How to get rid of fear and scary thoughts after watching a scary movie

Just a movie…

A lot of feedback from our unwanted thoughts post was from young people scared half to death from watching scary movies.

So here’s some specifics for that particular problem. This was the actual list I sent a young girl so scared she slept with a bible.

I’ve kept this post very short to get to the solutions straight away…

Know this:

  1. You’re not alone — most people freak out after watching scary movies, even adults.
  2. YOU ARE SAFE. You aren’t in any more danger now than you were before… it’s just a movie.
  3. You won’t feel scared for long. It will soon pass.
  4. Scary movies are made to scare you, that’s their job.
  5. Part of your mind can’t tell the difference between a movie and real life. It’s THIS part that freaks out, but YOU know… it’s just a movie. Because of this, it’s best to be careful what you feed your mind — what you watch, think and imagine!

Do this:

  1. Do some exercise: You are in a “fight or flight” state so act it out — dance or run about, jog on the spot, do star jumps, skip, have a pillow fight, do some shadow boxing or press ups… whatever.
  2. Watch “behind the scenes” videos to take the realness out of the movie, so you see clearly; “It’s just a movie.”
  3. Do what you can to feel safe: Be with people. Get lots of hugs from your parents, friends, even a pet or a big cuddly toy. Use a night-light.
  4. Keep your mind distracted: Watch comedy, get absorbed in a good book, listen to relaxing music, anything you can to distract your mind. Each time a thought comes up, remind yourself  “It’s just a movie” and distract.
  5. To help you sleep, play the famous lullaby tune by Brahms below. Relaxing soundtracks like waves crashing on the beach would also be very good. Then when it’s time to sleep, use this relaxation technique: Put all your attention into your feet, feel your feet tingling and relax them, then move through every part of your body doing the same thing until you fall asleep.

“I want to say that a while ago I saw this article, it was the night after I saw a scary movie. I haven’t really thought about it since like, 3 months ago! This really helps!”— Katie, USA



A  If you follow all the tips in the article as best you can, that’s the fastest way to get back to normal. It’s all there, everything you need to know and do. Please leave a comment below if you’re having trouble following the advice.

Q  Why am I sooooo scared just from watching a movie?

A  Your mind reacts instinctively to perceived danger and changes your physical and mental state in order to deal with the danger — the “fight or flight” state. We evolved in nature where danger was real, like lions, and your brain still works that way. More about this →

Q  Why am I hearing noises in my house after watching scary movies?

A  If your mind thinks “danger,” your body changes to a “fight or flight” state. One of these changes is that you notice sounds that you normally wouldn’t notice. Your house always makes these sounds but you normally filter them out.

Q  Why are my friends better at watching scary movies than I am?

A  We’re all different. If you were to measure fear reaction in you and all your friends, you would get what is called a “normal distribution.” Most people would be somewhere in the middle, a few would not be affected at all and a few would have an over-reaction. There’s lots of reasons why you react like you do… genetics, previous experiences, beliefs, sensitivity etc. Everyone is different.

Q  If my friends are watching a scary movie, I have to go along or I will be left out. What should I do?

A  Go along if you want to, but don’t get sucked into it. Keep moving your attention away and back, away and back… like… look at objects in the room, notice the objects in the background of the movie rather than on the action, look to see how your friends freak out at the really scary bits :-) And you can keep remembering “that’s just a guy wearing make-up,” “just back a bit is the camera crew and director.” All sort of tricks like this to “keep it real.”

If the music builds up and you know there’s a scare coming, close your eyes or hide behind a pillow! Lots of people do it and the rest will be too absorbed to see what you’re doing.

A few fluttery moments of thrill are what you want from a movie. Losing sleep over it means it wasn’t worth it.

You could take your own DVDs to sleepovers, and see if a great comedy can tempt people away from horror. If you know in advance it’s going to be a horror marathon, you could just skip the event. Your friends won’t ditch you over one blow-off, and you get to spend time with them you actually enjoy.

If you’re REALLY sensitive and know you can’t handle it, then just say “No thanks.”

Q  Why can’t I sleep after watching a scary movie?

A  As you settle down to sleep, there are no distractions for your mind, it’s just you and your thoughts. It seems as though you are looking at your thoughts through a big magnifying glass.

