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42 Perspective-Changing Facts about Common Fears.

Mathew Burke

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
– Franklin Delano Roosevelt

When FDR said those immortal words, the United States was in the depths of the Great Depression. People were fearful— and for good reason: the economy was in the toilet, unemployment was decimating urban (and rural) populations across the country, and far away, in Europe, the spectre of Nazism was beginning to raise its head…

Still, President Roosevelt admonished the population to turn up their chins and face fear head-on. And apparently, it worked. In the long run, the U.S. economy didn’t just come back to life… it roared back with a strength the world had never before seen. And although there was more than a little suffering in the years ahead (the most devastating conflict in human history, for example) FDR’s leadership helped to steer the American people into greener pastures.

So in our fast-paced modern world, complete with a 24-hour news cycle which can serve to stoke our most primal fears, maybe it would behoove most of us to keep his words in mind. Between the threats of violence, climate change, super-bugs, even whether or not your favorite food is a carcinogen… it’s worth remembering that the world that most of us live in is the safest it’s ever been.

Here are 42 facts to help put your mind at ease:


42. I Vant to Suck Your Blood

We’ll start with a tame one.

Vampire bats may have a frightening name, but they actually don’t usually bite humans. Their preferred prey? Although they’ll technically take a nibble of any sleeping mammal, they tend to focus on the most dormant creatures around. That can mean cows, pigs, and other animals that we humans have conveniently domesticated, and given extremely sedentary lives.

That’s right: it’s almost as though we’re allies to these little blood-suckers. After all, our farms are basically a vampire bat’s buffet.

Common fears facts

41. Cannonball!

This is one you probably heard from your mother.

After you eat, it’s essential that you wait between 30 minutes and an hour before you hit the water. Right? The myth claims that your body will cramp up, and it could cause you to drown.

In reality, while it may feel slightly uncomfortable to swim on a full stomach, you should absolutely be fine. After all, the human body is a pretty resilient thing.

Common fears facts

40. Seeing Red

If you’ve ever seen a bullfight (or even seen a representation of a bullfight in a movie or on TV) you’ll no doubt be aware of the idea that the color red drives a bull to violence. After all, if that wasn’t the case, why would those colorful matadores insist on waving a red flag in their faces?

It actually turns out that the trick of the act is more about movement than color. In fact, bulls are almost entirely colorblind—able to see only shades of blue and yellow. It’s the waving of the flag which irritates them and prompts a charge toward the person responsible.

P.S. fun fact: the flag which matadores wave is called a muleta.

Common fears facts

39. Sinking with Style

Anyone remotely familiar with stories of adventure, fantasy, or exotic travel (that is, essentially everyone) knows there’s one common threat to any would-be jungle adventurer: the literal pitfall.

Stumbling into a patch of quicksand is basically any fictional adventurer’s greatest threat. If movies, TV shows, books, and even fairy tales are to be trusted, a person who’s found their way into one of those sandy deathtraps had better have a handy length of rope around… or else kiss their lives goodbye.

But the truth is, if you manage to drown in a pit of quicksand, you probably weren’t trying that hard to get out.

The human body is so dense, it’s impossible to fully submerse oneself in quicksand. Once someone sinks to about their waist, they stop. That’s it. No desperate reaching for a friend’s just-out-of-reach hand… just a mildly awkward hurdle in your morning, and some sand in the shoe.

Common fears facts

38. Germaphobia Mania

Germaphobes everywhere make sure to wash their hands multiple times a day, and will most likely have hand sanitizer at their desk.

While it’s true that bacteria is everywhere, less than one percent of it will actually make you sick.

Common fears facts

37. What’s That Smell?

Some people believe that if they eat expired food, they will die, or get extremely sick. In reality, sell-by dates are very random, and consumers should use their judgement if the food looks or smells like it has really gone bad. If you accidently eat rancid meat or expired food, you might get food poisoning, which leads to a nasty night (or several) of vomiting and diarrhea. However, food poisoning is seldom fatal.

Common fears facts

36. Dreamy Cheese

Many people say that eating cheese and other snacks before bedtime will cause nightmares. In reality, very little research has been done on this, but the most comprehensive study to date found no link between cheese consumption and nightmares.

