Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Don’t be too worried about the environment – it’s bad for your health. Or so goes the sophistical argument presented in this analysis of risk perception:

Even today, when media warnings about the latest health or safety risk are commonplace, the incessant drumbeat of reported environmental hazards can be truly alarming, leaving us worried, like the followers of Chicken Little, that the sky really is falling. But while plenty of these threats are serious, some of the most frightening eco-bogeymen are not nearly the dangers that many presume….

And then there is the tangible health risk from eco-anxiety itself. When we worry more than the evidence warrants (about any kind of threat, not just environmental), and those worries last for a couple weeks or more, we live in a persistent low grade fight-or-flight response with various biological systems turned up or down to protect ourselves. Those changes are not harmful in the short term, but lousy if they last. Chronic stress raises blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. It depresses our immune system, so worrying too much that you’ll get sick increases the likelihood you will, or that your illness will be worse, or that it will kill you. (There is strong evidence tying stress to a greater likelihood of cancer, and worse outcomes for those who get it.) Chronic stress depresses long-term memory, fertility and the growth of fast-growing cells like bone and hair. It is strongly associated with the greater likelihood and severity of clinical depression, and Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes….

We can’t entirely overcome the powerful instinctive forces that have worked so well to protect us. Our fearful minds will always find the next Godzilla. But we can begin to protect ourselves from the dangers of the perception gap by learning the lesson that some of our eco-anxieties teach us — that our instincts can lead us to worry more than the evidence tells us we should, and that can be a huge danger all by itself.

Don’t worry about climate change or disturbing global trends, be happy.

The Wages of Eco-Angst – NY Times

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