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Have you ever heard of samhainophobia? The origin of the word goes back to the Celtic word Samhain or samfuin, where in Old Irish, sam means “summer” and fuin means “end”. At the end of the summer on 31 October, the Celts would mark the end of the harvest season by killing livestock and burning the animal bones on a fire.
It is said that the people who attended believed that the dead could make their presence known during this festival and that the spirits must be appeased otherwise they’d cause trouble. The people began wearing masks and disguises to please the spirits.
According to some sources, samhuin predates Christianity by about 4,000 years but it’s become what Christians refer to as All Hallows Eve. Is it ringing any bells yet?
Halloween is a hugely popular time of the year in the UK. In fact, Halloween spending is luring more and more people each year. Spending on Halloween has more than doubled in the last 10 years. For those with samhainophobia, this generally means an increase in decorations, costumes and masks which can make the fear worse.
If you’ve not worked it out, samhainophobia is the extreme fear of Halloween. It isn’t known how many people suffer from this phobia as it’s quite rare. But, given that an estimated 10 million people suffer from some kind of phobia in the UK, the chances are you’ll come across at least one person in your life that suffers from the condition.
What is samhainophobia?
A fear of Halloween isn’t just something that happens on 31 October each year. Of course, that is evidently the time when this fear will be at its peak. But samhainophobia can rear its ugly head at other times too.
Samhainophobia can be triggered by the mere thought of anything Halloween related including Halloween parties, trick or treating, and even common Halloween symbols such as spiders, ghosts, bats and pumpkins.
Many people don’t like Halloween for all sorts of reasons. However, it’s important to stress that samhainophobia is not just an intense dislike for the event. It’s anxiety-inducing and extreme. The fear can bring on panic attacks and a fight or flight response in the sufferers which is very distressing.
To be categorised as a phobia, the fear of Halloween must:
- Bring on feelings of intense anxiety, fear and panic that are difficult to manage.
- Last for at least six months.
- Be out of proportion to the perceived trigger or danger.
- Interfere with the person’s life day to day as well as their overall well-being.
Of course, samhainophobia can also be linked with other closely related phobias such as arachnophobia (the fear of spiders), wiccaphobia (the fear of witchcraft), haemophobia (the fear of blood), phasmophobia (the fear of ghosts), chiroptophobia (the fear of bats) and masklophobia (the fear of masks and people wearing costumes).
How common is samhainophobia?
As mentioned earlier, an estimated 10 million people in the UK suffer from some kind of phobia at some point in their life. This is around 1 in 6 people. Whilst samhainophobia is not one of the more common phobias, those with the condition will be a part of the above statistics.
Samhainophobia is not particularly associated with any particular group of people. It does not discriminate between sex, race or social class. That said, many sources report that women are more affected by phobias generally than men.
Children are reportedly more often affected by samhainophobia, and this could be because children may find it difficult to distinguish reality from make-believe. They may be frightened due to the combination of masks, unfamiliar people, the sight of realistic fake blood as well as the fact that people play tricks and jump out on others.
Often, children with samhainophobia can and do grow out of it as they get older. However, for some children, their phobia remains in adulthood. Rarely, an adult who never previously had samhainophobia can develop it later in life.
Who is at risk of samhainophobia?
There is no definitive pattern to the occurrence of samhainophobia in the general population. However, its prevalence amongst children who later grow out of it is slightly greater than in the adult population.
Samhainophobia does not discriminate between sex, social status or race.
However, those who have some other conditions may be at more risk of developing it, including:
- Having other related phobias such as masklophobia, chiroptophobia, arachnophobia, haemophobia, phasmophobia or wiccaphobia.
- Having had a traumatic or negative experience on Halloween previously.
- Having been exposed to inappropriate Halloween images, films or costumes at a young age or during adolescence.
- Having a close relative with the condition or with a related phobia such as those above.
- Having an anxiety disorder.
- Having a history of panic attacks, anxiety, depression or other mental health condition.
- Being a part of a culture that has a negative view of Halloween and such customs.
Samhainophobia is more likely to develop in childhood, as mentioned previously. But it can occur at any age. Anyone who has had a negative or traumatic experience in their life is much more likely to develop a phobia, even if the experience was not specifically related to Halloween.
