“Hey, Mom, you should come see me at the haunted house,” joked my 15-year-old manchild. He was volunteering at our community’s traditional Halloween fundraiser at the Elks Lodge. (Side note: The haunted house theme is “Asylum,” which is a whole different level of rage for someone like me, working in mental health. We petitioned to get the theme changed, but it fell on deaf ears.)
“People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder don’t visit haunted houses,” I said with a smile.
He does, of course, know this, and we joke about it because humor is my primary coping skill. And while I joke around about feeling stressed during Halloween, I’m very serious about how this time of year has an effect on my own PTSD.
Tough PTSD Symptoms During Halloween
Halloween can be a tough time for individuals with mental health challenges. While there are parts of this holiday that I enjoy – the decorating for the season, spending time with friends and family, candy – there’s stuff that is just plain disturbing.
While Halloween can be an innocent time of costumes and a wide variety of free candy, there’s a celebration of the darkness associated with October 31st. The blood and gore and jumpscares and hauntings and demons and scary movies. All of these can set off our PTSD symptoms, some of which include:
- Hypervigilance – Feeling like you have to be constantly “on guard” is exhausting. The constant adrenaline and stress hormones are harmful after long periods of time, and it can be really difficult to come down from the Flight-Fight-Freeze response. People at the door triggers my anxiety, especially as my dog starts barking and won’t stop.
- The Startle Reflex – I have the startle reflex when someone comes around a corner on a regular day, so forget people dressing up in scary costumes and losing all sense of personal space. Jumpscares are the worst on a good day.
- Sensitivity to Sound – I am highly sensitive to noise, and my threshold for tuning it out is getting lower as I get older. I’m also noticing that my sensitivity extends to other stimuli – lights, people, smells – so I have to closely monitor what’s happening around me and when I need a break.
Make a Plan for Calm During Halloween
It can be difficult to simply remain calm during primetime Halloween trick-or-treating hours or during holiday parties, especially if your home is your safe space. Making a plan to stay calm and manage PTSD symptoms is an act of self-care. Here are some strategies I use to keep from losing my sh*t during Halloween.
- Don’t Go – As I told my son, people with PTSD don’t go to haunted houses. I rarely go to Halloween parties. I
- Plan a Date – This date doesn’t have to be with another person; you can simply take yourself out for a special date. Go out to a restaurant for a couple of hours and then to the movies. Book a massage. Get your nails done, especially a pedicure. Head to the grocery store and run other errands.
- Make Your Own Noise – Hide in your room and put on noise-canceling headphones. Listen to the silence or play music. Watch a movie with the sound coming through your headphones. Turn on a really loud fan or a white noise machine to help drown out any other disturbances.
- Hang Out With a Friend – Preferably a friend who lives in the country where people don’t go trick or treating.
- Get Involved in a Project – Using your hands and brain can provide a distraction from anxiety. Choose a favorite type of project to do to keep your mind occupied, preferably one that requires a lot of concentration or has several steps to keep you focused.
Like most things, Halloween can be both joyous and difficult. However this time of year breaks down for you, hopefully you can make a plan for peace so that you can enjoy what you love about Halloween. Yes, including candy!