The Mighty Logo

How to Handle Trick-or-Treaters When You Have PTSD

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Most people look forward to Halloween. It is a time to have fun, dress up, gather with friends, trick-or-treat with kids and the like. What could possibly be difficult about handing out candy to cute little kiddos? As someone with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I can tell you, I dread this holiday.

• What is PTSD?

I do enjoy many things about Halloween. I love decorating my house. I enjoy all kinds of Halloween movies from cute, to classic, to horror. I also genuinely like any excuse to buy lots of candy to eat. The one thing I dread however is innocent little ones knocking on my door.

One symptom of my PTSD is hyper-vigilance, or needing to be acutely aware of things. This means I am also very sensitive to sudden sounds. Every time there is a knock on my door I nearly jump out of my skin. I am instantly thrown into fight-or-flight mode. I know it is just a group of cute kids, but my subconscious thinks I am in danger.

This danger response will happen every time a trick-or-treater comes to my door. Each time will be worse than the last. Each time it will take longer to return to “normal,” if that even happens. I spend the evening constantly on edge, heart racing. In addition to PTSD I also experience anxiety. Normally my home is my “safe place;” however, Halloween means a constant string of “intruders.” Not my idea of a good time.

The simplest answer for survival would be to turn off the lights and not be home. I would, but my best friend and roommate loves handing out the candy, so I must find ways to cope. These are five simple things that help me survive the night.

1. Background noise: Anything from the TV to the radio to having headphones in can help. Having some noise in the background lessens the jolt of the sudden sound of knocking doors and ringing doorbells. This helps both my PTSD and anxiety.

2. Distance from “danger”: My home is my safe place. Any strangers, even cute little kids, invading my safe place brings on anxiety and a false sense of danger. Putting distance and walls between myself and the front door is simple but helpful.

3. Become occupied in something: Getting involved in something with details or multiple steps keeps me distracted. Cooking or baking work great for me. I can only focus on the steps, measurements, and methods. This helps keep my anxiety well in the background.

4. Get out if you must: Simple as that. Some years it is too much. Going out to the movies or to out to eat during prime trick-or-treat hours removes me from the source of some PTSD triggers and lessens anxiety.

5. Trust your meds if you have them: I treat my PTSD and anxiety with meds as a last resort. While they are not for everyone, they are there for a reason, and they work for me.

These ideas may be helpful for some or at least give ideas of what might work for you. If nothing else, there may be comfort in knowing you are not the only one who struggles at Halloween. It seems like a simple and fun night for kids, but for some with PTSD and anxiety it can be a very different thing.

Thinkstock photo by Ryan McVay

Originally published: October 25, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home