Irrational fear of zombies and other fictitious horrors

Rebecca asks…

“Can you help, I’m 20 and ever since I was 16 and watched Nightmare on Elm Street for my high school exams, I constantly think Freddie Krueger will come for me. There’s no pattern and thoughts just appear — I try to distract myself but I end up in one room of my house on my own with my son too scared to move.

Doctors won’t help; they just keep saying it will go with time, but it’s not going. Please help if you can — I can’t live any more days in fear.”

There are lions

The way your mind reacts to danger is primitive… that’s important to understand. So when you get immersed into a scary movie and imagine yourself as a victim of Freddie, your mind reacts in a way to protect you as if the danger was real — like if you saw a lion in real life. The more immersed into the movie you get, the more you suspend reality, the greater the response…

The initial response is often “fight or flight” which is a good state to save your life if you saw a lion… your body gets ready to run or fight. Intense danger could also cause you to become petrified — again, another reaction to save your life, because in nature, animals like lions react to movement, to something running away, so if you become petrified, this reaction in wild animals doesn’t happen and it can save your life.

As an aside, this happens to me if I climb too high, which is really a dysfunctional reaction because then I’m simply stuck up a cliff with no way to move! I’m just telling you that to show you that the way we react to fear is not always appropriate, it’s just an instinct, just primitive.

So, your initial fear is just primitive and if you clearly saw that “it was only a movie” and ignored your fear and your thoughts about it, it would go away in time, as your doctors said, and as is the case for most people who watch scary movies.

BUT, if you give the thoughts meaning and attention, keep imagining yourself as a victim, keep remembering the horror, then you make powerful thought habits that keep on triggering the primitive response in you. The horror will build and grow within you because we get really good at creating thoughts we repeat and give meaning to.

And the greatest meaning you can give is “I am in danger, my life is in danger.” Then, you will see the dangerous thing vividly in your experience and begin to associate with lots of other things to create triggers for the memory of the dangerous thing.

There are no lions

So to turn this around, you need to do the opposite of what you have been doing. For your mind to help you relax, you need to give it clear and consistent messages that the danger is gone.

Robert Englund — just an actor

You need to see the fear as not relevant any more… “There are no lions.” The picture left is the actor who played Freddie Kreuger in the original Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Just an actor, wearing make-up.

The movie is just a movie, not real, so have a think and get clear about that. “Just a movie, just an actor.” Now, every time a thought about it comes, recall this new clarity “Just a movie” and remove your attention, put your attention onto other things as quickly as possible.

So, your new “don’t care” attitude and your consistently removing attention will tell your mind “There are no lions, I am safe.”

BE CONSISTENT in ignoring any thought to do with this from now on. Every single time, ignore, remove attention. Don’t ponder it, hold it down, look for it, fight it, imagine it — NO attention.

Be clear and consistent… “There are no lions.”

If you get a fear flash, or you feel scared, remember “Just a movie,” and pay attention elsewhere. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s thoughts or feelings, the response from you is the same.

“Just a movie,” and remove attention, every single time.

And make sure you’re looking after yourself… enough sleep, good food and so-on, because when we’re under pressure in any way — tired, under-nourished and so-on, then our minds become more automatic and it gets harder to override the programming.

Stick with this new way consistently and look after your health, and these disturbing thoughts will die away gradually, coming less and less until they’re gone, they just don’t come anymore and you’re not even aware they’re not coming, they just aren’t there. That’s what we’re after… forgetting.

Good luck!

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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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17 thoughts on “Irrational fear of zombies and other fictitious horrors

  1. Hello.
    I’m a 17 year old girl with a similar problem. I’m a maladaptive daydreamer with a morbid sense of curiosity that continues to get the best of me. I stay away from horror movies. I’ve only watched a few, but they never scared me to much because I understand that they are actors playing a roll…sometimes I even feel some second-hand embarrassment for them. What terrifies me are things like myths, legends, ghost stories and the unexplained. When I wander over to that side of the pond I find myself terrified. My brain will twist the ideas. I don’t hallucinate, but I find myself thinking such horrible things. Tall unknown creatures in closets, fingers searching under bedroom doors, ‘If I look up now, surly there will be someone watching me from over the end of my bed.’ Lovely stuff like that. It has caused me panic attracts in the past and I never know how to explain the fear to my parents. How embaressing it is to be scared of something that is only in your head, but you can’t do anything to escape.
    What should I do? A firm “Those things ain’t real and don’t go looking for them out of curiosity and boredom you fool.” Would make me feel a lot better. Especially comming from another person and not just from my head. Would it be wise to tell others or seek further help? I require some assistance.


    1. Hi Kaitlyn,

      Those things ain’t real and don’t go looking for them out of curiosity and boredom, ok?? Well, you did ask us to say that. :-)

      Don’t worry, this kind of thing isn’t unusual, pondering the unknown can be a little unsettling if we dwell on it. But you’re clearly a very intelligent and eloquent person, so you can use pure logic to dispel this, based on what is known.

      There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe that there’s something in the closet or creeping under the door. You know it’s purely in your head and can therefore be safely ignored and not cared about. Just ignore, don’t care about the thought. Replace it with something happy.

      I’ve never yet seen any compelling evidence for the existence of ghouls and ghosts. And why is that people who claim to have seen ghosts always describe a similar thing — usually a lady in Victorian clothing. Were there no ghosts before Victorian times?? Why are there no “recent” ghosts of people wearing Nike t-shirts and Reebok trainers? :-) So I believe there’s nothing to worry about at all.

      Often these types of fears and thoughts go hand in hand with an anxious state. Are you stressed about exams or relationships or anything? If so, do everything you can to resolve any unresolved worries and also start a regular meditation habit… this is the ultimate peace :-)

      And of course, don’t forget the big stuff for generally feeling good and being happy — diet, exercise, getting to bed on time and so-on.

      All the best,


  2. Hi, I’m facing a similar issue at the moment, I watched a scary movie 2-3 years ago, which was apparently based on a true story – this fact kept rotating in my mind not allowing me to sleep. It was a movie I could not handle, I couldn’t sleep at all after watching this movie! I had numerous nights I would not be able to sleep because my heart would be pumping fast and I would feel scared. I went doctors who gave me Diazepam, but this was for a short amount of time! I also went to see a psychologist because of this lack of sleep issue however over time it improved. However I have noticed that whenever I have a stressor in my life such as exams or something this fear/anxious feeling would come back and not allow me to sleep!
    I would cry at night because of how this one fear has changed everything and stopped me from sleeping!
    Today I watched a movie, it was not a horror but was scary as it was based on a real life event, this has once again raised this fear in my life, subsequently not allowing me to sleep, can you please tell me what is the best thing I can do?


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