Help me worry
June 16, 2010 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I've read all about how people are awful at evaluating risk. Given that, what things should I be afraid of?

A broad question, I know, but one that's been on my mind. People are terrible at evaluating risk. They fear terrorist attacks, super viruses, hurricanes, and other highly unlikely events.

What things should I really be worried about and what are the most effective ways to prevent them?
posted by typography to Science & Nature (30 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I'd imagine car crashes (wear a seat belt, drive safely, no drinking and driving, skin cancer (wear sunblock) and heart disease (see your doctor, lose weight, keep your BP under control) would be high up there.

Ironically with the last one, stress is a contributing factor. So, the bottom line is if you want to be really safe, don't worry about anything.
posted by inturnaround at 6:47 PM on June 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Financial problems.
Bad diet.
Wasting your life worrying about risks outside of your control.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:49 PM on June 16, 2010

I'd imagine that only you could answer that question adequately, because only you know where your own fragile points are.
posted by Theloupgarou at 6:50 PM on June 16, 2010

unprotected sex.
posted by sio42 at 6:51 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I seem to be surrounded by people who dramatically underestimate the danger of drinking and driving and overestimate the danger of flying on an airplane.

Everyday life is generally pretty safe.
posted by EtzHadaat at 6:51 PM on June 16, 2010

It varies with age, but Car Accident, Suicide, Cancer, Heart Disease account for the vast majority of deaths.

So, be healthy, happy, and drive carefully and you'll be fine.
posted by antiquark at 6:53 PM on June 16, 2010

It's amazing how many people fear flying, but then proceed to get in their cars and speed down crowded freeways. The risk from automobile accidents is shockingly high, yet most people don't notice. Most people also substantially overestimate their abilities as a driver.

Edit: Beaten on preview, so I'll add something else.

I think many people underestimate the health risks of obesity - obesity in itself is a factor in too many ailments to count. It is absolutely vital to try and maintain a healthy weight, because if you don't, you can have "cascading failure" in the realm of health, with one thing leading to another.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 6:54 PM on June 16, 2010

Consumer debt. Limit your credit cards and pay them off in full each month. Buy a house you can afford comfortably, not the most house you can afford.

Insurance. People tend to under insure, particularly life, particularly when one partner stays at home. Those services are expensive to replace.

And people always underestimate the risks of sex.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:56 PM on June 16, 2010

I don't think worry is the answer to any kind of fear, especially if the fear is ultimately of (y)our own limitations.

Caring, and taking care - those might be better approaches. In which case, I recommend caring about:
1. your health (diet, exercise, hygiene etc)
2. your environmental impact (reuse, recycle, reduce reliance on non-renewable resources)
3. your freedom (as you define it - this could be as limited as your privacy or as broad as educating yourself in order to avoid being duped by conmen and/or harassed by self-serving fearmongerers)

I recently posted a question on Ask.Me and one of the recommendations that I'm currently reading is Nassim Taleb, specifically his book Fooled by Randomness. It doesn't directly answer your question, as far as I can tell, but it thoroughly addresses it. Worth reading!
posted by mondaygreens at 6:56 PM on June 16, 2010

Your hard drive will fail, just a question of when. Make sure to have a back-up.
posted by mlis at 7:05 PM on June 16, 2010 [8 favorites]

The Harvard Study of Adult Development found that close personal relationships and mature coping strategies mattered more than anything else (including income, religion, early life, politics, and even physical health), when it comes to aging well.

In short: be afraid of being alone.
posted by vorfeed at 7:09 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Given your user name, you might want to worry about Comic Sans' frame of mind.
posted by vidur at 7:18 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

unemployment, addiction, identity theft:

How to deal? Flexibility, self awareness, pre-planning.
posted by marimeko at 7:25 PM on June 16, 2010

It's amazing how many people fear flying, but then proceed to get in their cars and speed down crowded freeways.

