Should I Be Worried About Nuclear War? Gun Violence? COVID? Looking At Facts May Help You Feel Better
Is worry keeping you awake at night? Are you worried about being worried? If you’ve been looking for answers on how to stop worrying, some recent research from Penn State might have some good news for you.
Researchers asked a group of people with generalized anxiety disorder to keep a sort of worry journal for 30 days. What they found is that 91.4% of the things they worried about did not happen.
In a recent survey from the American Psychological Association, 87% of U.S. adults said that the last few years have been a “constant stream of crises.” More than 70% said that they feel overwhelmed by the number of crises in the world right now.
The big question isn’t “should I be worried about…” but “how worried should I be?” That research paper I mentioned showed that when people learn that their worries don’t happen often, they worry less. So, let’s look at what statistics say about how worried you should be about these global and national problems affecting your life.
How to Read and Understand Research: A Crash Course
Most reporters are not scientists and it shows. That’s why it’s important to get as close to the original source as possible when you want to understand what the research says.
How to Find the Information You Need
- Read the original paper. Most media stories will include a link to it. You can also search for research papers in several online databases.
- You may have heard of PubMed, PMC, and PLOS. This resource lists 21 free research databases.
- Your public library or university may have a subscription you can use.
- Check to see if the article is on Researchgate or Google Scholar.
- Write to one of the authors and ask them to send it to you.
This article has more tips on how to get research that’s behind a paywall.
How to Read a Research Paper
There’s no sugar-coating it. Reading a research paper is hard work. It’s even hard work reading articles about reading research papers. I highly encourage you to check out this paper on how to read a research paper that’s actually both fun to read and useful. Read it. It only takes a couple of minutes!
When you’re done, you’ll know what to expect, what to look for, and how to get the information you need from a scientific article.
When you’re reading research studies, it can feel like you’re reading a foreign language. Even words that you think you know can have a different meaning in a research paper. This article is about reading medical research, but it applies to all types of statistics.
3 Tips for Doing Your Own Research
- Read articles from several different sources and authors.
- If you don’t understand something, look it up or ask an expert for help.
- Read what other researchers say about the paper.
Now that you’ve got the tools you need, let’s dig into what statistics tell you about the biggest worries on the world stage.
Should I Be Worried About Nuclear War?
In March, BCA Research, a major financial advising firm, announced that they saw a 10% chance of nuclear war in the next 12 months. That’s a scarily high number, but how accurate is it?
Turns out, it’s pretty hard to calculate the risk of a nuclear war. There has only been one nuclear war in history — World War II. That means there’s only one data point on which to base statistics. Instead, data scientists create hypothetical scenarios that use different factors to determine how likely — and how serious — a nuclear war would be if those things happened.
In this recent article, the Atlantic Council asked a bunch of recognized experts whether they thought Putin would use nuclear weapons. All of them said the risk is much lower than the 10% figure from March.
Finally, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been keeping a running list of comments by experts on the risk of nuclear war since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict. If you read through them, you’ll see how the risk has steadily decreased since March. Some experts put it at less than 1%.
While that may sound like a scary number, consider this question. If you were considering a surgery that has a 99% rate of success, would you do it?
Should I Be Worried About Russia and China?
A recent Pew Research poll found that about half of American adults are worried that the conflict in Ukraine might lead to a war between the U.S. and Russia. People also worry about war with China, as well as about what might happen as China becomes a major economic power in the world.
How do you figure out the probability of war with another country? Like they say, there’s (now) an app for that. Coolabah Capital Investments recently released the War Lab app. It uses past statistics to predict the chance of war between specific countries. The app that’s available to the public hasn’t been updated with recent data, but the paper that accompanies it can help you understand how to use the data to figure out the risks on your own.
As for cyberattacks on our energy infrastructure or supply lines, experts believe that a widespread attack is very unlikely. These statistics from a major cybersecurity firm can shed more light on how common cyberattacks really are.
Should I Worry About COVID-19?
I’m not going to tell you that you should or shouldn’t be worried about COVID. Of all the major disasters people worry about, this is the one where your own personal risk assessment really matters. That’s because the risk isn’t the same for everyone. It isn’t the same from city to city, state to state, or activity to activity.
