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Why Watching a Horror Movie Is Good For Your Health

Walking down a dark hallway
Photography by Charles DeLuvio

You’re finally home from a long day at work and now darkness sets in under a moonless, gloomy sky–having never been a fan of the dark, you lock the door behind you and kick off your shoes. There’s a split second where you feel your heart race at the thought of being caught off guard, the momentary flash of what-if.

You settle in for the night–maybe you just threw a microwave meal in to satisfy the need for food while also placating your exhaustion. You don’t want to go to bed yet, so maybe a movie? You flip through the channels and suddenly you find yourself at the entrancingly morbid opening credits of your favorite scary movie. Just as you begin to smile to yourself, the microwave beeps loudly from the kitchen and you jump in your seat–no you didn’t you’re not a fraidy cat.

Now you find yourself at the beginning of a marathon binge of a horror movie franchise and you don’t realize until two in the morning that you’ve got to be to work in a handful of hours and that you’ve made yet another pleasurably terrible decision. Good job on handling that adulting business that people always talk about.

Watching Horror Movies Has Benefits?

While it’s clear that many people are simply not interested in horror movies or the genre in general—it’s okay, not everyone enjoys the scary stuff—there have actually been studies done that lead us to believe that watching horror movies can actually be beneficial for our health! Sounds kind of silly, right? Seriously though, if you don’t believe us, keep reading—you might finally have an excuse to drag your friends into your next horror movie marathon once you’ve armed yourself with these awesome tidbits.

Anxiety? What anxiety?

Anxiety is an abnormal stressor that no one has time for, not to mention who wants to deal with that? When you voluntarily watch a horror movie, there is a latent feeling of safety that looms in the back of our minds—so when that scary music starts playing in the background and your brain begins to anticipate the danger that is coming for the protagonist on-screen, our fight or flight response is triggered.

When this response is triggered from suspenseful scenes in your favorite genre and has that subsequent release of adrenaline, glucose, and cortisol in our bodies it significantly combats the anxiety response. Anxiety, as anyone who suffers from it, will understand, is a huge roadblock when it comes to being able to accomplish anything—the fight or flight response counteracts that overwhelming obstacle in a huge way. In fact, some people use horror movies to treat minor instances of anxiety and depression—because adrenaline makes way for serotonin which is the body’s natural happy drug. Dr. Mathias Clasen, a professor of literature and media speculates horror movies educate people on how to deal with stressful or dangerous situations.

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Liberate Yourself

Dark Misty Forest
Photography by Jakub Kriz

Speaking of abnormal stressors—stress is just plain unhealthy and those who enjoy watching horror movies, you’re in luck! When it comes to stress simply pick a horror movie, the creepier the better and let that stress bubble burst. This all goes hand-in-hand with the beautifully purifying catharsis that many people feel while watching scary movies.

Have you ever had someone cut you off in traffic and for a moment you feel such an intense surge of anger that you wanted to beat the tar out of them? Well—watching movies where these kinds of events are acted out on screen can actually have a cleansing effect. Since you would never act on these feelings yourself, due to your own moral and ethical objections to violence it’s only fair to be able to sympathize with Jason as he’s cutting down teens on Camp Crystal Lake.

Feel the burn—or, maybe not…

Thinking of putting off a visit to the gym tonight? Well, you can burn nearly two hundred calories sitting on your couch watching a horror movie. That’s not to say that you should substitute this in place of healthy exercise, but if you skipped out on your nightly walk to settle in and watch a horror flick you’re probably breaking even. Some of the most famous horror movies like The Shining, Jaws, and Alien were used in a study to determine the body’s reaction to stimuli presented in frightening movies—the result? Suffice it to say you can burn between 152 to 184 calories by popping in one of these movies, so while you might not feel the burn like you might with a short strenuous walk, it works just as well!

Enhance Brain Activity

Walking Down a Dark Street
Photography by Elti Meshau

The neurotransmitters that are released while watching a horror movie increase brain activity—as has been noted above—with the adrenaline rush that horror movies have been found to give us, the lasting effect is actually heightened alertness.

Learn What NOT to Do!

According to the Psychology department at the University of Wisconsin people, women, in particular, can actually experience an increase in maturity and street smarts. Even though horror movies are often over the top in their depictions of violence, they mentally prepare people who find themselves in precarious situations. Walking down a dark alley late at night? Anyone who’s versed in suspenseful cinema knows to be alert for someone jumping out at them from the shadows—we’ve learned from movies to not repeat the mistakes of the disposable characters. Don’t trust strangers, don’t divulge personal information, don’t pick up hitchhikers, be vigilant when you’re alone.

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Boost Your Immune System

Horror movies—especially the intensely frightening ones—signal our brains to release adrenaline which is actually a booster for our immune system. Just in time for cold season and with the widespread panic of the coronavirus, this booster comes in the form of an increase in white blood cells. Both men and women could use an increase of white blood cells—since these are the cells that fight off infections—to decrease the probability of getting sick or the length of time and seriousness of a viral or bacterial infection.

Desensitize Yourself

While it wouldn’t be ideal to be desensitized to everything in life—moral abhorrence is typically what keeps people from being apathetic to the problems of others—there are a lot of people out there that deal with phobias on a daily basis. Therapists that work with these people often suggest watching horror movies as a means to overcome the irrational fears that these people suffer from. So, this counts as yet another health benefit that comes along with movies that are meant to scare the pants off of people—after all, who can’t get comfortable in a controlled environment with a fictional movie that is meant to test your resolve (yeah, we know, there are still some people who can’t muster the courage to undergo this sort of confrontation).

A Boon for Relationships

Lastly, no one can claim that horror movies don’t bring people together—sometimes even literally, grasping each other tightly with a shriek. The trick used to be a guy would ask a lady out on a date, usually a movie, then pick a scary movie so the lady might be inclined to scoot closer or let him put his arm around her. Horror movies are an experience for everyone involved, and there’s often at least one person in the group that gets worked up over the scariest scenes. Having a hand to hold, or strength in numbers revives the notion that our survival often depends on other people.

The Takeaway

If you’re not keen on watching scary movies, never fret—there are ways to alleviate the burden of your own fears. Watch them with friends or family, be ready with your phone to remind you that you’re not alone, hide behind some munchies and blankets, keep the lights on, read the synopsis of the movie to familiarize yourself with the plot prior to watching, and finally—if you really just aren’t comfortable while watching, you can always turn it off and live to be afraid another day! Keep in mind that all of the benefits discussed here are the results of studies done on willing participants—forcing yourself or others to watch scary movies is never advised, especially since you can only reap the benefits of watching them if you’re doing so willingly!

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