Why Some Anxious People Find Comfort in Horror Movies

Like around 5 percent of the UK population, I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. When I was a kid I would worry about certain things—usually catastrophic in scale but blown entirely out of proportion—When I was ten, I learned about comets at a museum. For weeks, I’d lie awake at night worrying that a comet might be heading on a collision course with Earth. As a teenager I believed I suffered from every incredibly rare and fatal disease I saw on TV. These days my anxiety manifests in a way that’s much harder to explain to people who haven’t experienced it: Imagine a sort of mild feeling of dread, a bit like the fear you get when you’re hungover and know you did something but don’t know what. That, but basically all the time.

I’m lucky that my anxiety is moderate enough for me to handle it without medication; I rely on regular exercise, not drinking too much, and just keeping tabs on my own mental state on a regular basis. But when it gets really bad, there’s one instant fix that makes me feel better: a horror film. The gorier, darker, and more disturbing, the better. Last week I watched Would You Rather, a low-budget plotless gore-fest with a Netflix rating of two-and-half stars. The cover image is of an razor blade right next to somebody’s eye, about to slice into it. You get the idea.

When I first noticed the effectiveness of this unconventional way of coping with anxiety, I pretty much freaked out: What was I, some kind of psychopath who derives comfort from the suffering of others? Is it just me? I asked on /r/anxiety, the Reddit forum for the topic. Is there something wrong with me?

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