• Theo

Anxiety When Watching Films

With Halloween fast approaching, there will be a surge of scary films coming out or occasions to have a frightful film fest. For people who struggle with anxiety, scary films are usually a no-go because they may be triggering, but why is that?

Put simply, our brains cannot tell the difference between a real-life situation or something that is imagined (one of the reasons why our thoughts are so powerful). Therefore when you are watching something that is designed to be immersive, there will be a part of your brain that is treating it as if you are in that situation. Usually scary films have a life-threatening element to them so it’s natural to have a fight or flight response to that.

One of the tricky things with anxiety, especially if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, is being able to use logic to override a primal instinct. Scary films are designed to evoke as many fear-type responses as possible. A lot of films rely on jump scares which play with your senses to make you… you know… jump. So what you’re watching isn’t necessarily scary but it’s the sounds that usually have the jump scare effect.

Films will also use distress to trigger fear in the viewer. Most people are empathic at least to a point so when we see other people suffering, it naturally invokes a response within us, almost feeling the distress of the person we are seeing. Although we know it’s not real, a part of our brain would be looking at it and imagining it as if it were.

The good thing about this is, we don’t need to watch films that make us anxious. We don’t gain anything from watching films apart from entertainment so it’s easily avoidable. However, there were times in my youth when you’d be with friends and they would want to watch something scary and in those situations, you are sort of stuck. You can admit that you don’t want to because of fear, but people can be cruel and then they will want you to watch it anyway. It depends on the situation, but here are some tips of how you can manage the anxiety you experience when watching something that is triggering it.

1. Distract yourself

The first thing to do is find something else to take away your attention. For example, you can entertain yourself with your phone while the movie is on either with games, or browsing the internet; whatever takes your fancy.

You can also start to observe things around you and the room that you’re in. Try to block out the noise from the screen, and make detailed observations about the people you’re with, the seats you’re on, the smell of the place, etc.

2. Focus on keeping your body as calm as possible

Fear provokes a physical reaction in our body and that’s ok. Bravery doesn’t mean not being afraid but rather being able to face the fear and do it anyway. If you feel your heart beating quicker, take some slower breaths to try and bring your heartbeat down. Practice some relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation to expel the tension from your body.

Special Forces have to learn how to keep themselves as calm as possible when in life-threatening situations so it is possible for our mind to control our physical reactions, but we just need to be determined and practice. The good thing is, you don’t need to focus on anything else in that moment apart from relaxing.

3. Look for the humour

A movie is something created by people for entertainment and although the creator may have had one intention, there are usually a few flaws (especially in horror movies). If you can, look for the things that make it funny or the things that make it entirely unbelievable.

For example, when I was watching The Walking Dead, I couldn’t help but find it silly that zombies who have been around for eight years still have the jaw muscles able to bite through flesh. That was just something that didn’t sit with me and made it easier to watch.

4. Think about how it’s made

One of the best ways to ruin immersion in a film is by understanding the behind the scenes. The lighting, cameras, microphones and how everything is produced. Just imagine how many times they need to reshoot one scene. Where is the director standing? What kind of light source are they using? How do they get certain props? There are so many different parts that go into making a film and if you can focus on that, you’re less likely to feel anxious as you’re not immersed in the story telling.

5. Recite something in your head

It truly depends on what resonates with you, but focusing your minds and repeating empowering words even internally can relieve anxiety, at least to a certain level. For some, reciting a prayer can help, for others it may be a poem. Songs can also help, and if you don’t have access to actually listen to it, you can recite the song in your head and have an internal sing-a-long. Keep repeating something in your head to take yourself away from the film, mentally.

Remember, you don’t HAVE to watch films that you don’t want to but these tips can help ease the anxiety you experience if you find yourself in a situation where leaving isn’t that easy.

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