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Think: Fighting Our Fear Of Ebola


Since last week, the medical community has assured us that there’s no threat of an Ebola outbreak in the United States. But that hasn’t stopped many people from worrying. On Monday on Think, Krys Boyd talked to a pair of psychologists about why we continue to fear what we don’t understand.

Worrying about Ebola - or any other scary disease – isn’t a total waste of time. Anxiety activates us.

"And that is true when you take measures that really make your life safer – for example, washing your hands," says Dr. Alicia Meuret, director of SMU’s Anxiety and Depression Research Center. “But worrying about the catastrophic outcomes that may occur won’t change the odds.”

Our fear of these catastrophic outcomes is linked to the lack of control we feel over them. The classic example is people who fear flying but not driving – even though, statistically, driving is much more dangerous.

“People who have a fear of flying will describe it very vividly. ‘In a car, at least I know where to break, when to stop – I have control over the steering wheel. Whereas in a plane I have no control'," says Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, Chair of UT Southwestern’s Mental Health Department.

The fix for this type of fear is experience. Once you’ve flown several times and landed safely, you begin to worry less. But you still have to take that first flight.

“Only by being in the situation, one can realize that the fears that one has about a catastrophic outcome do indeed not occur," Meuret says.

And when it comes to Ebola, very few of us have been close enough to it to have conquered those fears.

Missed Monday's discussion? Listen to the podcast.

Stephen Becker is senior producer of the Think show , which airs on more than 25 stations across Texas and beyond. Prior to joining the Think team in 2013, as part of the Art&Seek team, Stephen produced radio and digital stories and hosted "The Big Screen" — a weekly radio segment about North Texas film — with Chris Vognar. His 2011 story about the history of eight-track tapes was featured nationally on NPR's All Things Considered. His works has been recognized with numerous state and national awards.