Woman screaming/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Scream!: How horror films help me combat my panic disorder

Deadline season is a stressful period for many people. Being in my final year, I have experienced this both first-hand and seen it with my friends. Anxiety can be healthy, especially this time of year when it can provide fuel to get you through the packed schedule. However, like anything, anxiety can become something completely unmanageable. That is exactly what happened to me.  

 I had my first panic attack in December 2022. I was sitting in the changing rooms of my local leisure centre. I don’t think anyone can fully prepare you for the feeling. Your whole body shuts down, any sense of security is stripped from you. My breathing rate increased rapidly. I crumpled to the floor. I tried to drink water and steady my breath, but I couldn’t stop it.  

 It was one of the scariest moments of my life.   

 Anxiety is so unpredictable. I went from being someone who had never experienced a panic attack to having them multiple times a week. I was almost in denial about it actually happening to me, perhaps due to my previous lack of exposure. Yet, every time my heart rate began to increase, there was no doubt it was very real.   

A lot of my anxiety stems from a desire for control

 It took a while for me to ask for help. In my head, I was embarrassed about the situation. I felt I had an outside persona of someone who had their life under control, and I didn’t want people to start looking at me differently. Almost 6 months later, I’d say most people in my life still don’t know.  

 Although I get told a lot I’m confident and easy to talk to, I know (underneath the surface) my lack of confidence in certain situations causes me to panic. I still feel a sense of disconnect between who I am and who people see me as, which I know is a result of my panic disorder.    

 A lot of my anxiety stems from a desire for control. Not control in the sense I want to be in charge of people or crave authority, but a much simpler form of control. Fear is located deep within the unknown, but control is the antithesis of this unknown. Control is the smell of your morning coffee. Control is the sound of your mum’s voice on the end of the phone. When that control is gone, the panic takes over.   

The predictability of the formula allows me to regain the control my panic attacks had stripped from me

 It is hard to predict when anxiety will strike, from major disruptions to minor inconveniences. Consequently, you begin to live your life on a knife’s edge, feeling a constant dread knowing a panic attack could strike at any moment. The fear of losing control, ironically, takes control away from you completely. There are few respites from this sensation, and everyone has different coping mechanisms. I found my safety in the most unlikely place: the horror genre.   

 Now, I know what you’re thinking. When you picture safety, the first images that come to mind aren’t usually machete-wielding maniacs or paranormal spirits. Yet, there is a sanctity in the slasher genre and I’m truly thankful I had it when I was at my lowest. The predictability of the formula allows me to regain the control my panic attacks had stripped from me. Horror allows me to experience that sense of fear whilst remaining in the driving seat. It takes away the one aspect of my panic disorder which scares me the most: the uncertainty of when an attack may occur.   

 Many people tell me they can’t watch these films because horror scares them too much, which is precisely why I love them. The best horror films are the ones that truly get my heart racing and make me scream. I want to experience the full spectrum of terror, while being safe in the knowledge that it’s going to end. For 90 minutes, I can distract myself from the everyday and sit comfortably, knowing that I have my panic disorder gripped tightly in my hand. For that hour and a half, I am the one in control.   

If you are struggling with anxiety, contact Warwick Wellbeing Support Services or your General Practioner.  


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