This is because trauma can cause extreme feelings of anxiety in certain situations and with certain often unrelated triggers, particularly in a situation where someone feels that there is a loss of control.
For example, a soldier who has PTSD as a result of being involved in conflict could go on to develop samhainophobia due to the previous trauma and triggers could involve scaring each other or costumes that are gory. In addition, children who are victims of neglect and abuse or those who have suffered a significant bereavement are also more likely to develop phobias in comparison with children who have not had such experiences.
Having said this, traumatic experiences are just a risk factor for developing samhainophobia. They do not guarantee that someone will go on to develop it. Generally speaking, the more risk factors present, the likelihood of developing samhainophobia increases. However, someone with no obvious risk factors can also go on to develop a phobia and someone with lots of risk factors may never develop such a condition.
How to deal with samhainophobia
For many sufferers of samhainophobia, avoidance is their method of choice for dealing with the condition. They may find themselves avoiding shops and supermarkets from September onwards when the shops become flooded with Halloween decorations, pumpkins and costumes.
They may avoid leaving their home in the weeks before the day, particularly at night, in case they come across something that triggers them. They may even reduce their online activity or avoid watching TV in case their phobia is triggered.
However, avoidance is not usually the best course of action when dealing with a phobia. Such behaviours can have a huge impact on a person’s day-to-day life. The best way of dealing with a phobia is to try and deal with it actively. By tackling the phobia, a person can aim to reduce its impact on their life and reduce the severity of the associated symptoms.
There are many coping strategies that sufferers can try when faced with their triggers.
The first step in dealing with samhainophobia should be to try and understand it. You could try to identify a possible initial cause of the phobia and think about the first time you remember experiencing negative symptoms.
If you understand a little more about how your fear came about, you may be able to work through the thoughts and emotions that surround it. This can help you rationalise the phobia and work on your fear response later.
A fear ladder is a way of analysing your phobia. It can help someone to spot what triggers give them more severe responses than others. Writing things down can help.
A fear ladder for samhainophobia could look something like this:
|Going to a Halloween Party.
|Going out Trick or Treating.
|Answering the door to Trick or Treaters.
|Being near someone wearing a Halloween costume.
|Watching a TV show where Halloween is featured.
|Looking at Halloween decorations and costumes in shops.
|Looking at images associated with Halloween such as bats, pumpkins, witches, ghosts etc.
|Looking at the date of 31 October or seeing the word Halloween written down.
|Looking at the month of October in your diary or on a calendar.|
The idea is that, on your fear ladder, the things that trigger the strongest fear response should be at the top of your ladder whereas those that are the least ‘scary’ should be near the bottom. The aim of creating and visualising a ladder like this is that you can start at the bottom and work your way up to the top, confronting your fear in stages and steps.
Exposure and desensitisation
Exposing yourself to your triggers may seem like a counterproductive strategy in dealing with samhainophobia. However, it is a well-known strategy in dealing with any phobia, not just a fear of Halloween.
Working your way up your fear ladder, starting at the bottom, is one such way of controlling exposure. Someone may feel like they can complete the ladder without assistance over the course of a few weeks or months. However, many people take years to complete the process, with some not managing at all without other types of support too.
Challenging thoughts and feelings
Rumination is a common problem for those with phobias. The fear of the unknown and the constant “what if” thoughts can be extremely troubling. Challenging these negative thoughts takes practice but it is a proven strategy that can help you deal with your fears.
Reminding yourself that you’re safe is key as well as trying not to let negative thoughts escalate beyond what you can cope with. When triggered, you need to remember that your feelings will soon pass as they have done on previous occasions.
Exposure to positive association
Watching a Halloween thriller might not be the best plan but associating symbols common with Halloween with positive things can help to reduce your fear response. This could be holding your baby nephew who’s wearing a Halloween pumpkin onesie or watching a Harry Potter film where there are positive associations with witches and wizards, for example.
Meditation, mindfulness and yoga
These practices are often recommended for those who suffer from anxiety generally – and for good reason! Meditation, mindfulness and yoga can all help to calm the nervous system and dampen the response to triggers.
When practising, you learn how to control your breathing and calm your heart rate, things that are increased when you’re experiencing fear. As such, they can help to reduce your symptoms when you are experiencing a phobic response.
