Halloween is the ultimate anxiety amplifier. Not just for kids — for me.
As someone who has gone through life with what my 95-year-old grandmother calls, “the worry gene,” I try to sidestep situations that make my anxious tendencies spike, like being stuck in a crowd (which is why you won’t find me at a music festival).
When it comes to managing my anxious feelings, I’ve found the most helpful thing is to stay busy; I have trouble relaxing because then my brain starts spinning. Instead, I’m always taking on multiple projects, writing, hosting a podcast, reading incessantly, running around town, baking challah, planning events. Resting on Shabbat? Not for me. Doing more actually calms me down.
But then, every year, October 31st rolls around. Experts say avoidance isn’t a successful strategy for managing anxiety, so I to push myself through Halloween, smiling alongside the kids, even though the evening has literally every element of a stress-inducing event. Here’s why.
1. You have to publicly align yourself with a group of friends.
For people like me who have always flitted between groups, it’s a challenge. For my kids — and I have four of them! — their friends sometimes shift with changing schools, so it’s even more stressful.
2. You have to dress up in clothes that reflect something about yourself.
I’m still wondering whether the headband I wore last Saturday night was too preppy. But wearing a whole statement outfit? On purpose? Come on! My best costume ever was when, a few years ago, I dressed up as a breast pump. That spoke volumes about the state of my life at the time. For kids, especially middle schoolers, that’s an impossible job — do they even know who they are yet? Should they be Jojo Siwa or a vampire? Or maybe Jojo Siwa isn’t “cool” anymore? Black Panther or Peyton Manning? It’s OK for a girl to be Peter Pan, but can a boy be Elena of Avalor? What does it say about their gender identity? Anything? Nothing? Does it matter in the slightest?
3. You have to talk to strangers and ask for free food.
All year long, we tell our kids not to talk to strangers — and, especially, never, ever accept food from said strangers. But now we’re walking up to random townhouses and hoping for Kit-Kats. Plus, not every child is an extrovert — some find it tough to even say, “Trick or treat!”
4. You have to manage the scarcity panic.
What if there are no more M&Ms?!! What if the building is OUT OF CANDY?! AHHH!!!! Everyone runs helter-skelter as if they couldn’t just head to the grocery store the next morning and pick up a pack of Hershey’s (on sale). It’s as if there’s a set amount allocated for the Halloween night and that’s it. Now… go!
5. It’s late at night, exactly the time when anxiety spikes on a “normal” day.
For kids, instead of getting ready for bed and worrying about their test the next day, they’re wandering the streets. For parents, instead of laying in bed staring at the ceiling (and trying to remember what we forgot to do that day), it’s chasing kids around, exhausted, outside and in the dark at our most beleaguered, weakened moment.
6. The feeling of danger, thanks to all the scary decorations and sounds.
I can’t even watch E.T. and I’m more than 40 years old. These mean Halloween streets are terrifying! Will my kids and I ever sleep again?
I get overwhelmed in crowded places like stadiums and airports. On Halloween, the sidewalks are all like aisles at Madison Square Garden. What if I lose the kids?!
Where exactly will we go? Who will we see? What if the kids want to change groups of friends mid-stream? What if the costumes don’t work out? What if the weather is bad? What if? What if? WHAT IF?!!!!
Sugar amplifies anxiety symptoms and impairs the body’s ability to cope with stress. The crash after a sugar high can also heighten anxiety. Um, the day after, anyone? The sugar hangover plus lack of sleep is a Halloween-themed recipe for disaster. Sorry ahead of time to all my kids’ teachers. I’ll be holed up at home, counting down the days until Thanksgiving.