Taking Care of Yourself on Halloween

Boo! Did I scare you? Probably not. But if I did, that could mean you have Xafniasmaphobia- a fear of surprise. In which case, you may want to skip the haunted houses this year.

Every year on October 31st, men, women, children, and pets dress up in ghoulish costumes, watch scary movies, and eat delicious treats. It’s fun, it’s silly, and sometimes even a little scary. However, for someone with a phobia such as a fear of spiders ( fake or not ), or of people in masks, it can be a real nightmare.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a phobia is an anxiety disorder defined by persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation. These phobias typically result in an immediate onset of crippling fear and can be present for months, or even years. A person with a phobia often experiences a strong irrational fear of something that poses little or no real danger. They might see a scary costume or spider web decoration filled with spiders, and experience:

Panic and fear
Rapid heartbeat
Shortness of breath
A strong desire to get away

The most commonly diagnosed phobia is social phobia. Social phobia involves fear centered around social situations and interactions. Just the thought of a social situation, such as a party, a wedding, or a crowded shopping mall, can cause a person with social phobia to become anxious and extremely self-conscious. Other common phobias are:

Acrophobia- fear of heights
Agoraphobia- fear of public places
Claustrophobia- fear of closed-in places
Aerophobia- fear of flying
Ophidiophobia- fear of snakes
Cynophobia- fear of dogs

But what about Halloween-specific phobias that someone might have? Well, given the nature of the holiday, there’s bound to be a bunch of triggers for those that suffer the intense fear and anxiety of a phobia.

Hemophobia- Fear of blood, even if it’s fake.
Arachnophobia- Fear of spiders, even if it’s just a decoration.
Necrophobia- Fear of anything that has anything to do with death.
Maskaphobia- Fear of masks or costumes.
Nyctophobia- Fear of the dark.
Astraphobia- Fear of thunder and lightning.
Selenophobia- Fear of the full moon.
Phasmophobia, Wiccaphobia, or Kinemortophobia- Fear of ghosts, witches, or zombies.

Fortunately, most of us do not harbor such deep and troublesome fears. For the majority of people, fear is a momentary thing. Fear is rational and even helpful. It tells us when something isn’t safe, or when we should exercise caution.  However, for someone with an anxiety disorder and a coexisting phobia, it can be debilitating and often interferes with daily life.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things that can be done, to help lift and even cure a phobia.

Research shows that the best treatment for specific phobias is a form of psychotherapy called exposure therapy. This form of therapy includes gradual exposure to the object, animal, place, or situation that causes fear and anxiety. There are also many methods of self-soothing that can help someone with a phobia. And oftentimes medication can help.

In the meantime, if Halloween is a particularly challenging and fearful time for you, there are a few things you can do.

– Skip the Halloween events this year.

If you’re just not feeling up to it, that’s ok. You don’t need to hand out candy or participate in Halloween activities. The Halloween holiday is one day, and the events around it are usually just a short period of time around the tail end of October. Remind yourself that it’s temporary, and it will pass.

– Ask for help with Halloween duties.

If you want to hand out candy but it gives you anxiety, ask a friend or family member to help share the duties. If no one is available, set a time limit, say from 6pm – 7pm, and be sure to give yourself plenty of breaks.

– Write down your thoughts and fears.

Then share them with your therapist or a close friend. Sometimes bringing the dark into the light, can offer a lot of perspective and relief.

Treat yourself.

It’s ok to turn off the lights this year, go into your room, and snuggle up with a cup of tea while watching a funny movie or tv show. Just like some people loathe Valentine’s Day, or have acute social anxiety around Thanksgiving and Christmas, Halloween is not a holiday that everyone enjoys. And that’s ok.

Phobias are scary to experience, but they are treatable. If you or someone you care about is struggling with a phobia, please reach out. There is help available. Often times the right combination of therapy and, if need be, medication can help tremendously.

So this year, whether you spend the night wrapped in a cozy blanket reading a book, or dress up in a silly costume and hand out candy…May you have a very Happy Healthy Halloween!


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