This may sound strange, but one of the books I'm most looking forward to reading next month is all about worry. Worried?: Science investigates some of life's common concerns is written by scientists who decided to look at the facts behind our fears. The book tackles concerns that include Flesh-Eating Infection, Elevators, Bedbugs (I'm heading to this page first), and Fat. Each topic includes a 3-component index that looks at preventability, likelihood, and consequence. This helps us decide what we really need to worry about. If something is not preventable--why worry? It won't help anything and stress is very harmful to the body...
If you enjoyed books like Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, where science becomes incredibly entertaining in the context of everyday life, Worried? (available February 26, 2019) is the book for you.
We thought the start of a new year is the perfect time to consider our worries and asked authors Lise Johnson and Eric Chudler to give us a little help with that. Below is their original piece for Amazon Book Review readers about resolutions, anxiety, and science.
Worry Well in 2019
January is here, which means it’s time to look back on all our holiday excesses with repentance and earnestly vow to do better in the future. And yes, of course, we should all resolve to get more exercise this year. But what else is on your list? After you get back from that early morning jog, what should you be doing to make yourself happier and healthier and less likely to die of cancer? Should you be worried about fluoride? Sharks? Public toilet seats? Given the complicated nature of our modern lives, the set of things we could choose to worry about is both vast and poorly defined – a fact which is in itself somewhat anxiety inducing.
You can’t worry about everything (some of us have tried). In addition to being impossible, it will make you sick and cranky, which is the opposite of the desired effect. So, for the new year, we’d like to recommend a new strategy: only worry about the things that are likely to happen, likely to be harmful, and that you can avoid through some sort of personal action. Nothing else is worth the time or the ulcer. Of course, that still leaves you with the problem of sorting all of your potential worries into the appropriate categories. You’re going to need some sort of method, and the method we particularly like is science. In this regard we are perhaps a bit biased, because we are scientists. But, in addition to being scientists, we are human beings who get stressed out about food safety and flame retardants.
So, using our newly defined strategy, let’s look at some of those resolutions. Are you thinking it’s time to cut back on the caffeine? As long as you aren’t drinking it in a soda or an energy drink, caffeine might actually be good for you. It can lower your risk of some chronic diseases and its ergogenic properties can help you get more out of that morning run (because yes, you still need to get more exercise). Alcohol, on the other hand, is pretty much bad for everyone all the time. In addition to its addictive properties and the negative effects it has on your physiology (including but not limited to an increased cancer risk), alcohol is strongly associated with domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and accidents. Most people would do better to cut back on alcohol rather than caffeine, but it’s especially important not to drink them together. Combining energy drinks with alcohol is an exceptionally bad idea.
Thinking about changing your diet? Eating more fish? Maybe adding a supplement? Going gluten free? Your diet is definitely a big part of your overall health, but there is so much conflicting information out there that it can be hard to know whether you should be eating only plants or only bacon. Eating fish can be great for your cardiovascular health, but you’re going to want to avoid fish that are high in mercury. Since methyl-mercury tends to accumulate in tissues, you typically want to eat fish that are lower on the food chain. Try some sardines instead of swordfish. You probably want to skip the supplements altogether – they aren’t as well regulated or as safe as you think. Go gluten free if you want to, but for most people it won’t translate into any health benefit, especially if you end up eating a lot of processed gluten-free foods. Your best bet is to eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer packaged foods in general, gluten-free or not.
Wondering if you should be worried about aluminum? Your body doesn’t need any aluminum, so you won’t be doing yourself any harm by eliminating it from your life. But, if you’re going to limit your exposure to a metal, lead should be at the top of your list. Lead is surprisingly toxic and seemingly everywhere. Children are the most vulnerable, but lead is bad news for everyone. Lead was historically used in paint, pipes, and gasoline. It is still sometimes found in children’s toys (usually imported from China), car batteries, and solder. If you live in an older home, think about investing in lead paint removal or encapsulation. If you buy a water filter, make sure it is rated for lead removal. Have your soil tested before you grow a garden and take off your shoes when you come inside. If your new year includes plans for home remodeling, make sure you don’t kick up any lead paint dust. While you’re at it, make sure you don’t disturb any asbestos.
Finally, while you’re out taking that health-promoting morning jog, watch out for dogs. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they kill more people than sharks, snakes, and spiders combined.
--Lise Johnson and Eric Chudler