4 Weird Panics Everyone Has For No Logical Reason
Watching horror movies during my grade-school days has deadened my nerves, and now I'm just not really responsive to anything that I technically should be panicking about. Pity me. However, if you have adequate senses and find that you freak out all the time, don't be ashamed. For most people, having a reaction to things is normal, and having a gross overreaction is not uncommon at all. In fact, there's science behind damn near all of it. Yay, science!
I live in an area festooned with vermin, ranging from skunks to raccoons to guys who wear socks with sandals. When I'm settled in for a night of watching Master Chef like a responsible adult and I hear a rummaging outside my window, I should be able to rationally deduce that it is most likely one of those unhygienic little bastards trying to rustle up a meal in my trash. And even if it isn't -- even if it actually is a burglar or Gary Busey gone walkabout again -- since it must be a skunk 999 times out of 1,000, that should be the go-to thought that I have. But it's not. It's never the thought I have. In fact, the thought I always have is "Maybe being stabbed won't be that bad."
No doubt any noise in your house which you don't have an immediate explanation for sends your neck hair into hysterics. From a creaking floor to a rattled can to some random thump upstairs that's probably your fat cat falling off the bed, it stands to reason that every noise has a rational explanation. Yet we tend to jump to the most irrational reason first. How many times have you legitimately wondered if maybe that noise was some kind of Michael-Myers-esque slasher in the hall closet when in fact it was just the air conditioner kicking on?
That fear of loud noises is called "phonophobia," and it's an insidious little bastard of a fear because, realistically, any sudden loud noise is going to take you by surprise. This is what makes jump scares in horror movies so effective -- it's not a building of dread and atmosphere as much as some asshole poking you from behind when you didn't see them coming. You have no choice but to be startled by a sudden bang in the house because it's not the normal flow of things. Your nerves are immediately set on edge, and like our woodland friends, we feel that creeping panic. In extreme cases, it can be a debilitating condition that makes you panic at possibly the literal drop of a hat, but even in mild forms, you're going to be spooked when you hear an errant fart in the night.
Part of any creature's survival instinct is to be wary of sudden changes in the world around them. Any wild animal tends to freeze the moment they hear a strange noise and then bolt when they feel threatened. Your brain is just a frightened little bunny when you hear a frying pan fall when there's no one in the kitchen, and your imagination will fill in the rest for you. Maybe it's just because you left it precariously on the edge of the counter, or maybe the vampires slipping in through your window are a little clumsy.
Who amongst us hasn't had that ominous moment when we feel a scratch at the back of the throat and a bit of a sniffle coming on, so we whisk away to WebMD, only to learn, tragically, that we have hypersyphilis and endometribetes of the testicles? This is especially shocking for ladies. But WebMD is a doctor (it's right in the damn name), so you can't not believe the diagnosis. You face the fact that you're going to die, probably later this afternoon, and set about getting your affairs in order. Your family gets the nice set of plates, your cat gets everything else.
Most of us have little bouts of hypochondria, and that's normal. It usually just means that you chug orange juice through a beer funnel to get the most Vitamin C you can for a few days. We all do that, right? But this habit of looking up your ills online and allowing your fears to spiral out of control has its own name, and it's cyberchondria.
When you rush off to WebMD because you wake up every morning feeling sad and immediately think you're manic-depressive, you start a furious chain of shittery that may end up snowballing into all manner of craptastical tomfoolery. Lacking the training to properly diagnose yourself and simply going by whatever symptom + disease combo comes up first in a Google search is more likely to stress you out, and when you do go see a physician, it's also more likely to direct your diagnosis toward what you think you want or need to hear. Maybe you only have a headache and one swollen ass flap, but WebMD said that when combined with leaky nipples, it's a sign of spinal liquefaction, so you bring up how you kind of do maybe remember having a drippy nipple the other day.
The big issue with this method of self-diagnosis is that you end up believing you have 100 diseases you don't have and could very well miss one you do have, because you don't know your ass from grape jelly when it comes to medicine, just like the rest of us.
The medical profession, for whatever reason, engenders a lot of mistrust. Google it and you'll discover hundreds of articles on why you shouldn't trust doctors, and why you should instead trust Greg, a guy with a blog. Reasons range from outright quackery to the fear that the medical profession is just a money-making scam to the hopelessness of people who haven't been able to find help. There's a rich tapestry of potential reasons someone wouldn't trust a doctor, and even though that doesn't mean you shouldn't trust medical science, it seems a lot cheaper to diagnose yourself at home. Also, you're probably tempted to believe you know yourself better than any doctor. Of course, that's a load of horseshit, and you need only recall every dumb decision you've ever made in your life as proof.