In the same way that meditation, mindfulness and yoga can help you to remain calm in a crisis, learning how to do deep breathing effectively is another strategy that can reduce your phobia’s impact on your daily life. Deep breathing lowers stress levels and reduces tension within the body. It helps you to relax and calms the nervous system down. In a phobic response, it is this system that is in overdrive.
Implementing changes in your lifestyle has an impact on everything, not just your phobia. Reducing caffeine (which can cause palpitations and trouble sleeping), ensuring you are drinking enough water and eating well all have positive impacts on your overall well-being. Taking part in exercise can also boost your mood and help you feel calmer in the face of a trigger.
Distraction doesn’t always work well for everyone, but it is an effective short-term strategy for dealing with a phobia such as samhainophobia. Watching something on TV that you know will make you laugh, reading a book and even going out for a run are all techniques that you can try.
Sometimes picking up the phone and having a chat with your oldest friend also has the same effect. The idea is that if you’re busy and thinking about something else, you can’t possibly focus on what’s causing your fear response as much and therefore your response to it is lessened.
Visualisation techniques can work well as a calming strategy and help to reduce your phobic symptoms. If you are faced with a trigger, picturing yourself elsewhere or picturing yourself calm can help you to feel those positive emotions and push out the negative ones. Good visualisation can help someone ward off an escalation of their symptoms.
What triggers samhainophobia?
We’ve briefly mentioned the triggers for samhainophobia. They can include anything that is associated with Halloween. From masks, costumes and face paint to pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns and bats – if it’s associated with Halloween then it’s a potential trigger for someone with samhainophobia.
Samhainophobia is particularly prevalent in the autumn months leading up to and just after Halloween, but it can be triggered at any point in the year too.
What are the symptoms of samhainophobia?
Samhainophobia can cause many symptoms that are often associated with anxiety and panic disorders.
These symptoms include:
- Intense sweating.
- Increased heart rate.
- Increased breathing rate/hyperventilation.
- Trembling and shaking.
- Crying and/or screaming.
- Panic attacks.
- Intense feelings of panic and terror.
Aside from the above symptoms, which mostly happen when triggered, a samhainophobe can also experience more generalised symptoms that can present all year but tend to intensify at Halloween.
- Muscle tension, aches and pains.
- Feeling ‘on edge’.
- Intense anxiety and worry.
- Isolating oneself.
All of the above symptoms are ways that a person tries to ‘protect’ themselves from their fear, whether consciously in the case of isolating oneself or subconsciously with the body’s natural fight or flight response such as increased heart rate.
What causes samhainophobia?
When we talked about who’s at risk of samhainophobia, we touched upon the possible causes of it. Most people with the condition can generally pinpoint a particular incident in their childhood or earlier life that has triggered their phobia. For many, this is related to an intensely scary experience around Halloween when they were a child.
Often, teenagers or adolescents develop samhainophobia due to watching inappropriate horror movies at a young age such as Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) or Scream (1996). The trauma of this experience has then led them to develop a phobia of Halloween, or the things associated with it. However, this is not the only cause of samhainophobia.
For many, their phobia does not have a clear origin. For these people, the cause could be due to a genetic disposition (perhaps their close relatives have phobias or significant anxiety/depressive disorders), environmental conditions and the way they were brought up, or a combination of these.
Psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression, including phobias, are much more prevalent among those of us who have suffered psychosocial adversity, particularly in our formative years.
Children who have suffered abuse and/or neglect and come from dysfunctional homes or separated families are much more likely to suffer from a phobia.
Although these are not a direct cause of the phobia, they can certainly contribute towards its development, especially when in conjunction with a traumatic Halloween-related experience such as those outlined above.
How is samhainophobia diagnosed?
More often than not, samhainophobia is self-diagnosed. People recognise in themselves that they have a phobia related to all things Halloween. However, it is also often diagnosed by doctors, psychiatrists and therapists when a person’s symptoms overwhelm them to the extent that they seek medical and/or psychological help.
Generally speaking, a person is given a diagnosis of samhainophobia when their fear of Halloween disrupts their day-to-day life to a significant extent for an extended period. This means that their work, relationships and social life are affected by their phobia.
- Avoid social gatherings around Halloween.
- Avoid leaving the house around Halloween.
- Avoid answering their front door in the weeks surrounding Halloween.
