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Taking Back Halloween

Go out there and enjoy Halloween.

– Dr. Anthony S. Fauci,

Director of the National Institute
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

That quote above makes me want to howl like a werewolf at the full moon!

2020 was a year like no other. Many kept their lights off last Halloween or stayed to their safe family/friend group. For those who strived to keep the holiday alive, celebration still required some adaptation.

This year, however, the chief medical advisor to both presidents Trump and Biden told the NY Times that “the ability for parents to get vaccinated, combined with the low risk of the virus spreading outdoors, offered some reassurance” compared to the rising COVID-19 numbers last October (Mueller, 2021).

This, after all we have been through, is great news! Right?

Not for everyone. The idea of streets milling with parents and children, hundreds of fingers pressing doorbells and strangers entering formerly personal bubbles seeking candy sends very non-Halloween chills up the spines of many people. According to the American Medical Association “as states begin to transition back to a pre-pandemic life, it may cause increased anxiety about reopening for many. While stress, fear, worry, sadness, exhaustion and numbness are normal—and expected—emotional responses to a health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on mental health cannot go ignored.”

The article goes into detail on post-COVID anxiety, a very real syndrome akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. “We’ve been trained to fear the virus and that is not something that is going to go away overnight,” psychiatrist Lisa MacLean, MD said (Berg, 2021).

Last year’s article here at KK.com, Freeing Spirits, explored the roots of Halloween as the night for letting go of past pain and moving on. Yet moving on has proven a great challenge in the year between articles, as COVID-19 has not moved on.

But take heart! It’s Halloween and as any good scary movie has shown us, no villain can stop a hero with a plan. Not Freddy, not Jason, not Michael Myers, not Ghost-face and not even COVID-19.

Taking Back Halloween

I take back every bit of energy I gave you.

– Nancy Thompson,
A Nightmare on Elm Street

Nancy, the protagonist in Wes Craven’s classic A Nightmare on Elm Street (one of my favorite horror movies), told one of the other characters “I’m into survival” at their reaction to her plan of how to kill Freddy Kruger, the knife-glove wearing, nightmare ruling spirit of a serial killer.

If 2020 proved anything, it proved that we are all into survival. We made plans and made sacrifices. As we enter this new era, we are asked to re-evaluate both. “Some people can’t wait to finally feel free and go back to the way we were living without masks,” Dr. MacLean said. “However, for many, the lifting of [those precautions] creates fear and anxiety.” (Berg, 2021).

I work with anxiety every day. There’s nothing wrong with feeling anxiety, in fact it’s a good thing. Anxiety can drive adaptation. The difficulty comes when we let that anxiety stop us from enjoying life. Even Halloween.

Now, as the same experts who told us to stay home are saying to go out, our best defense has not changed; We follow the guidance and plan. The only difference is that last year, counties, states and the Centers for Disease Control dispensed their specific directives for how to trick-or-treat and how to give out candy but this year the planning is solely in our own hands. I’m not going to go into detail about how to defeat COVID-19 anxiety this Halloween because to do so would disempower us. Now is the time to put our own prefrontal cortexes to work and take our power back from the anxious amygdala, just like Nancy did to Freddy. Halloween, and scary movies are both about facing fear and finding the fun.

Want to wear a mask? Wear it. Want to make your treats grab-and-go on a table? Go for it. Frankly, it was easier than the bowl. Buy a candy cannon last year? Bet the kids will still think it’s fun this year. Want to sanitize after every house? Couldn’t hurt, probably help. If it gets us back out there, living life, now is the time. If the anxiety persists, there is a wealth of resources here to help, or feel free to contact me directly.

Last year the traditional Halloween was sacrificed for the greater good, so that we and our neighbors would see this Halloween. “This is a time that children love,” Dr. Fauci said. “It’s a very important part of the year for children.” For children, and especially this year, for all of us.

 We owe it to ourselves to trick, to treat and to be spooky.

Berg, S. (2021) What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. Retrieved from: https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety

Mueller, B. (2021) Go out there and enjoy Halloween, Dr. Fauci says. NY Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/10/science/virus-halloween-fauci.html

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