Why I Watch Horror Films To Cope With Vacation Stress


Outside, the snow was falling and friends, relatives, neighbors and people I had never seen before were coming and going from my father’s annual open house on Christmas Eve. Inside, Megan Fox was biting a guy’s face.

It was Christmas Eve 2014 and in the living room, It’s a wonderful life was playing on a loop (or maybe it’s just really, really long, I could never really be sure). The two-and-a-half-foot-tall fake tree whose implied tragedy my father seemed oblivious to was displayed on a TV set. The clam chowder and lobster bisque of an Italian Christmas Eve froze on the kitchen counter.

My bedroom, however, was a world apart. I was bundled up under a duvet alongside my best friend and her two sisters, sheltered from festive ephemera. At least I had been. Then Megan Fox turned into a demon and mutilated a guy’s face, and my friend’s younger sister screamed loud enough at the jumpscare to remind her parents, who were down the hall enjoying of the open day, of our existence.

We were still kicking her under the blanket when my friend’s mother appeared in the doorway to lead them all back to the car. December 24 was also the last day of Hanukkah that year, which meant that my only ally at my family’s annual open house would be leaving earlier than usual, as her family left to light the menorah. My heart sank, but stopped before I hit the ground when I remembered the movie had stopped behind me.

I watched their taillights disappear, then I dropped the curtain from my bedroom window. Down the hall, George Bailey has lassoed the moon. In my room, an unbroken Megan Fox, star of the classic holiday flagship Jennifer’s bodylured his latest victim to an empty, unfinished house and feasted on his heart.

It wasn’t the first time I had vacationed in the gentle embrace of the macabre, and it wouldn’t be the last. The holiday season has long seemed heavy to me. Here’s why I watch horror to get through the most wonderful time of the year and how it helps me cope.

It’s normal to be stressed about the holidays.

While some welcome the holiday season with delight, to research demonstrates that for many, this is a period of significant stress, especially during the ongoing pandemic. For many people, depression and anxiety increase during the holidays. Retail, service, delivery and healthcare workers often find themselves bombed with a increased workload and unfair labor practices, not to mention the eighteenth rendition of « Jingle Bells » played through the PA system. Many holiday festivities highlight alcohol, which can heighten people’s anxiety, and be particularly stressful and triggering for those affected by alcohol use disorder. The joy of giving a gift can turn into an obligation to spend beyond your means, for fear of disappointing your loved ones.

Plus, the expectation of family-friendliness associated with the holidays is everywhere, from social media to ads, and frankly, the pressure can be exhausting. It can be painful for those who cannot reunite with their families, whether due to the loss of a loved one, the loss of a family member incarceration, the refusal of loved ones to practice COVID-19 precautions, or family alienation like that experienced by many queer people and survivors of abuse. It can also be painful for those who reunite with their families, only to find themselves in a situation less appreciated than endured.

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