By RUSS GERBER — Soon after departing Houston International Airport we hit turbulence. Severe turbulence. The pilot came on to warn that because we had to pass through a storm front the rough ride would last another 30 minutes. But not to worry. “Think of it as a car traveling on a bumpy road,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s jostling, but the plane is in no danger from it.” I’d heard this reassurance before, but for the woman sitting across the aisle from me it must have been a first — a big first. She sighed with relief. The white-knuckle grip of worry was gone.
Too bad that’s not the trend everywhere else.
Some medical and social experts claim society’s worry about all kinds of things is on the rise. According to one report it’s reaching epidemic proportions. That’s disturbing news on both the mental and physical health front.
Yet other experts, together with a lot of ordinary folks, wonder about the source of this spike in anxiety. What they’re suspecting is that worry may be more a deliberate imposition than an accurate impression.
Worry can be used as a tool to sell products or increase ratings, says clinical psychologist Daniel Peters. It’s a means of influencing public thought and behavior that can have both mental and physical consequences. In his book Worried Sick, Arthur J. Barsky, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, warns: “Consumers are constantly reminded of the myriad threats to health, often by exaggeration of the risks involved, and then convinced of the necessity for products and services to protect them.”
If scare tactics concern you and you want to defend yourself, that’s as it should be says physician David Katz. “For those of us not wanting to figure among the victims of this prevailing mischief,” he writes, “there is a need for self-defense.” The information we access on smart phones may not be as smart, or as frightening, as we’re led to believe.
Where does self-defense come into play? In-between the aggressive mix of news, advisories, warnings, and concerns being sent — and received — every day. On the receiving end people should pay attention to their role, their responsibility, as gatekeepers. The ability to accept or reject, embrace or question what we’re asked to believe, no matter how convincing the message appears to be, is squarely ours.
This reminder isn’t new. Back in the prehistoric days of media – no Internet, email, television, or radio — the author of Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy, noted: “The press unwittingly sends forth many sorrows and diseases among the human family. It does this by giving names to diseases and by printing long descriptions which mirror images of disease distinctly in thought.”
Fear-mongering wasn’t as prevalent in the late 19th century as it is today, but that didn’t stop her from warning readers: “Stand porter at the door of thought.”
Times certainly have changed, but the warning is as relevant as ever. Porters back then stood ready to push physical doors open. In today’s hyper-media world we need porters of the mind, who know when it’s wise to keep the mental doors shut.
— Russ Gerber is a syndicated health blogger and a Christian Science teacher and practitioner. This post was originally published on BlogCritics.org. Follow him on twitter @russgerber