A friend suggested a book for you to read, and you eagerly downloaded or bought a hard copy or headed to the library. As you began to read the book, you realized that the book made you feel anxious—and scared! But can you get scared from reading a book?
You can get scared from reading a book. Neuroscientists found that when a person’s brain encounters unresolvable uncertainties, they may undergo stress or anxiety. Additionally, scary encounters in books can exacerbate the overall negative mood if a reader is anxious, stressed, or depressed.
Let’s look at neuroscience and how the brain connects with what we read. Keep reading.
Reading requires many neurological steps and processes of recognizing letters and groups of words to comprehend sentences. Various areas of the brain work in conjunction to scaffold information and story elements, including characters and their actions and the scenes of the text.
Auditory and visual regions of the brain are activated. Readers may even subvocalize the words of the story resulting in a goosebumps-type of feeling or tense muscles for action-packed or scary parts of a story. All of this works together to invoke anxiety or fear-like feelings.
Stressors and anxiety affect how the brain functions. Anxiety is a natural tool of the brain to protect the individual from harm. It then creates a feeling of unpleasant uncertainty to make the person uncomfortable enough to incite fear or a behavior change. For example, if a person is walking in the dark and starts to feel anxious, they’ll likely walk faster, call someone on the phone, or head for a well-lit area.
Anxiety can be connected to fear, which response to negative things. If a person has consistent and overwhelming anxiety, their sleep, concentration, and daily living can also be affected.
However, in general, when anxiety comes and goes, it’s seen as a typical and helpful neurological strategy. The associated fear may end when the anxiety or stress-inducing thing is resolved or goes away. When reading a book, even if it’s scary, a person may continue reading to resolve the cause of the fear or uncertainty.
People read scary books because these books can help facilitate the processing of complex subjects. Scary books can produce adrenaline with the assurance that the reader will come out safe and alive on the other side of the book.
Reading a scary book allows the reader to take an imagined risk into something scary without enduring any physical harm. For those dealing with anxiety in daily life, scary text can give them a sense of relief when the scary situation resolves in the book.
Reading a scary book with others can create a way to endure a scary situation instead of feeling alone. Working through a frightening book can also give the reader perspective that their own lives are safe, much unlike what they just read.
Scary books can also allow the reader to explore new ideas, experiences, and fantasy worlds. These books can also give insight into the horrors people may have experienced in real-world situations, such as World Wars.
These particular types of books can not only inform but be a catalyst for change in personal and global ways to ensure those horrors do not occur in others’ lives. Reading scary books that share the horrific accounts in others’ lives and then surviving to tell others about it can instill a sense of hope and enlightenment through the process of recovery.
You can develop a fear of all books—it’s called Bibliophobia. This type of phobia can also include the fear of reading or reading aloud in front of others.
You know you have Bibliophobia if you have difficulty reading when someone else encourages you to read or if you’re afraid of the act of holding a book or walking into a library. If learning disabilities and their stigma cause you to stress as a reader, Bibliophobia can result.
Some people only fear certain books, such as textbooks or children’s stories. Mythophobia, the fear of legends, or Metrophobia, the fear of poetry, are other sub-forms of Bibliophobia.
If you have a case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or want to read that recommended book despite its scariness, there are some things you can try:
- Work with a professional mental health provider. This strategy may be best in cases where Bibliophobia or an anxiety disorder is involved. A specialist can help with a plan to fit your needs in a safe environment best.
- Try reading scary things in small tidbits giving yourself a break to recoup as needed. Over time, you may find that you can handle more at a time.
- Consider reading a scary book with a partner or a book club. By participating in conversations about the scary parts, you may feel more at ease. A classic title such as the Edgar Allan Poe Prose Collection by Edgar Alan Poe from Amazon.com may not be as scary as modern text, helping you ease into the horror genre. This book offers over 70 pieces of short fiction known for mysterious and frightful stories.
- Read with all of the lights on or during the day. The dark at night time adds to the scary feel and experience of what you might read.
- Get comfortable with drinks and snacks nearby. Using your mouth for something other than subvocalization while you read lessens the whole body interaction with the text. A cozy blanket can be there to comfort you or to hide under if necessary.
- Read the book before watching the movie. You can avoid spoilers and the overdramatization of the movie’s visual impact. Let your mind create the scene first.
- Read book reviews or the synopsis. If you’re concerned about whether or not there’s a triggering topic in the book, consider a preview first.
Books and their stories can be scary. However, by understanding the neuroscience behind your fear and putting some strategies in place, you can find safety in fantastic and horrifying literary experiences.
- Vox: Why it’s so hard to read a book right now, explained by a neuroscientist
- Science Focus: Why do we get a mental picture when reading?
- Very Well Mind: Overcoming the Fear of Books or Bibliophobia
- Book Riot: Tips for Reading Horror When You’re a Scaredy Cat
- The Book Stop: Why do we read books that scare us?