Despite the lack of logic, we want to solve our own problems, and without the medical know-how to back it up, we tend to just make it worse in our minds because, you know, we're ignorant and silly.
Fear Of Chemicals And Additives
There's a fairly famous story about a prank that's gone around since the '90s. Penn and Teller even devoted an episode of their show to it, circulating a petition against dihydrogen monoxide while explaining how breathing it in can kill you and all that crap. The joke, of course, is that dihydrogen monoxide is water, and you're an unscientific chump if you fall for this scam, you silly tit.
There's a little more to this joke than scientific illiteracy, though, and that's processing fluency, a kind of familiarity heuristic. In the simplest terms, we as people like easy-to-understand, familiar things. So if I give you two plates of food, and one I just call pot roast with veggies and the other is ossobucco and you've never heard of that, you're going to be more likely to feel comfortable with the pot roast, even though they're essentially the same thing, despite how furious any chefs reading this will now be.
Weird words weird us out, and no words are weirder than the names of chemicals. Water sounds much friendlier than dihydrogen monoxide. Carbon monoxide can kill you, for god's sake, so who knows what sinister shit dihydrogen has up its sleeve. Who wants to risk massive anal scarring from acetylsalicylic acid when you can take a friendly aspirin? Stay the fuck away from methylenedioxymethamphetamine, and instead go dancing with Molly.
This is essentially how your brain makes decision-making simpler, and companies use it to dupe you into buying certain products. The easier terms and words are, the more familiar and safe they sound and the less work your brain has to do when trying to decide if you should inject something between your toes or sprinkle it on your donut. In your own head, you're convincing yourself you've done the right thing.
This brilliantly applies to marketing, especially in the world of holistic, non-GMO, organic, flaccid, no-donkey-punching foods and supplements. Good god, no reasonable person would ever want to buy granola bars jam-packed with sodium benzoate, whatever the fuck that is. That's why Granny Goodtime only sells bars made with pure granola, figs, and lung butter. It's goodness you can taste! Granny Goodtime wouldn't trick you with dangerous things like syllables.
Say I tell you about something you've never heard of before called "Ham-Chunnelling." Ham-Chunnelling is what you call it when you force a not-insignificant portion of ham into your rectum. The more ham you get in there, the better you are at Ham-Chunnelling. And now, having heard this term for the first time, you head out into the wild and immediately run across a guy in a "Ham-Chunnelers 4 Life" shirt. Or maybe you just stumble across a couple at Starbucks making plans to chunnel some ham later that night. Or you notice that next to the Starbucks is a new place called Ham-Chunnel-Bucks. You just got Baader-Meinhoffed.
Also known as the frequency effect, the Baader-Meinhof phenomena is basically stumbling upon some obscure name or info for the first time, then running into it again fairly soon thereafter. Your mind immediately makes this significant. How could you have lived your whole life never knowing Scott Baio's middle name is Grundle, and then, upon discovering it, run across a farmer's market with an entire booth dedicated to handwritten Grundle Baio fanfic? That must be kismet or fate or some shit, right? That's the Universe telling you something!
It's not. The Universe doesn't give two shits about what order you learn facts in, or how often you run across the same fact more than once. It's called a coincidence, and the Universe is so up to its crotch in coincidences that you'd choke on a biscuit if you could appreciate even a fraction of them. However, the human mind doesn't cotton to coincidence being coincidental. We demand patterns in chaos, so a coincidence becomes a conspiracy with almost no prompting whatsoever.
Suppose you walk your dog every day after dinner. One day, you walk through the alley and cut a wicked fart. It wafts up to a neighbor's window and the dude inside smells burrito and shit, apropos of nothing. The next day, you walk your dog again and just happen to fart in the same place. The dude inside, at the exact same time, smells the exact same fart and is suddenly convinced that there's a fartspiracy afoot. Why does his apartment stink like a burrito shit at the same time each day, when he's eaten neither a burrito nor a shit in months? What could it mean? Is the government trying some kind of nerve gas experiment? This example was abhorrent, but it's mostly effective. One man's unexplained phenomena is another man's leftover Taco Bell.
Ian will quell any panic you may be feeling on Twitter.
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