Mental health

How I Handled My Cinema Anxiety While Seeing a Movie Alone

I have movie theater anxiety, particularly when it comes to superhero films. It’s bad enough that I often don’t go, or I have to go with other people to get through it. This week, I had to face my anxiety head on by myself for a movie I desperately wanted to see: Avengers: Infinity War.

I don’t go to the cinema often. In fact, last year I went maybe three times, and the year before only once. This is mostly due to my movie theater anxiety which stems from the theater shootings over the last five or so years. I was the type that thoroughly enjoyed going to movies. I went to the Harry Potter week-long marathon when DH2 premiered. I did the The Dark Knight trilogy marathon when The Dark Knight Rises premiered. I did Avengers marathons and even did the The Hunger Games marathons—except when Mockingjay Pt. 2 came out. At that point, I was far too fearful to set foot in a cinema again.

I’ve gradually worked on overcoming this fear. After all, for children’s movies, I have no anxieties. I was happy as a clam watching Beauty and the Beast and A Wrinkle in Time. It’s seeing adult audience PG-13 and R movies that turn me into a mess. More specifically, my favorite genre and usually the reason why I’m even at the movies: superhero films.

My love for MCU and its characters has called me to the cinema every year. Add that to the fact that this was an important movie in the series, and that I’ve spent the last several months covering it in my freelance writing, it’s safe to say that seeing Avengers: Infinity War was a big honking deal to me. My attachment to these characters and their story arcs has intersected with my cinema anxiety on several occasions. Yet all of it came to a head for this movie.

How have I coped with cinema anxiety thus far?

  • Attending movies with friends
  • Early-bird showings (& early screenings!)
  • Sitting by an exit
  • Being hyper-aware the whole film, eyes on the screen, peripherals on any movement
  • Reading detailed spoilers and just watching the movie through other sources at home (internet, Netflix, iTunes, cable, etc.)

How did I cope with Infinity War?

I almost didn’t! I attended the movie alone and barely managed to do it. But I did, and here’s how I coped:

  • I bought my ticket through my Fandango account so that I could cancel for a refund just in case I couldn’t fight back the anxiety
  • I spent the week leading up to it ruminating on intrusive thoughts about something horrible happening if I go, if I go to certain cinemas & times, and more
  • I actually wound up changing my tix twice
  • I went to an 8:30 AM showing on Opening Friday morning
  • I teared up just walking toward the lobby
  • I text my mom and friends while I waited for trailers to start to try to calm down
  • I kept doing breathing exercises because I felt nauseous and incredibly scared
  • I kept note of exits and everyone walking in and out
  • I nearly left a few times, I felt my stomach drop when the lights randomly came on then went off
  • I stayed vigilant through the movie but I was able to calm down enough to really enjoy myself around the 90-minute mark.

At the end of the movie, while waiting for the end credits scene, my anxiety churned in my head. I kept a close eye on everyone walking in and out of the theater and congregating by the entrance.

When I left, I felt proud knowing that I’d managed to do it. I remember seeing Deadpool alone and my anxiety was so high that I got sick and had to leave with thirty minutes of the movie left. After watching all of the MCU movies over the years to this point, and this being the first I saw without friends in theaters, I didn’t want that for Infinity War. This movie was too important and I was determined to make it work—even if I had a panic attack and got sick in my lap.

I did wind up with a tension headache that morphed quickly into a migraine after the movie. I’m guessing it was due to my clenched teeth, shoulder tension, and general on-edge feeling. I was also fairly tired after it all. But that’s what happens when cinema anxiety mixes with fears for your favorite characters during a movie that was intense from start to finish.

But, I confronted my fear! I managed my symptoms and saw a superhero movie by myself despite my anxiety. I think that constitutes a major accomplishment.

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