Our Biggest Fears

March 23, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Why do people fear what they fear? And why do we brush off the things most likely to kill us?If you ask people what their biggest fear is, they're likely to tell you all about their fear of plane crashes, terrorists, spiders, and sharks. But you won't often hear people mention the things that are most likely to kill them.

Our biggest fears are big what if's. Psychologist Eilenna Denisoff, Ph.D. from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto says the brain's fight or flight response outweighs its rational part.

"That processing, that logic piece comes in a fraction of a millisecond after the emotional piece, so the anxiety is already there," Dr. Denisoff says.

Thirty million Americans fear flying, but the risk of dying in a crash is one in 11 million. Dying from heart disease? About one in two.

"People tend to think of something like heart disease as far off in the distance," Dr. Denisoff says.

That's a dangerous disconnect that can justify actions far more likely to kill us -- like not exercising or unhealthy eating.

"If I believe that having this cigarette will lead to my dying, it is very difficult to have that, as opposed to yeah, I'll quit later on," Dr. Denisoff says.

In a recent poll, one-third of people said they fear terrorist attacks, but the worldwide risk of dying in one is about one in nine million. Cancer kills one in five women and one in four men.

Other top fears -- spiders, sharks and snakes -- but you're more likely to die from cancer, heart disease or stroke ? three things you should fear and do something about.

"I think you want to get accurate information so that you are able to function in the world and live a rich and full life," Dr. Denisoff says.

And reconsider that beach trip. You don't have to swim in the water, but a brisk, healthy walk along the shore could help save your life.

Public speaking still tops the charts as our biggest fear, though most people don't believe it will actually kill them.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
www.camh.net/
Eilenna Denisoff
eilennad@bellnet.ca


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