Halloween has crept up on us faster than Michael Myers following Jamie Lee Curtis through any of the “Halloween” horror films, but this year — it’s definitely different.
The coronavirus pandemic is a living nightmare. More than 225,000 people have died from the ongoing pandemic — and cases have started to rise once again in states such as Texas, California, Florida, New York, and others.
The summer felt like a blur until the cooler fall months quickly arrived, leaving everyone heading indoors to enjoy a quasi-open world with COVID-19 tapping on the door.
But back to Halloween — this year, it’s going to be different. Trick-or-treating isn’t going to be door knocks this year; candy chutes are replacing the aged-old tradition in some parts of the country after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised avoiding large gatherings and high-risk activities such as trick-or-treating. Haunted hayrides (forget about haunted houses) too should be avoided as well, according to the CDC.
All the deaths and noise behind the lack-of-fanfare surrounding Halloween sounds frightening, doesn’t it? That’s not the case entirely, according to one psychiatrist.
In a column for Psychology Today, psychiatrist Jean Kim M.D. argued that Halloween can be a therapeutic event — especially this year. With the ongoing pandemic a constant reminder of death, Halloween can be an outlet for letting your inner freak out.
“Halloween brings up mixed feelings for some people, although it is generally one of the most memorable and amusing holidays of the year for Americans,” Kim wrote. “It is a strong outlet for people’s “id,” the impulsive pleasurable dark side of our personalities and human nature, but in a carefully conceived, socially sanctioned way.”
As Kim stated, if you walk around your neighborhood, chance are you’ll see some COVID-related Halloween decorations. In Brooklyn, there’s been pumpkins with surgical masks on and even a skeleton wearing sunglasses with a mask too. These quick-glance decorations aren’t just because of the current climate, but also a form of therapy.
“Plenty of neurobiological evidence and research note that specific phobias can improve after extinction of the fear sensitization pathway that triggers our evolutionary fight-or-flight response systems,” Kim said about coronavirus-related decorations. “By swarming ourselves with cartoonish and exaggerated images of these phobia-triggering phenomena, we may all be participating in a form of mass fear extinction therapy.”
The idea of Halloween as a therapeutic experience is one that’s been around for a bit. San Francisco based psychotherapist Lily Sloane argued that Halloween allows us to explore our “shadows,” or the places that we don’t normally portray.
“Halloween is a cultural ritual that provides us a chance to push the edges of what’s comfortable, “civilized”, or politically correct. We bump up against the boundaries of the limited form we have identified as who we are,” she said.
“Whether or not you want to dress up this Halloween (I encourage you to try it!) you can benefit from taking some time to reflect on your shadow.”
While dressing up is likely limited to homes and socially distanced walks around the neighborhood this year, the holiday could be a good avenue for people to have a shared experience, argues Kim.
“Halloween only lasts for a brief time, once a year, and in the right context, it can be a relatively safe and fun outlet for people to release and share what we all have in common…our ongoing struggle to survive against difficult situations, and our common vulnerability as human beings,” she said.