- Have an extreme and distressing response to a trigger, whether an expected or unexpected trigger.
- Have had the fear for more than six months and it is persistent and excessive in nature.
How is samhainophobia treated?
There are no specific treatments established for samhainophobia. Indeed, the standard treatments are those which apply to sufferers of all phobias.
Treatments can include:
Talking therapies such as counselling can help someone to begin to understand their phobia and what their triggers are. It can help to address their feelings towards samhainophobia and help to devise strategies for coping with it in day-to-day life as well as at Halloween. It can also help to uncover the onset of their phobia and what has brought it about.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is what’s known as a psychosocial intervention. It helps to build up a person’s mental health and is a modality that’s often used in treating those with anxiety and OCD. A person with samhainophobia may benefit from CBT as it would give them an increased understanding of how their phobia is triggered and why they think and behave the way that they do.
People with samhainophobia often have an unconscious reaction to their triggers. A lack of introspection is often the reason why a samhainophobe suffers to the extent that they do. CBT helps them take a step back to analyse their phobia more deeply than they otherwise would.
Desensitisation programmes and exposure therapy
As mentioned previously, exposure can help reduce a person’s sensitivity to triggers and therefore reduce their symptoms. However, for this to work properly, it needs to be done under the guidance and supervision of a qualified therapist, not just by the person themselves in the comfort of their own home.
This is because it is difficult to get the balance right. Not enough exposure may not have the desired effect and too much exposure too quickly may make the phobia worse.
Dialectal Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
This is an effective form of treatment for phobias and those with emotional regulation problems. It is a common treatment for those who have borderline personality disorder. DBT is often delivered in group sessions and teaches people a range of coping strategies for all aspects associated with anxiety and depressive disorders.
One technique that is often taught in DBT is half-smiling. This works by the person thinking about their fear or something that upsets them while forcing their lips into a slight smile. When doing this, the person then must work hard to stop entertaining negative thoughts and emotions surrounding their fear.
Meditation, Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Mindfulness and mindful meditation are techniques that date back millennia for helping people cope with the difficulties and stresses in their lives. It stands to reason, therefore, that such techniques can also help treat samhainophobia.
During an anxiety attack after being exposed to a trigger, a samhainophobe could use visualisation and redirect their attention to their breathing to help reduce the feelings that they are having during the attack. Thinking about how the body is physically feeling and paying attention to muscle contractions etc. can help someone refocus and calm themselves when faced with a Halloween trigger.
Whilst yoga is linked to meditation and mindfulness (as well as exercise), it can work well as a treatment on its own in dealing with samhainophobia. Many yoga poses can help someone get into a meditative state of mind that helps them with their samhainophobia.
The crucial thing is, however, that it is something that needs to be practised regularly to have significant benefits. If you’ve never practised yoga before, joining a class or watching guided videos would be a good first step. Yoga on its own is very unlikely to cure a significant phobia, but it can help someone deal with their symptoms, especially if in combination with other treatments and therapies.
Quite often, exercise isn’t given the value it deserves when it comes to treating conditions of both the body and the mind. Exercise is immensely beneficial in treating phobias. It works not only as a distraction from fears and triggers but also causes the body to produce mood-boosting hormones that can help calm and relax the body.
Not only does it work at the time of the exercise, but it also helps the body cope better with stressful situations. During exercise, the body is put under physical stress. The more that we expose ourselves to ‘stress’ of this kind, the better we cope with it.
Therefore, it stands to reason that we would then become better at coping with unexpected stresses such as those associated with a phobia.
Of course, it would be remiss not to mention medication as a route to treating phobias. Generally, doctors would advise taking routes that involve therapies and lifestyle changes before taking medications, but sometimes medicine is the only option to treat someone effectively who has a severe phobia.
The mainstays in treating phobias with medication are usually anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Some common anti-depressants that help those who suffer from phobias include Fluoxetine and Citalopram, amongst others. Common anti-anxiety medications include opiates such as Diazepam as well as Beta Blockers such as Propranolol which reduce the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack.
Takeaway on ‘What is Samhainophobia?’
Whilst an uncommon phobia, samhainophobia (the extreme fear of Halloween) is an extremely distressing condition for those who have it. However, the good news is that it can be managed with treatment and support.
If you need immediate support for a phobia, including samhainophobia, you can contact one of the following organisations: