For many people, Halloween is a largely harmless celebration of all things creepy and spooky, not to mention a welcome distraction from the darker autumn nights. But for people with samhainophobia or fear of Halloween, October 31st and its approach can cause intense and real anxiety.
The word comes from Samhain, the Gaelic festival that marks the end of the summer and harvest season and the middle between the autumn equinox and winter solstice.
Samhainophobia is a type of anxiety disorder known as specific phobia. In contrast to the short-lived nerves that we feel during public speaking, for example, a specific phobia like samhainophobia causes a paralyzing life of fear. An affected person may know that their fear is irrational and that they are in little or no real danger, but they will still experience symptoms of anxiety if they only think about Halloween. These may include a feeling of immediate danger or fear, sweating, heart palpitations, trembling, and the feeling of being short of breath or suffocated. People with specific phobias such as samhainophobia may also experience a feeling of suffocation, chest discomfort, dizziness and a feeling of depersonalization.
It is unclear how many people suffer from samhainophobia, but it is part of the estimated 9.1 percent of adults in the U.S. who reported having a specific phobia in the past year, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. Like many fears, samhainophobia is generally caused by a person’s past experience.
Samhainophobic Catherine Blackmore from the UK told the news website Wales Online that her fear stems from having seen the movie Halloween 1978 when she was five years old. Her samhainophobia means that her fear sets in at the end of August.
“I know that I only have a limited amount of time before things change – once the stores carry Halloween items like masks, costumes and decorations, I know I can’t go back to the city,” she said.
Blackmore says the idea of bringing “scary things” to life in the grocery store made her so anxious that she became physically ill. Her fear is so great that her husband has to buy groceries during the Halloween season.
Probably the situation for the suffered samhainophobia is made worse by the fact that the vast majority of Americans celebrate Halloween every year. However, in news that might welcome samhainophobia, the percentage of Americans who say they will celebrate in 2020 has dropped from 70 percent to 58 percent compared to previous years, probably due to the COVID 19 pandemic, Statista said.
As with other forms of fear, it is possible to alleviate or overcome samhainophobia. This may include imagining how to get through a Halloween event that makes you nervous, practicing mindfulness exercises, and gradually exposing yourself to Halloween celebrations with the help of friends or family.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a person with a particular phobia should seek help from a doctor if their anxiety is affecting their ability to perform normal everyday activities such as work, school, or participation in social situations.