So how do you decide whether you should worry about getting COVID-19? This is where statistics become really important. You can dig into these resources to help you make decisions about your health, both mental and physical when it comes to COVID-19.
- What are the conditions like in your town? Your city or state may have a local dashboard that updates the local data about COVID. You can also check a national COVID tracking map.
- How could COVID affect you or the people you care about? Dig into the research about the risks for people with underlying conditions.
- Use a COVID risk calculator to help you make decisions about specific events.
- Dig into the evidence about ways to protect yourself from COVID-19.
- Learn more about long COVID.
- Learn how to be part of the research into long COVID.
Should I Be Worried About Climate Change?
Wildfires. Floods. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. These are just a few of the disasters that have been linked to climate change. Climate change is very real — here are just a few recent statistics.
- Sea levels are rising at an average rate of 3.2mm per year.
- Arctic sea ice has been shrinking at about 13% per decade since 1979.
- The average global temperature has been increasing twice as fast in the past 40 years.
NASA’s Global Climate Change page is packed with important statistics about climate change. It’s also an excellent resource to learn about solutions to help with climate change, which should give you a little hope. This interactive tool helps you find research studies about how climate change affects weather events.
You’ve probably heard that we have until 2030 to make changes to save the world. That “deadline” is part of what makes people feel hopeless about the changing climate. This article by a climate scientist puts those numbers into perspective and talks about how human reaction to climate change can make a difference.
The fact is that any single individual can’t do much to affect climate change. Worrying about it doesn’t help the world, and it can harm you. What can you do instead?
- Learn how to prepare for extreme weather events that are likely in your area.
- Discover ways you can help your family and community deal with climate change.
- Dig into the statistics about what people believe about climate change.
- Find out about the most effective things you can do to combat climate change.
- Live your life. The world isn’t going to end in 2030. In fact, it probably won’t look much different than it does today.
Should I Worry About Gun Violence?
Gun violence is back at the top of the headlines after two high-profile mass shootings. Since then, it seems like there are reports of another mass shooting incident every week. The news can be terrifying, especially for parents of school-age kids.
But how real is the danger of being shot or killed in a mass shooting? Here are a few statistics from the Pew Research Center to help put it into perspective.
- In 2020, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries. That translates to about .013% of the population.
- More than half of all gun deaths in the U.S. in 2020 were suicides. (That percentage was much higher than it was in 2019, mostly due to the lockdowns.)
- The U.S. gun death rate varies widely from state to state. It ranges from 3.4 per 100,000 in Hawaii, to 28.6 per 100,000 in Mississippi.
- According to the FBI, 38 people died in “active shooter incidents” in the U.S. in 2020.
- Also according to the FBI, active shooter incidents increased from 3 in 2000 to 40 in 2020.
- The Gun Violence Archive collects data from local news outlets across the country. Its definition of “mass shooting” is broader than the FBI’s active shooter definition. It lists 692 mass shooting incidents in 2021, but does not report the total number of deaths. All of their data is available to download in spreadsheet form on their website.
As you can see, the actual chance of being killed in a mass shooting is statistically very low. Your risk is higher in some states and counties. Your age, gender, and race can affect your risk of being killed in a gun-related incident as well.
You can find more statistics on gun violence in several places.
Five Quick Tips on Dealing with Worry
It’s normal to worry that bad things might happen. It’s not normal — or healthy — when worry takes over your life. I’ve put together these tips on how to handle worry to help you stay focused on being the healthiest, best possible you.
- Get informed. Knowing the facts helps you decide whether worrying will help.
- Block out a time for worry on your schedule. When you think about something bad happening, just tell yourself, “I can worry about that at 4 o’clock,” and go on with your day.
- During your scheduled time, sort your worries into two piles. Put the ones you can do something about in one pile. Use the time to take action on those things.
- Choose not to worry about things you can’t change.
- Make changes to your life that make you feel safer.
Worry can take a major toll on your mental and physical health. There are ways to stop worrying — or at least, to reduce the stress that comes from worrying. Looking closely at the research can help you evaluate your risk, and decide whether or not to make changes in your life based on that risk.
If you want more tips on how to transform your life for the better, check out my book Life Hacks: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life. If you liked this article, please consider giving it a clap and following @wellnessmadeeasy on Medium for more simple ways to improve your life.