Common fears facts

35. Swimming with Sharks

Some people are afraid to swim in the ocean, because they’re afraid of a shark attack. However, in the United States, there is only one shark attack every two years, and they are usually surfers, because a shark thinks the surfboard is a seal. You have a better chance at winning the lottery.

Common fears facts

34. Riding the Microwave

Many people believe that if you stand too close to a microwave, it emits enough radiation to give you cancer. This is not true. The level of radiation is not high enough to damage cells in the human body, so it cannot give you cancer.

Common fears facts

33. “It Grows Back Thicker”

Many girls are raised to believe that if they shave hair on their body, it will grow back thicker and darker. This is not true. The thickness and pigment of hair is determined by the follicle, which is still alive when you shave it, so it doesn’t make a difference.

Common fears facts

32. Kaboom!

People have been scared to ride in airplanes since they were first invented, but it is actually very safe. You have a higher chance of getting into a deadly accident every time you get into a car than you do flying in an airplane. Even in the cases where an airplane has crashed, the passengers and pilot survive 90% of the time.

Common fears facts

31. Wanna Play?

Sightings of “killer clowns” popped up all over the news, and it triggered a lot of people’s worst nightmares. Most killer clown sightings were just pranks, and once they were on the news, young people began to do it more often, because they thought it was funny.

Common fears facts

Still looks pretty terrifying to me…

30. Thrift Swag

There are a lot of people who are afraid to buy items from thrift stores, because they think they’re going to bring home bedbugs, lice, or other nasty critters. If you brought home a couch that was sitting on the curb for a week, that fear is probably justified. However, at thrift stores, items come directly from the people who are donating, and the employees throw away the majority of items that are dirty and unacceptable for resale. Also, people interact with used items all the time, like furniture in restaurants that have been sat on by thousands of other people, and yet that doesn’t seem to bother them.

Common fears facts

29. Snakes and Stones May… Wait, That’s Not Right.

Being afraid of snakes is very natural, because it’s part of survival. While roughly 8,000 people get bitten by a venomous snake every year, only 5 of those people will die. In theory, no one should ever have to die from a snake bite because hospitals have anti-venoms for every type of poisonous snake.

Common fears facts

28. Killer Coasters

Many people are afraid of heights, so of course, they’re terrified of going on a roller coaster. However, only 4 people die from roller-coaster related accidents every year, and they’re usually amusement park employees. To put it into perspective, you are more likely to die from falling out of your bed, which kills 450 people per year.

Common fears facts

27. Hungry Hungry Gators

When tourists visit the Southern United States, they are afraid of getting attacked by an alligator. This is especially true of Florida, where tourists travel from all over the world to go to Disney World. It’s smart to make sure you children and pets stay away from lakes and streams in Florida, but you are actually more likely to win the lottery than get bit by a gator.

Common fears facts

26. Bear Necessities

When traveling or living in a wooded area, people are terrified of a bear attack. However, you’re more likely to get killed by a cow than a bear.

Common fears facts

25. A Little Seasoning Perhaps?

There is a belief that when a fly lands on your food, you shouldn’t eat it anymore. Some say that flies lay eggs immediately, but the truth is a little grosser. When a fly tries to eat something, they spit or puke on it first, and then try to suck it up to eat it. Not to mention the bacteria they may be carrying. If flies are gathering on food for a long time, it’s best not to eat it. However, if a fly lands on your food for a split second and you swat it away, you probably got there in time before it puked on your food.

Common fears facts

24. Listen to Doctor

There are some people who stay away from drugs to the point where they even refuse to take over-the-counter medication. This is because there is this idea that taking any drug always lead to addiction. While addiction is a very serious issue, using drugs does not automatically mean someone is going to get addicted. If your doctor says it isn’t addictive, you’re likely OK. Furthermore, your doctor is trained to balance the risks and the benefits, so even if a medication is addictive, it may still be wise to take it to help combat more pressing health concerns.

Common fears facts

23. Lazy Stoners!

While marijuana is becoming legalized in more parts of the world, there are still many people who are afraid of it ruining society. In reality, weed is not addictive at all, and recent research suggests that it isn’t a “gateway drug” either.