Not always amazing - plane rides do have higher death rates than car rides.
If you compare deaths per mile travelled, planes come out as safer (because they travel very fast and so cover a lot of miles per death). Therefore it makes sense to travel by plane.

But if you compare deaths per minute spent inside the vehicle, cars come out as safer. Therefore it's not always entirely crazy to be nervous about spending a period of time inside an aircraft.

A big reason for the difference is that it's easily possible and extremely common to survive a car crash, whereas plane crashes almost always kill everyone on board.
If you compare risk of an accident per minute in the vehicle - cars are much more likely to have an accident. So your risk of injury per minute is higher in a car than in a plane, but your risk of death per minute is slightly lower.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:27 PM on June 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Worrying only serves a purpose if it causes you to take action which ultimately reduces your risk. So worry about things that are preventable and common: Cardiovascular disease. Diabetes. Easily detectable cancers (e.g. breast), or those which are fairly preventable (e.g. skin).

Don't worry about things you can't control. Watching the news does not help with this.

Also, seconding hard drive. It will crash eventually.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:32 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Worry about? Nothing. Seriously. Odds are, you will live longer, in better health, with more life options, than anyone, at any time, in history.

Now, that said, you'll increase your odds significantly by living a healthy lifestyle and having solid relationships, but really, you want to do that anyway.

Terrorists, auto accidents, influenza, natural disasters are bolts from the blue that are exceedingly difficult to predict or hedge against. Deal with things you can control.
posted by kjs3 at 7:34 PM on June 16, 2010

identity theft

This seems like a good example of a risk that people worry about too much.

Or rather, a small vocal minority worry WAY too much about identity theft, while most people probably don't worry enough about it. I suspect it's hard to find the middle ground.
posted by mullacc at 7:38 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've thought about this myself, idly, about how I could maximize my chances of survival. It triggered while I was working in an insurance company (interning as an actuary) and DAILY seeing the long list of people who had just died of various heartbreaking causes. We calculated in exact detail what your chances of dying / getting injured were to various causes at each age and location and how much we had to pay out, and constantly evaluated our models to actual deaths and injuries.

In a really summarized and practical form -

Depends on your age group, if you're under 30, the most common cause of deaths are MVAs (motor vehicle accidents). Factors influencing this.

1. People this age aren't experienced drivers
2. Also more reckless
3. Are likely to drive older, cheaper cars which are less safe because that's all they can afford.

I would imagine if you were really paranoid about staying alive, you would live somewhere where you could do without a car. As a plus side, you're saving the environment too

After 30, probably heart related problems. Factors influencing this.

1. genetics
2. diet / exercise
3. regular medical checkups to detect problems early
posted by xdvesper at 7:39 PM on June 16, 2010

Let's see . . .

#1: Inability and limitation
Inability and limitation would include pretty much everything from health and well-being, knowledge and experience, to survival skills. Of course none of us is good at everything, but let's face it, more often than not, we could certainly put some effort into expanding our ability and remove some of the limitation. So exercise, learn martial art, learn to swim, read about things, etc.

#2: Businesses
Your money is what most businesses after, not your satisfaction. That's the industry's nature. We cannot really blame them, but we certainly could be more careful of how we deal with them.

#3: Politics and government
There are only two forms of politics--the politics of fear and the politics of trust. Be careful of those who are trying to use fear to get you onto their side. In other words, be careful of the politicians' "propaganda."

#4: Women (if you are a man) / Men (if you are a woman)
Some (not all) men are stupid, what can I say? If a woman knows how to "attack," sooner or later her male target is going to fall. Besides, a woman's tear is like a hydrogen bomb blackmail; if she cries before you, the people around you are automatically assume that you are at fault, regardless of the truth.
Some (not all) women are vulnerable and too insecure of themselves, which in turns could easily be "used" or abused. Besides, more often than not, rape does not come from overwhelming sexual desire; rather, rape often occur because sometimes some men choose to use sex as the weapon to lower the woman into submission.

