The Fear Factor

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What scares us the most? It's not thunder, lightning, spiders or doctors. What really strikes fear in the hearts of many Americans is snakes. Fifty-one percent fear these reptiles, according to a February 2001 Gallup poll of 1,016 adults. Fear of speaking in public (40 percent) and of heights (36 percent) ranked second and third among possibilities suggested by the pollsters.

But how rational are these fears? Not very. Far more people fear snakes than are likely to find themselves in the presence of their slippery scales. Each year, 7,000 venomous snakebites are reported in the United States. Of those, about half (3,000) are classified as “illegitimate,� because the bites occurred while the victim was handling or molesting the snake. That reduces the risk of being bitten by a snake to only 1 in 70,356. Although nothing quite matches the sweating and stuttering some experience while speaking in public, this fear can also be overcome. Practice helps, as does deep breathing and focusing on things that help you to feel secure, rather than dwelling on the source of anxiety, thereby escalating it. 1 Fear of flying can be equally irrational. Almost 1 in 5 (18 percent) Americans say they suffer from this fear. 2 But in 2000, just 1 in 8 million passengers died during air travel, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. 3

Maybe all we really do have to fear is fear itself.

1 Janet Esposito, MSW,

2 Gallup Organization

3 Refers to fatalities on U.S. air carriers with 10 seats or more

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