Common fears facts

22. That Trendy Epidemic

Every few years, a new killer virus will be all over the news. For a while, it was the Bird Flu. People misunderstood the illness and became afraid to eat chicken. In reality, the only way to catch it would be to fly to an Asian country and touch an infected bird. Then, it was the Zika Virus. While these illnesses are very serious, the odds of actually catching it was extremely slim. According to the Center of Disease Control, 532 Americans have contracted the Zika Virus in the territories like Puerto Rico, Samoa, and the Caribbean islands in 2017. Only 175 of them contracted the illness inside of the United States borders. To put this into perspective, you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning.

Common fears facts

21. A Poor Conductor

“Astraphobia” is a fear of storms. People are scared that they will get hit by lightning. In reality, only 300 people get struck by lightning in the United States every year, and only 30 actually die. As long as you stay inside and avoid tall metal objects and trees, the odds are that you will be fine.

Common fears facts

20. Seven Years a Ball of Gum

There is a myth that if you swallow a piece of gum, it will sit in your stomach for up to 7 years. The truth is that gum cannot be digested like normal food, but it will pass through and come out when you go to the bathroom in a few days after swallowing it.

Common fears facts

19. “They Took Our Jobs!”

Right-wing politicians may claim that immigrant workers are taking jobs away from Americans, and this causes fear and anger among people who are struggling to pay their bills. What they never seem to realize is that immigrants take the jobs that the vast majority of Americans don’t want. Vice did a piece called The Worst Job In New York: Immigrant America. They showed life as a dairy farm employee, which involved getting pooped on by cows every single day. The reporter went to a local employment agency to see if unemployed Americans would be willing to work at the dairy farm, and none of the job seekers wanted to apply. The only people willing to deal with those working conditions were Mexican immigrants. According to the National Academy of Science, the only segment of the population that is significantly effected by immigrant labor are teenagers who drop out of high school.

Common fears facts

18. Don’t Try This at Home

One of the most common fears is heights.

Honestly, fair enough. We’d love to be the bearer’s of good news, and claim that heights aren’t really that bad but… a good long fall is still a pretty serious threat to your health.

That being said…

A fall from an outrageously high distance does not automatically mean you’re going to die. For example, Julianne Diller and Shayna Richardson are two women who fell 3 kilometers out of planes and still managed to survive with only some broken bones.

Common fears facts

17. Streets of War

There are more Americans killed in gun-related deaths in the city of Chicago alone than there were in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.

That one… maybe isn’t so reassuring. But it does serve to illustrate an interesting point in terms of common media narratives can distort our sense of reality.

Common fears facts

16. Spidey Senses?

While deadly spiders do exist, the odds of them biting and killing someone is extremely rare. Only 6 people die every year from spider bites in the United States. If you seek medical treatment immediately, you should be fine. To put things into perspective, more people die from being thrown off a horse than spider bites.

Common fears facts

15. C’s Get Degrees?

Young people are put under extreme amounts of pressure to get good grades in college, especially if they plan to move on to Grad School. For many students, this turns into a very legitimate form of anxiety and fear that if they get bad grades, it means they won’t have a promising career, and their lives will be ruined. Most students do not realize that if you fail, it’s actually possible to take the class over again. The new grade will replace the old one, and your GPA will increase. Many employers also never see your GPA, and are more concerned with completing your degree, work experience, and references. That said, it’s still good advice to dedicate yourself to your studies: good grades can provide you with an advantage, and the things you learn can aid you throughout this crazy journey we call life.

Common fears facts

14. Lethal Weapon: The Penny

A common myth is that if you drop a penny from the top of the Empire State Building and it hits someone, it could kill them.

In reality, though, this myth is pretty easily dispelled. After all, a penny is hardly the most aerodynamic object in the world. If a penny were dropped from that kind of height, wind and air-resistance would cause it to spin and flop around as it fell. And if, by some absolute miracle, the little copper projectile actually managed to hit someone? The victim’s suffering would probably be roughly similar to an annoying flick in the head.

Common fears facts
So much for this madman’s master plan…

13. Crack Away (Or don’t… it’s still annoying)!

There is a long-standing myth that cracking your knuckles or other joins will lead to arthritis. A man named Donald Unger did an experiment where he cracked only one knuckle every day for 60 years. He never got arthritis in either hand.

Common fears facts

12. Nice Little Scorpions

Scorpions are no joke. You don’t want to get stung by one, but if you do, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean you’re going to die. Every year, 1.2 million people are stung by a scorpion, but only 3,250 die. The vast majority of these deaths happened in remote places in the world. In the United States, there have only been 4 scorpion related deaths over the course of 11 years.

