Horror Films Might Help Teens with Anxiety Learn to Cope
Teens who struggle with anxiety are either attracted to on-the-edge of your seat movies intended to make the audience jump or avoid them at all costs. Many parents advise their anxious teens not to watch horror movies, particularly not at night. Some teens who struggle with anxiety are prone to sleeplessness and nightmares if a specific fear is keeping them up. Like with video games, parents worry that teens who are exposed to violence in the media are more likely to become aggressive themselves. However, some people suggest that watching horror films may actually help teens with anxiety and trauma learn to cope with their fears.
As our brains have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality, movies have the potential to teach important life lessons that help teens cope. Teens who struggle with social anxiety may be hesitant to step out of their comfort zone and put themselves into the same situations as film characters, but they can apply the insight characters share to other situations in their personal lives. Living “vicariously” can help anxious teens experience rewards without the risk of consequences that the movie characters may face. This helps teens process a situation more objectively and try to problem solve without being frozen by intense emotions associated with being in that position.
Empathizing with Others
Often, horror movies touch on themes that people have had past experiences with, either specific phobias or traumatic events. Most of the time, horror films are exaggerated versions of events, but they touch on people’s primal fight-or-flight responses. Movies and other forms of media can hold up a mirror for people to explore how they relate to the character’s experiences and begin to address their own fears.
“I am the empathetic person I am today because of what horror movies have taught me. I did not learn empathy from the traumatic events I experienced in my childhood,” explains author Mark Gunnells in a TEDx event at Furman University. “What affected me the most was that these events were happening to real people that I could relate to. I learned how to put myself in their shoes and face my own fears.”
In developing empathy for characters, teens practice taking other people’s perspectives and trying to understand other people’s motives for behavior. They can also begin to practice self-compassion when they experience fight-or-flight.
Watching horror films can be considered a form of exposure therapy, which is an effective treatment option for anxiety. Horror films touch on common fears and show viewers how characters have tried to overcome these fears. Sometimes, rewatching scenes that focus on your fears can help your brain realize that the thing you’re afraid of can’t actually hurt you–especially when it’s just on TV.
Completely avoiding a show, or the thoughts and feelings it brings up, won’t make the negative emotions go away. For some teens, adventure therapy may sound like a horror movie waiting to happen: spending time in the woods, climbing to great heights, and trying new things that they are guaranteed to fail at. Like horror films, adventure therapy exposes teens to situations they may be scared of and encourages them to process emotions that arise. Over time, teens become desensitized to these “threatening situations” as they realize what they have control over and become more confident in staying engaged.
Equinox Can Help Teens With Anxiety
Equinox is a residential treatment center helping boys ages 14-18 who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, and addictive behaviors. Our residential program offers a unique treatment program designed to fit each individual’s specific needs. This treatment center has a supportive environment that helps students heal from the inside-out. Students develop a healthy sense of social and emotional awareness and learn how to incorporate good habits into their daily lives. Equinox enforces a positive change in the lives of young men and offers them a fresh start at a happy and healthy future.
Contact us at 877-279-8925. We can help your family today!