Whatever you fear, you will be reminded of — it’s just a primitive part of your mind protecting you against what you saw as danger. If you react with anxiety to your thoughts, your body makes adrenaline as part of the “fight or flight” reaction. This will keep you awake and stop you sleeping. Then a vicious cycle of more thinking, more anxiety and so on.

To prevent this happening, you need another focus and to stay relaxed. To do this, play the famous lullaby tune as soon as you get into bed. Put your attention on the music. This will give your mind something to focus on and the calming effect of the music will help you relax. When it’s time to sleep, use the relaxation technique (tip 5) to keep your mind off scary thoughts.

If you wake in the night, remember, “it’s just a movie, no real danger” and then immediately use the relaxation technique again until you go back to sleep.

Q  What about movies that are based on true stories?

A  Saying a movie is based on actual events is just a way to get you more scared. An unusual event is often used to make unquestioned false assumptions, distorted, and then built upon further to end up with a story that has zero truth in it. In short, you can safely assume that no scary movie is true. It’s just a silly movie.

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Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.

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440 thoughts on “How to get rid of fear and scary thoughts after watching a scary movie

  1. This was a very useful article to read, and you do make some good suggestions. The trouble with me is that horror movies do not cause me to lose sleep at all; what does make me lose sleep are real-life documentaries such as Bodyshock. Some of the people featured in this have often severe and highly disturbing medical abnormalities (stuff like the elephant man, etc.) This kind of thing scares me most because I know it was/is all real. I can get the thought of a girl possessed by the devil out of my head pretty quickly if it enters during my sleep, however when the real life horror stories enter my head it’s impossible get them out.
    The reason I say this is because I watched a programme called The girl with 8 limbs last night and the very act of typing that makes me shudder. I’ve stopped watching stuff like that, but I’m afraid the damage has been done.


    1. Hi BG,

      It’s the same solution, exactly the same… essentially, remove attention from unwanted thoughts. There’s no end of horror in the “real world” you could pay attention to if you wanted to. The way I look at it is… if you’re not going to DO anything about it, why make yourself worry?

      What we feed into our minds is as important if not more so, than what we feed into our bodies. Oh and on this subject–stay away from the most insidious horror show of them all… “THE NEWS.”

      All the worlds dross and horror rolled into one neatly packaged format. What is the world view this show propogates??? A totally WRONG one. And our minds work the way they work. By watching all sorts of horror, you tell that part of your brain…. “This is a dangerous environment, Be ALERT, WORRY, S-T-R-E-S-S.”

      That part of your brain can’t tell the difference between real and TV, movies etc. It’s just responding to what you see and how you FEEL about what you see.

      Think happy thoughts :-)


  2. Skye and edmochiuja,

    The easiest way to not experience a pain in the butt is to not sit on a sharp pin.

    Edmochiuja, in your wisdom you decided to make absolutely sure you can’t sleep by sitting on the same pin 4 times :-) Why did you watch the same movie 4 times if it scared the life out of you the first time?

    Anyway, the easiest way to avoid a pain in the butt is to not sit on a sharp pin in the first place. In other words, stop watching scary movies!

    But now you already have the leftover fear, it’s important to know that there’s no ‘off’ switch which will just remove these feelings from your life instantly. They WILL go but it will happen a little more gradually than that. Anyone that tells you different is probably trying to sell you something.

    If you follow all the advice in the article and comments above, the fear will gradually fade away over the coming days and weeks and then one day you’ll realise it’s months or years since you even thought about the movie.

    The key is to distract your thoughts onto something safe and cosy, when memories of the movie pop into your head. If the thoughts and feelings are too strong to distract onto something else, you must just let them “be”.

    Then separate yourself from them by calmly thinking to yourself “Oh look, I’m having scary thoughts about the movie again. How boring…”. This separates YOU from your thoughts and attaches a quality of “no importance” to the thoughts.

    After all, YOU know you’re safe and everything is fine. It’s just a little part of your head that’s popping up with memories of the movie. So separate yourself and let those scary thoughts and feelings just “be”. They’re not you, YOU are fine and everything is ok. After a while, your brain will stop popping those memories in there.

    Let me know how you get on.


  3. I have watched the hills have eyes. the unrated one. and i am so freaked out. i hate it. i am almost 14 and if i watch a scary movie i will find myself between my parents in the morning im so scared. I NEED help. please. i can never go to sleep when i do. and it kills me. please help me.


  4. what i do is listen to my favorite music and hang around my family and it helps secure and make you forget your fear.


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