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Do stressful movies/books help your anxiety?

Purrsona profile image

For once, I'm not looking to vent or get advice--just wondering if I have this in common with anyone else here. For whatever reason, I find horror and bleak stories really effective in managing my anxiety and depression. I just watched Aniara, not exactly a horror movie but an incredibly bleak sci-fi story, and it made me feel so much better about the smoke and the pandemic. (I highly recommend it if you enjoy beautifully made films that offer no hope whatsoever.) I also ploughed through the TV series The Terror (hopeless stranding in Arctic ice in the 1840s) and Chernobyl (I don't at all mean to make light of the suffering of the Ukrainian people--some of my good friends barely escaped it as kids. But the combination of science and heartbreaking, infuriating reality had a huge impact on me--and made me temporarily forget my own anxiety.)

Similarly, in the first few months of the COVID-19 shutdown, I couldn't stop reading histories of the Black Death and the Spanish flu and other appalling public health disasters. Also helpful: rewatching Alien (one of my favorites) and Hereditary (ditto) and the movie Contagion (I know for sure I wasn't alone in seeking out that movie in particular).

How about you? Does reading about fictional or historical people in dire situations make you feel better or worse? Am I just weird? Regardless, I'm going to keep doing what's working, but I'm curious about other people.

22 Replies

No your not weird, if it helps you get through it then keep watching/reading

For me, a stressful anything would make my anxiety worse. That said, I find catharsis in art that seeks emotional truth, even in dark places, and doesn't flinch at the uglier aspects of human nature -- be it in a Philip Larkin poem or an Alfred Hitchcock film (can't go wrong with Psycho).

I don't read much fiction, but poetry, music, and film/TV have seen me through many a bad time. If I'm feeling somewhat depressed, I may listen to Pink Floyd's The Wall, and if I'm feeling really depressed, I might watch the film version.

Horror films that feel strangely cathartic (or about as therapeutic as an exorcism 🙀) would include The Babadook, Pascal Laugier's Martyrs, John Carpenter's The Thing, and David Cronenberg's The Fly.

Mind you, I don't experience any of these films as stressful. Maybe, that makes me the weird one. 🤷‍♂️

Purrsona profile image
Purrsona in reply to mrmonk

You have great taste :-) I haven't seen Martyrs but I adore the other three. The Thing is one of my all-time favorites and I've always seen The Fly as a tragic statement on the fact that love doesn't always conquer all. With Philip Larkin, I wonder if you are thinking of Aubade? That poem chills me to the bone.

mrmonk profile image
mrmonk in reply to Purrsona

Absolutely, "Aubade" (one of my favorite poems full-stop) was at the forefront of my mind; that poem gives me what I can only describe as "mortality flashes" -- moments of a terrifying consciousness, an acute awareness of my body and its inevitable decay. Brrr...chilling stuff, indeed.

I was also thinking of its sister poems, "The Building" and "The Old Fools" -- the latter evoking much the same sympathies in me, despite its seemingly unsympathetic, uncharitable speaker (I'll chalk it up to old age creeping up on me).

Lots of Larkin poems are like that for me. Poetry, in general, makes me feel connected and less alone.

I'm excited to talk to someone similarly affected by "Aubade." Do you read poetry often? Any favorite poets or poems? I remember reading in one of your previous posts that you write fiction; do you write poems, too? And what sort of fiction?

Though I haven't seen the shows and films you've found to be therapeutic during these trying times, save Alien (which I rank right up there with The Thing for sheer claustrophobic tension), I've been wanting to check out The Terror as it looks like something up my alley.

Despite my affection for the films I mentioned, I'm not a fan of gore and such (though I do enjoy a good creature feature or ghost story); rather, I like to find the human in the monstrous. I was thinking about your observation on The Fly and the tragic love story embedded in all the body horror, I was thinking that maybe love -- in its gruesomely tragic way -- did prevail insofar as it gave Veronica the strength to end Seth's torment.

Or maybe I'm just getting overly-sentimental in my old age. 🧓

Purrsona profile image
Purrsona in reply to mrmonk

Sadly, I can't bring myself to write poetry--I'm overcritical, and I can bear a bad first draft in fiction but not in verse, for some reason. The bad lines just start echoing my head to torture me. I like a lot of old-school rhyming poetry like Tennyson and Shelley and some new writers like Jane Wong and Jericho Brown. Elizabeth Bishop is another favorite--sometimes I get "The Art of Losing Isn't Hard to Master" auto-playing in my head.

I write horror fiction mostly, maybe not surprisingly. Hard work, but quite cathartic when it goes right! Do you write?

mrmonk profile image
mrmonk in reply to Purrsona

I write poetry almost exclusively. Yet in a strange way, I can relate to what you said about not writing it.

My output is the furthest thing from prolific -- I've probably completed less than thirty poems in the past twenty years -- for a variety of reasons. One reason has to do with the fact that, held to any literary standard, I'm not a good writer. And I love poetry -- the art has given me so much -- it hurts to think that I may not be holding up my end of that relationship, so I tend to be overly-cautious in how I approach a poem.

I take great comfort in something that Philip Larkin said in conversation with one of my other favorite poets, Sir John Betjeman: "One writes the kind of poetry one has to write or can write." His vocal emphasis was on those words "has" and "can." There is such truth is his tautology: I write the poems that I am able to write and, more importantly, that I must write. It may take me ages, and I revise obsessively, but poetry is an imperative for me, made a bit more urgent now with advancing age and declining health.

Also, I've realized that my limited vocabulary and mediocre writing skills are sufficient to achieve what I wish to achieve in my poems, so it doesn't matter that my work doesn't measure up to my peers (though, I admit, I still feel a twinge of jealousy when I read a poem expertly written).

I self-published my first chapbook of poems this year; there's a link in my HealthUnlocked profile blurb to my Wordpress page where the chapbook can be read or downloaded for free if you're interested (there's a poem in the collection that was influenced a tick by Seth Brundle's "insect politics" monologue from The Fly if that makes it in any way enticing...)

Is any of your fiction published and available online? It's been a while since I've read a good horror story.

Your taste in the poetry you read really resonates with me. Though my poetry-reading habits are partly a bit scattershot, I definitely have an affinity for formal verse, much in the same way that I enjoy all kinds of movies, but have a soft spot for classic Hollywood films. I was familiar with some poems by Jericho Brown, but not Jane Wong, which I was quick to remedy. I'd read The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop many years ago, so I only really remember the most anthologized, including "One Art," a brilliant poem to have on repeat in one's head. The villanelle that my OCD-brain latches onto most is "In Memory Of The Unknown Poet, Robert Boardman Vaughn" by Donald Justice (another of my favorite poets).

Talking about poetry (and art in general) always cheers me, so thank you for taking the time to talk to me, and I'm sorry to have gone on so long. You're more than welcome to message me anytime if you'd like to continue the conversation.

Fiction doesn’t help nor worsen my mood. Ironically I find myself socializing even more than before, instead of escaping in books and movies.

But I’ve watched a lot of comedy lately which has helped with all the negativity nowadays.

Also I try to pay attention to the news as little as I need to, which has helped.

Purrsona profile image
Purrsona in reply to VDC1

Same here. I'm trying to seriously limit my news consumption to "need-to-know." Not doomscrolling definitely helps.

I feel this. I started thinking about it while watching the show Electric Dreams, episode called Real Life. There’s this element of using virtual reality to go from one stressful life to another. I also enjoy horror movies, particularly atmospheric or supernatural or folk. Some favorites include Midsommar, The Witch, Get Out. Though I do avoid movies that are just too sad, particularly those that are too real. I guess I’m more of an escapist. I would like to find more fiction reading that meets this need. And I hope to continue to explore why stressful movies/books can resonate so strongly.

Purrsona profile image
Purrsona in reply to Vegcat

I LOVE those three movies!! They are thrilling and fun (even if they have depressing implications). I am also something of an escapist--I can't really deal with documentaries about slavery or abuse or genocide--but my escapism is taking odd forms. Electric Dreams sounds really interesting!

Well if you are weird then I am too! I watched documentaries about the Spanish flu, smallpox, the plague, and films about pandemics. You aren't alone. 🤣

Purrsona profile image
Purrsona in reply to hypercat54

It's honestly fascinating! It helps me deal with the overwhelmed feelings to learn about the science behind the plagues.

hypercat54 profile image
hypercat54 in reply to Purrsona

Yes but the main value to me was realising those pandemics were much worse and we shouldn't worry so much about this one. I also sent up a heartfelt thanks for modern medicine.

You're not weird, I too enjoy stories that are dark and offer basically only despair and no hope. I'm really into anime and one of my favorites is Attack on Titan, basically a whole population stuck inside a walled city with man eating titans (giants) outside the walls, lots of death and destruction.

You mentioned Alien (no one judge my parents, they are awesome), I was watching that at like age 4 so I think I've always been drawn to darker things since a young age.

I also love watching really sad shows and just balling my eyes out. I just like being able to release all of my internal sadness through a fictional show because I feel like I hold a lot of my emotions in so this is a way for me to actually express my emotions.

I say keep doing whatever helps with your anxiety. Fiction has always been helpful to me and sometimes knowing I have a good show or book to finish is my biggest motivation for the day.

Purrsona profile image
Purrsona in reply to Otaku12

Oooh, age 4 is a little young! Then again, at age 5 I begged my parents to let me watch Jurassic Park, oh, several times a week. Gave me nightmares but also a lot of healthy adrenaline. It's still one of my favorites. Attack on Titan is in my watch queue, I'm not an anime expert but there are some dark ones I really enjoy. Paranoia Agent is my favorite so far.

Otaku12 profile image
Otaku12 in reply to Purrsona

I haven't watched Paranoia Agent yet but that one is in my queue. 😁

I was also into natural disasters as a kid, Twister was the movie I repeatedly watched. I'm glad to know I wasn't the only young kid that enjoyed watching movies definitely not meant for kids.

Purrsona profile image
Purrsona in reply to Otaku12

Hahaha, I was soooo scared of tornadoes when I was little so that movie scarred me. I'm from New Jersey, it's not like tornadoes are a particularly big risk, but I somehow convinced myself there was one around the corner every time it rained.

I’m not exactly the same but I am kind of similar!

When I’m really anxious or depressed, watching true crime stuff makes me feel better. I know it’s weird but when I watch, I’m always like “well at least I’m not in a cult right now and gonna be murdered so things aren’t that bad” 😂

I felt a bit guilty about it but I got quite addicted to Last Podcast on the Left. They did a great job on stories like the Donner Party and the Jonestown Massacre. Horrifying, but so so interesting.

Oooh I’ll have to look into that, thank you!! I’m obsessed with stories like that

I also highly recommend "The Indifferent Stars Above." It's an absolutely fantastic book on the Donner Party. I like it because it's really tragic and tries to give a sense of who they were as people. It doesn't feel sensationalistic or overly gory. I absolutely could not put it down.

Thank you so much!! I’ve been needing new book recommendations

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