Written by UKCP psychotherapist, Fe Robinson
Across the country, celebrations for Halloween are in full swing. Children and adults alike dressed as ghosts, skeletons, wizards and an array of other terrifying figures, all intended in good fun. The trouble is, it isn’t fun for everyone. The phobia of Halloween actually has a name – Samhainophobia – and it is perhaps understandable since Halloween is the festival of the dead. Samhainophobia can be very difficult, because it is usually an unconscious fear, despite you consciously understanding that you are not actually in danger. Added to this, many related fears and phobias can also be triggered by Halloween traditions, for example fears of ghosts, masks and costumes, witchcraft, darkness, demons, and death itself.
It can be helpful to know where Halloween comes from. The ancient Celts held a ceremony called Samhain in order to mark the transition between summer and winter. Samhuin means summer’s end, and was celebrated on 1st November, with festivities beginning at sunset on the 31st October. This traditional New Year celebration involved large bonfires, and the burning of crops and livestock to give thanks and to honour the dead. Masks and costumes were worn to ward off bad spirits and prevent them causing trouble and hardship. So, the scary costumes had a protective function.
Coping with the fear
So what can you do if your fears are at risk of overwhelming you this year? This close to the day it’s a case of soothing and managing your reactions in the moment. You may want to be pro-active, and do things that you find relaxing to help yourself be in the calmest possible place. You could also enlist support from someone you trust to help you to feel safe if you anticipate it being difficult.
If you do get triggered, there are a number of things you can do. First of all, acknowledge how you feel. Say it out loud – ‘I am scared’ or whatever is true for you. It’s important not to get angry or contemptuous with yourself, anxiety and fear are real, and they hurt, and denying or minimising this will just make it worse.
Next, take action to help your body to calm. You might breathe deeply, and looking up, away from your body, to help you to cope through the worst of any physical panic reactions. You could tap slowly on alternate sides of your body to stimulate the part of your nervous system that calms you down. You could wrap your arms around yourself to contain your body and help it to feel held (or ask for a hug if someone else is with you).
You may also want to soothe yourself with words, reminding yourself that this will pass, and that you are safe, and that you will keep yourself safe. After all, there is likely a young part of you that is suffering this fear, if you can keep your more resourceful parts in awareness you may be able to take care of this scared part of yourself in the moment.
Looking forwards to next year, it may well be useful to seek out a psychotherapist to help you understand your symptoms, and to find together ways to bring them to an end. A psychotherapist can help you to make sense of what is happening and to lessen the grip of your fears, and can support you in finding ways to desensitize yourself to what has troubled you until now. Why not search UKCP’s Find a Therapist for someone local to you who can offer support?
Fe Robinson is a psychotherapist, EMDR therapist, couples counsellor and clinical supervisor working with private clients. Find Fe online here.