Healthwatch: Facing Our Fears

If you ask people what their biggest fear is, they're likely to tell you all about their fear of planes, terrorists, snakes, spiders, and sharks. But you won't often hear them mention the things that are most likely to kill them.

Psychologist Eilenna Denisoff says the brain's fight or flight response outweighs its rational part.

"That processing, that logic piece, right, it comes in a fraction of a millisecond after the emotional piece, so the anxiety is already there."

Here's another example of that.  Thirty-million Americans fear flying, but the risk of dying in a crash is one in 11 million. Dying from heart disease? About one in two.

"People tend to think of something like heart disease as far off in the distance."

She says that "off in the distance" mentality is a dangerous disconnect that can justify actions far more likely to kill us -- like smoking, not exercising or unhealthy eating.

"If I believe that having a cigarette will lead to my dying, it is very difficult to have that cigarette, as opposed to, 'Yeah, I'll quit later on,' which is what most people tell themselves."

In a recent poll, one-third of people said they fear terrorist attacks, but the risk of dying in one is about one in nine million. Cancer kills one in five women, and one in four men.

Other top fears -- spiders, sharks and snakes. But you're more likely to die from cancer, heart disease or stroke -- three things she says you should fear and can do something about, like "live a healthier lifestyle."

In the meantime, she says don't let your fears keep you from enjoying your life.

"I think you want to get accurate information so that you are able to function in the world and live a rich and full life."