How Horror Helps Me Take Control of My Anxiety

by Ashley Nestler, MSW about a month ago in anxiety

Using the Horror Genre as an Anxiety Aid

How Horror Helps Me Take Control of My Anxiety

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with anxiety. I grew up as an anxious child and I have struggled with severe worrying my entire life. I have been on and off various anxiety medications and have participated in just about every form of therapy and exercise designed to help relieve anxiety.

But nothing has helped me to manage, and take control of, my anxiety more than the horror genre.

When I was younger, I was terrified of anything having to do with horror or Halloween; but as I have grown older I discovered how feeling those intense feelings of fear and unease that horror movies, books, and series bring provide me with an outlet to take control of my anxiety. Most of the time I feel like my anxiety controls me by taking over my body with intense shaking, a rapid heartbeat, uncontrollable, worrying thoughts, and a shortness of breath; but when I watch a horror movie or series or read a horror book I am looking my anxiety in the face and saying “I am not afraid of you”.

Staying in my body and being in the present moment is one of the things that I struggle with the most with my anxiety, because my thoughts take me out of body and catapult me into the past or the future; but the horror genre captivates my attention and forces me to stay present. While it elicits the same anxiety symptoms that I try to avoid normally, it is a unique experience because I am welcoming those symptoms. I am allowing myself to experience them in a way that lets me release my tension and welcomes the endorphins to overwhelm my body.

However, I do have to be careful of what type of horror I consume due to my post-traumatic stress disorder. Anything to do with sexual assault or animal and child abuse will put me over the edge and does not provide a safe space for releasing anxiety. This is why I stick with supernatural horror or horror that is not as realistic because it transports me to another world and doesn’t trigger my panic.

While horror movies provide two hours or so of anxiety experience and relief, horror books and series are a different form of outlet. Because it takes me longer to read books or watch a series than watch a movie, I am able to build up my anxiety and experience a greater sense of release by the end because of the anticipation. Horror literature is beautiful in that authors have to provide imagery to create fear in the reader, and if the author is good at their craft, the book will become all consuming. When I read horror, I don’t have the mental space to let my thoughts consume me because my mind is fully captivated. This is why horror is my favorite genre to prescribe as a bibliotherapist (a therapist who uses books and reading as therapeutic tools).

My top 10 favorite books, TV shows, and movies for releasing anxiety in a safe environment are:

- A Haunting in Connecticut (movie)

- The Conjuring Series (movies)

- The Curse of La Llorona (movie)

- The Annabelle Series (movies)

- The Child’s Play Series (movies)

- My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (Book)

- The Merciless by Danielle Vega (Book)

- The Haunted by Danielle Vega (Book)

- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Book)

- The Haunting of Hill House (Series on Netflix)

If you struggle with anxiety I challenge you to find a form of horror that is safe and creates a space for you to experience your anxiety and release it. You deserve to control your anxiety, rather than having it control you.

Ashley Nestler, MSW
Ashley Nestler, MSW
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Ashley Nestler, MSW

Ashley Nestler, MSW is a Bibliotherapist and a survivor of Major Depressive Disorder, OCD, Quiet Borderline Personality, Fibromyalgia, Bulimia Nervosa, and C-PTSD. Ashley has dedicated her life to advocating for mental health and illness.

See all posts by Ashley Nestler, MSW