Human beings are graced with having minds that can use language and thoughts to learn from the past and anticipate future events. How glorious! We can actually manage to read about various threats, calamities, and hazards—and sometimes actually prevent them from happening or minimize their effects when they do.
Therefore, we can substantially reduce a variety of risks by learning to drive the speed limit, use seat belts, avoid excessive sun exposure, avoid known toxins, engage in regular exercise, and eat healthy.
All of these things are great to do. Unfortunately, humans also have a habit of taking things too far. We exaggerate our minds’ ability to predict the future and prevent what we fear from happening. For example, some people refuse to consider locating to the southwest (including our lovely part of the country New Mexico) because they are afraid of snakes. Well in the 25 years of my residency, I’ve only seen two snakes and I walk or jog quite frequently. The chances of actually getting bit by a snake are extremely unlikely—much less than getting hit by a car or having a heart attack.
People also spend time worrying about natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or avalanches. These disasters are real and can lead to death, injury, financial loss, and emotional distress. However in the scheme of things the bigger worry for most people are clogged arteries, high levels of daily stress, bad habits like smoking, pollution, lack of will power, or not enough social support. These personal issues are much more likely to lead to death, injury, illness, financial loss, or emotional distress.
So the good news is that you can do much to lead a healthier life and avoid various types of disasters. The bad news comes from dwelling upon every imaginable worst case scenario and believing that your worry, in and of itself, will prevent them from happening. So for 2012, I recommend that you vow to do what you can about health concerns and safety. But try to realize that worry by itself will do nothing but make you anxious and distressed. Here are a six items I think are worth putting on the shelf and totally not worrying about for this coming year (although they can and do happen!):
- Falling junk from outer space
- Limnic eruptions (a sudden release of huge amounts of carbon dioxide from deep lakes that can actually suffocate you if you happen to be around at the time)
- Volcanic eruptions
- Gamma ray bursts
Finally, try to do the same with more realistic worries once you’ve done what you can to prevent them. Eat healthy, exercise, and avoid obvious toxins, then stop worrying about cancer because there isn’t a lot more you can do to prevent it. I could give you more examples, but I assume you get the idea.
Volcano photo available from Shutterstock.