Kitchener-Waterloo

Halloween anxiety a real problem for some adults, Waterloo psychologist says

Adults who feel anxiety around Halloween are often told to just get over it, but Waterloo psychologist Dr. Wilma Stern-Cavalcante says that's not as easy as it sounds.

‘You cannot just get over it,’ psychologist Wilma Stern-Cavalcante says

The dummies in this photo are just blanket-stuffed jeans and sweatshirts with shoes attached, but these kinds of decorations could cause anxiety for some people, Waterloo psychologist Wilma Stern-Cavalcante says. (Facebook/Jennifer Mullins)

An adult who feels anxiety over Halloween decorations is often told to just get over it.

"Get over it, come on, it's not real, you're a grown-up," Dr. Wilma Stern-Cavalcante, a Waterloo psychologist, says her patients have been told.

"It's not that easy if you have anxiety," she said. "Most people with anxiety, they do realize that their fear is irrational, but they cannot do anything about it and you cannot just get over it."

And if Halloween was already an anxious time, add in the spate of creepy clowns scaring people recently and concerns go up.

"Some of them are afraid that bad people will be looking for more opportunities to do more bad stuff or things that can be aggressive or violent," she said.

'Not something you just get over'

Some Halloween decorations can cross from scary to grotesque, with people decorating their yards with body parts, shallow graves and blood.

But for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or new Canadians who are refugees, these decorations can cross a line.

For refugees, she said, the decorations can be "very, very real - something that they saw in their real life."

So should people who have anxiety approach their neighbours and ask them to tone it down?

Stern-Cavalcante said doing so likely won't work because our society isn't sympathetic to those with anxiety disorders.

"I would hope that your neighbour would be compassionate and would be very nice and say, 'Yes, of course.' But it's so ingrained in our culture here in Canada that I don't think that would be the best solution to do it," she said.

Instead, people should talk about the anxiety they're feeling, perhaps with a social worker who is trained to help or with a psychologist.

She also encouraged people to be a little more sympathetic to those who express anxiety during Halloween.

"[Just because] you don't feel it, doesn't mean the other people don't feel it. And it's not something you just get over," she said.

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