Written by Jon Mercer in Mental Health
Viewed by 74 readers since 02-17-2009
Research shows that the average person spends countless hours worrying about things that are so improbable, they likely will never happen. Plane crashes, abductions and a whole host of other catastrophic events occupy our minds often, sometimes to the point of anxiety attacks, nervous breakdowns or other serious medical problems. Many of us even make changes in our day-to-day lives to accommodate these fears.
The irony of it is that often, the things we do to keep ourselves safe can be more dangerous than the things we fear. For example, a person who has an extreme fear of cranes might seek to avoid any construction sites he might normally pass on his way to work. But by doing so, he increases the risk of having a car accident, because he is traveling more miles to and from work every day.
Another person who has a fear of flying might take a sedative before boarding an airplane. But statistically, the side effects caused by sedative drugs have a much greater chance of causing death than a plane crash.
The choices we make because of our fears don’t often make very much sense. The reason is because, when it comes to fear, our brains don’t seem to act very rationally at all.
For one thing, our brains are designed to react quickly to fear and risk; our reaction time nearly doubles when our brain feels that we are at risk or afraid. Sometimes our brains also give more credit to instinct rather than logic when it comes to fear. As society evolves and our fears are exposed and explained rationally, our emotional reactions to fear seem outdated — remnants of a by-gone era.
To assess threats as quickly as possible, our brains use strategies that allow decisions to be made in a split second. These shortcuts allow snap judgments to be made without our best use of reasoning. Also, for reasons we do not yet understand, our brain finds certain things scarier than others. For example, studies show that we tend to be more afraid of things that are man-made than we are of things in nature. These discrepancies can sometimes cause our brains to react illogically to our fears, putting us in even greater danger.
We seldom have the information that we need to make sensible decisions about our fears and the things we are afraid of. We simply lack the facts to guide our decisions in any rational way. That is why our feelings, values, and past experiences have a great deal more influence on our reactions to fear than logical, rational thought.