With Severe Anxiety Enjoy Horror Content

A Spooky Distraction from Personal Worry

I think the distraction factor is one of the main reasons for me. According to this Huffington Post article:

“… people with anxiety often struggle to stay present in the moment and instead dwell on the past or worry about the future. […] I can see how watching horror movies would allow a person with anxiety to focus their worry and attention towards something unrelated to their lives […] These movies could provide a distraction from their personal worries that are causing them physical and emotional distress.”

You know when you’re feeling all wound up with stress and worries? Watching scary stuff can totally shake that off. When I’m watching a spooky video, I’m not worrying about my presentation at work next week, or my dog getting sick. My internal concerns are, for a few blissful moments, muted. It’s like hitting pause on all the everyday crap and diving headfirst into some spooky adventure. Your brain’s too busy getting wrapped up in the suspense and scares to even think about whatever’s been bugging you. It’s like a mini-vacay from reality, where you can just kick back and forget about your troubles for a while. I’m too wrapped up in the adrenaline inducing video. Plus, there’s something oddly satisfying about facing those fears head-on from the comfort of your couch. And hey, when you finally come back to reality, you’re all pumped up, like you just had this wild adventure.

Chasing that Adrenaline Rush

As a very solitary person these days, I don’t experience an adrenaline rush very often, unless it’s from my constant soul-crushing anxiety and fear, which isn’t pleasant. So getting an adrenaline rush from watching creepy horror content is a nice change. When you get that rush from watching something scary, it’s like your body’s waking up, feeling all alert and tuned in. You’re totally sucked into the moment, heart pounding, senses on high alert— it can be a wild ride. You’re fully immersed in the thrill. It’s not just the fear factor that gets you going; it’s the whole rollercoaster ride of emotions—fear, excitement, anticipation—that makes it so fun. Plus, your brain dishes out some feel-good chemicals like endorphins, giving you that awesome euphoric buzz. So yeah, watching something scary? It’s like a shot of pure excitement that leaves you wanting more.

“Embrace the thrill of the unknown, for it’s in those moments of adrenaline rush that we truly feel alive, daring to push past our limits and discover the extraordinary within ourselves.”

Normalizing or Validating the Anxiety

The world is a scary place. That’s just a given. So as someone with severe anxiety, throwing on a horror video is kinda like nodding along with all the scary stuff that usually messes with my head. It’s like saying, “Yeah, I see you, fears,” but in a controlled, safe, living room setting with lots of nice ambient lamp-lighting. It’s a way to face those anxiety triggers head-on, but without actually diving into the real-world chaos. Plus, there’s something strangely comforting about seeing those fears play out on screen— like, “Okay, so maybe I’m not alone in this after all.” It can feel oddly validating for me, almost like a nod to the real-life fears that I battle daily.

Confronting Fear

When I’m watching spooky stuff, sometimes it feels like I’m confronting fear head on. It’s kinda like getting your own personal exposure therapy session, right from the comfort of my big red couch. For those of us dealing with anxiety, it’s like a practice run for dealing with those intense emotions that can be seriously tough to handle in everyday life. I mean, who actually enjoys feeling scared, right? But by watching scary, horror type stuff, it’s like we’re getting a chance to flex our emotional muscles and figure out how to deal with all that intensity. So maybe next time we experience it in real life, it won’t be quite as bad. It’s almost like training our brains to chill out when faced with the things that usually send us into panic mode.

In Conclusion: Scary Comfort

So, if you’re among those of us who get a kick out of watching scary stuff despite dealing with anxiety, know that you’re not alone. Anxiety can be a real pain, but loving scary stuff? Turns out, it might just be one way to cope. Whether it’s the adrenaline rush, the distraction from everyday worries, or the thrill of facing fear head-on, there’s something about horror content that just clicks for some of us. Diving into some horror content can be like a mini-therapy session. And hey, if it helps ease those anxious feelings even just a bit, why shouldn’t we grab some popcorn and embrace it? Keep embracing what works for you, and don’t be afraid to lean into those spooky thrills when you need ’em most. That’s what I do, and why not? You’ve got to find happiness where you can in this life.

alcoholism, anxiety, anxiety and horror, anxiety disorder, creepy, dark, dark humor, generalized anxiety disorder, horror, horror content, horror movies, horror obsession, morbid, psychology, , spooky, true crime

Photo credit: Unsplash // Lukas Eggers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.