#5: Love
It's nice to love and to be loved, and there are many forms of love, ranging from friendship to romance. But falling too deep into a romantic love with someone who doesn't love you hurts. Being a "flower in the shadow" hurts! More than breaking a bone, more than dislocating an arm, it's like your heart is being cut by a piece of shattered glass, then only to have yourself left withering silently in the dark.
posted by ThirdQED at 7:57 PM on June 16, 2010

Read somewhere that a swimming pool is 6 times more dangerous to have in your house than a handgun.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:00 PM on June 16, 2010

Easy precautions against common bad things:

Brush and Floss. It's cheap and easy, and can prevent you having to get a root canal etc. There's some evidence that brushing regularly can help reduce heart disease too.

If you bike, wear a helmet and obey the rules of the road.

If you have a choice of cars, get a newer one with good safety features and put good tires on it. Drive sensibly and respect the weather/road conditions. Wear your seatbelt and be sure your headrest is positioned correctly to prevent whiplash.

Get a carbon monoxide detector and a smoke detector.

Eat reasonably. Exercise reasonably.

Get regular check-ups. Get your cholesterol checked. Get annual pap smears if you're a sexually active woman. Keep up to date on your vaccines.

Wear sunscreen. Don't smoke. Don't have unprotected sex.

Wash your hands after using the bathroom, before eating and when preparing food. Obey good food handling protocols.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:10 PM on June 16, 2010

No offense, but this is a ridiculous question: you are basically asking what to fear.
Instead, know how to get out of your house in case of a fire, know how to do basic CPR, and how to reach emergency services, and then go live your life. There are two things that can take your life: some external threat that you may have no earthy way of preventing or foreseeing (e.g. you happen to be walking along and giant sinkhole swallows you into the earth) and your own hang ups preventing you from living life to its fullest.

Don't fear the reaper, live.
posted by history is a weapon at 9:19 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

having recently completed new employee training, I can report the following wonderful tidbits:

These all have the same risk (one in a million chance of dying):
- smoking 1.4 cigarettes
- eating 40 tablespoons of peanut butter or 100 charcoal broiled steaks
- breathing for 2 days in New York
- flying 2500 mi
- driving 40 mi
- canoeing 6 mi

The worst thing I'm doing for my health right now is being a single man, which takes almost ten years off my life expectancy. In comparison, mining coal would only cost me three years and alcohol abuse, one year.

Electrocution is the third leading cause of work-related deaths among 16-17 year olds, after motor vehicle accidents and "workplace homicide".

So, if you're a single man, work on that first and worry about the rest later.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:24 PM on June 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Don't worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

From the "Wear Sunsreen" speech.
posted by amyms at 9:35 PM on June 16, 2010

With a little knowledge of math and some skill with google, you can determine this for yourself. It's just a question of dangerous behaviors, how to avoid them and determining whether it's worth it or not to do so.

My personal thing not already mentioned here is "never change a tire or stand by a car on the side of the highway." A ton of people get killed that way. If you really can't make it to the exit or safe stop, get out of the car and get away from it. Even if driving slowly on your rim on the side of the road with the flashers on damages it (which is unlikely), it is a worthwhile sacrifice.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 9:59 PM on June 16, 2010

You gotta listen to the first Freakonomics podcast (Number 10):
posted by glenno86 at 7:01 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
posted by General Tonic at 7:05 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

In general: know your limits as a mortal human. Don't drive when you're sleepy. Don't run outside to shoot video of the funnel cloud. Don't stay in the sun when you're hot and dizzy. Don't put off going to the hospital if your chest starts to hurt. Know when it's time to seek help, take a break, or stop what you're doing. I think "No, no, I'll be fine," are the last words for a surprising number of people.

Also: put a non-slip mat in your bathtub/shower.
posted by castlebravo at 7:28 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you have the option, park your car inside an attached garage with no windows.

Petty theft is so common it's unreal plus your car will age/weather well without you baking to death or scraping ice off of it.

Getting robbed and having a fucked up ride are a bad combination.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:30 PM on June 17, 2010

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