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The Real Fear Focus: Factor

separator If you read the headlines and watch the news, you might begin to think that every other person in this country is getting attacked by sharks, mauled by bears, made sick by mosquitoes, dying in hurricanes and crashing in small planes. It can make the world seem like a dangerous place.

If you or a family member are starting to feel as though it’s safest to stick to your routine and not to stray far from home, it’s time to get some perspective.

Remember these important facts
Shark and bear attacks and other catastrophic events get into the news headlines because they’re rare. If they happened all the time, they wouldn’t make the news. Think about it for a minute. How many people do you know who have been attacked by sharks? Or –do you even know any people who know someone who’s been attacked by sharks? Do you ever hear of anybody who knows anybody who’s been attacked by a shark. Probably not.

→ Your chance of dying in a shark attack is one in 3,700,000.
→ Your chance of dying in a bear attack is one in 410,000.

On the other hand,

→ Your chance of dying of heart disease is one in 4.
→ Your chance of dying of cancer is one in 11.

We can usually relate to the shark and bear stories because they’re about one or two people, rather than a crowd. It seems like the bigger the numbers, the harder it is to empathize. That story about a shark gnawing on a teenager’s ankle is easy to imagine. We can create an image in our minds pretty easily, and then our imaginations begin to run wild.

Some summer season statistics
Another phenomenon that can get blown out of proportion in the media is the weather. Here’s an interesting question. What’s more life-threatening—tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning strikes?

According to the National Weather Service, during a 30-year period from 1971 to 2000,

  • Tornadoes caused an average of 68 deaths per year
  • Hurricanes averaged 16 deaths per year
  • Lighting averaged 73 deaths per year

Chances are, you guessed that tornadoes or hurricanes were more likely to cause death. And it’s likely that you thought that because they make the headlines more often, and they cause their damage in greater numbers at one time.

But here’s another interesting fact: even though the number of lightning deaths is higher than deaths caused by tornadoes or hurricanes, the odds of being killed or injured by lightning are still very low—1 in 700,000 each year.

→ Your lifetime chance of dying due to a lightning strike is 1 in 39,000.

What about airplanes crashes?
Every single day, thousands and thousands of planes take off and land safely all over the world. If you’ve ever had a long layover in a busy airport, you start to realize how matter-of-fact air travel is. There’s a constant drone on the intercom about the next plane taking off, the next plane landing. This goes on all day, every day, all over the world.

→ Your chance of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 40,000.

Should you be worrying about anything?

Well, worry might not be the right word, but there are lots of things you can do to increase the chances that you’ll live a healthy life.

► Don’t smoke. There are 400,000 smoking-related deaths in the U.S. each year. That’s a lot more than shark and bear attacks for sure.

► Protect yourself from heart disease and cancer: Your chances of dying of heart disease are 1 in 4, but you don’t see many people afraid to
order a hefty serving of French fries. Eat well, exercise regularly and get the health screenings that are appropriate for your age and gender.

► Minimize your chance of getting into or causing a car accident. Each year, 40,000 people in America die in car accidents. Your chance of dying in a car accident is 1 in 88. Stay focused when you drive. Stay off the phone, don’t apply makeup, limit the number of passengers in your car, especially if you’re a teenager. Of course, don’t drink and drive.

► Prepare, cook and store your food properly. About 5,000 Americans die each year after eating under-cooked or mishandled food. (Read more about handling food safely here.)

Your strategy? Live mindfully
You can live your life in fear of things that will probably never happen, but doesn’t it make more sense to try to take some control over the things that are under your control?

The old adage is full of truth: you have nothing to fear but fear itself. Instead of living in fear, live mindfully. What does that mean? Always try to do the next right thing. Listen to your instincts. If there’s a voice inside saying, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll do it just this once and it won’t matter,” maybe you should think twice.

Don’t take risks in the car or with your health. Learn to swim, and make sure your kids know how as well. Keep your kitchen clean, and put food away as soon as dinner’s over.

And for goodness sake, enjoy the experiences life has to offer. Take a trip, board that plane, go camping in the woods. Just follow the safety precautions, and leave the rest to chance.

The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics; The Home Safety Council; The National, 25 March 2005; National Center for Injury Prevention and Control;
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