What Is Samhainophobia? The Extreme Fear of Halloween That Makes Some People Physically Sick

For many people, Halloween is a largely harmless celebration of all things ghoulish and spooky, not to mention a welcome distraction from the darker fall nights. But for those with samhainophobia, or the fear of Halloween, October 31 and its run-up can trigger intense and genuine fear.

The word comes from Samhain, the Gaelic festival marking the end of the summer and harvest season, and the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

Samhainophobia is a type of anxiety disorder known as a specific phobia. Unlike, for instance, the short-lived nerves we may feel when public speaking, a specific phobia like samhainophobia causes debilitating lives of fear. A sufferer may know their fear is irrational and they are in little or no real danger, but will still be hit by symptoms of anxiety when simply thinking about Halloween. These can include a sense of imminent danger or dread, sweating, heart palpitations, shaking, and the feeling of being short of breath or smothered. People with specific phobias like samhainophobia can also experience a feeling of choking, discomfort in their chest, dizziness, and a sense of depersonalization.

It is unclear how many people suffer from samhainophobia, but they will make up a proportion of the estimated 9.1 percent of adults in the U.S. who said they had a specific phobia in the past year, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. Like many fears, samhainophobia is generally caused by an experience in a person's past.

Samhainophobia sufferer Catherine Blackmore from the U.K. told news website Wales Online that her fear stems from watching the 1978 film Halloween around the age of five. Her samhainophobia means her anxiety kicks in by the end of August.

"I know I only have a limited time before things start to change—for instance, as soon as the stores begin stocking Halloween items such as masks, costumes and decorations I know I can no longer go into town," she said.

Blackmore says that imagining "spooky stuff" at the grocery store coming to life has made her so anxious that she has been physically sick. Her fear is so intense her husband must do the food shopping during the Halloween period.

Likely exacerbating the situation for samhainophobia suffered is the fact that the vast majority of Americans celebrate Halloween each year. However, in news that samhainophobes may welcome, the percentage of Americans who say they are planning to celebrate in 2020 has dropped from 70 percent to 58 percent from previous years, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Statista.

Like other forms of anxiety, it is possible to ease or get over samhainophobia. This can include visualizing getting through a Halloween event that a person is nervous about, practicing mindfulness exercises, and gradually exposing oneself to Halloween festivities with the help of friends or family.

According to the Mayo Clinic a person should seek help from a medical professional for a specific phobia if their fear affects their ability to normal day-to-day activities, such as going to work, school, or taking part in social situations.

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A stock image shows a collection of Jack-o'-lantern representing Halloween. For people with samhainophobia, Halloween causes more than just fun fear. Getty