Common fears facts

11. Moon Fever

There is a common phrase when things start to get a little weird, that “it must be a full moon”. Some people even go to the extent to stay indoors on the night of a full moon, for fear that it brings out the worst in people. There is no scientific proof that this is true. While some studies say that there are higher crime rates on full moons, this is actually attributed to the coincidence that a fool moon fell on a weekends or holiday, which already has higher chances of crime.

Common fears facts

10. Spontaneous Combustion

Every year, there is at least one case of “spontaneous combustion”, which is when someone bursts into flames seemingly out of nowhere. For years, it became an urban legend that people have the ability to set themselves on fire without warning. Spontaneous combustion has never been scientifically proven to be a real thing. The cases all involved flammable clothing standing too close to a fire.

Common fears facts

9. Yummy Spiders

A myth began to creep around the Internet that the average person swallows a few spiders in their lifetime. This is actually not true…Mainly because most people don’t sleep with their mouth open.

Common fears facts

8. “Killer” Bees

People are allergic to bees, and it can be deadly for them if they get stung. Even if they’re not allergic, a lot of people run away from bees. The truth is that only 1 out of every 63,225 bee stings results in death, and it was probably someone who was allergic. There is a special breed of “killer” bees that caused mass panic and even inspired some horror movies. In reality, “killer bees” have less venom than regular bees. The one thing that makes them dangerous is when they swarm together in defense of their hive.

Common fears facts

7. Dry Your Hair!

There is a common belief that if you leave the house with wet or damp hair when it is cold outside, you will get very sick. The idea comes from the fact that being cold can lower the body’s immune system. Having a wet head will lower your body temperature, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll automatically get sick.

Common fears facts

6. Elevators Aren’t That Scary

Elevators are a subject used in more than one horror movie. For anyone who is claustrophobic, the fear of an elevator malfunctioning, leaving you trapped inside is a terrifying thing. When the mind goes to worst-case-scenario, the idea of an elevator plummeting multiple stories is horrifying as well. You may find it comforting to know that in the United States, there are only 27 elevator-related deaths each year. The majority of these deaths were elevator maintenance workers. Deaths involving regular people were trapped in an elevator. They attempted to escape instead of waiting for the fire department to arrive, and caused their own death.

Common fears facts

5. Take That, Elevators!

Escalators are obviously safer than elevators, because if they break down, they just become stairs. However, a lot of people have an irrational fear that makes them nervous to get on an escalator. If you’re one of these people, you will be happy to learn that no one has died from an escalator accident. The vast majority of escalator injuries happened to children under 5 years old. In the cases where adults became injured, the vast majority of them were drunk, or someone pushed them.

Common fears facts

4. Final Destination: Attack of the Fans

This may sound silly, but having your head chopped off by a ceiling fan is a very real fear for some people. On an episode of Mythbusters, they tested if it’s possible for this to happen. The conclusion is that you might get a concussion, but you won’t die. There have not been any fan-related decapitations on record.

Common fears facts

3. Woof!

A lot of people are afraid of dogs. Just about everyone knows someone who has been bitten by a dog at some point in their life. According to the Center of Disease Control, dogs will bite 4.5 million in the US every year. While this sounds like a huge number, you need to keep in mind that there are 78 million dogs in the US. In 2016, only 41 people died from dog attacks. So you have a better chance of dying from a bee or wasp sting.

Common fears facts

2. A Long Way to Fall

Every airplane has an emergency exit door.

In movies, when a door opens, it sucks the air out of the plane and causes chaos. However, the air pressure would make it impossible for anyone to actually open the door in the first place.

I’m starting to suspect that not all the action in your typical blockbuster is 100% based in reality…

Common fears facts

1. You Should Definitely Vaccinate Your Kids

In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study that linked vaccinations to autism. This caused many parents to panic, and they chose not to vaccinate their children. He was making a lot of money taking advantage of families who had children with autism by charging them for consulting fees. The medical journal who originally published Wakefield’s work retracted the study, saying that it was “utterly false.” He also had his medical license revoked because of his false claims about the risks of vaccination. What you should be afraid of, however, is unvaccinated kids. Many illnesses that had once been erased from modern society began to creep back into schools, because of parents who refused to vaccinate their children.

Common fears facts

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

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