Here’s what Americans fear most in 2017 — and some ways to combat those anxieties

Here’s what Americans fear most in 2017 — and some ways to combat those anxieties
Woman staring into her phone, looking horrified pathdoc/Shutterstock
Woman staring into her phone, looking horrified pathdoc/Shutterstock

As you go about your daily routine — pack your lunch, feed the cat, cleanse your apartment of vengeful spirits, iron your pants — what sorts of big, large-scale fears do you find consistently bubbling up in the back of your mind? Have you ever wondered if other people are scared of the same things?

Well, now we know: On Wednesday, Chapman University published its fourth annual survey of American fears, in which it polled a random sampling of 1,207 people about the things they’re most scared of in 2017. Listed below are the 10 fears the highest percentage of respondents said caused them to be “afraid” or “very afraid.”

• Corrupt government officials: 74.5%

• American Health Care Act/”Trumpcare”: 55.3%

• Pollution of oceans, rivers and lakes: 53.1%

• Pollution of drinking water: 50.4%

• Not having enough money for the future: 50.2%

• High medical bills: 48.4%

• The U.S. will be involved in another world war: 48.4%

• Global warming and climate change: 48%

• North Korea using weapons: 47.5%

• Air pollution: 44.9%

Though they didn’t crack the top 10, a number of people also reported being scared of supernatural things, like ghosts (4.3%) and zombies (5.3%).

“The 2017 list of fears clearly reflects political unrest and uncertainty in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president,” Chapman’s blog post said. “Increased tensions with North Korea, concerns about sweeping changes proposed to health care and discussion (at the time the survey was administered) of the United States leaving the Paris Climate Accords produced a much different list from 2016.”

Regardless of whether your fears are supernatural or not, chronic anxiety can take a heavy toll on your body and your mental well-being. Therefore, it’s also worth discussing a few things scientifically proven to help alleviate anxiety — and, no, we’re not talking about eating whole dried blocks of ramen noodles, cathartic as that may seem.

First, you should make sure you’re getting enough physical activity. According to the American Psychological Association, exercise is an effective, relatively easy way to help boost your mood, both in the short and long term.

It’s not clear exactly what mechanisms link exercise and its mood-boosting effects, but it’s likely a combination of several factors: Some say it has to do with the brain’s release of serotonin when exercising, a chemical that regulates anxiety and depression. Others say exercise helps improve sleep quality, which then leads to a healthier, happier person. The satisfaction gained from simply accomplishing a task and adhering to a routine might be part of it, too. Generally speaking, experts recommend that you get about 30 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity exercise five times per week.

Fear also has a tendency to make us more likely to isolate ourselves, but it’s important to do your best to engage with your close friends when you’re feeling down. Studies have shown that strong social support networks are associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. Of course, take time for yourself if you need it, but going out to dinner with your best friends — instead of bailing on them to binge an entire season of House Hunters — is probably a good call.

Finally, this is a judgment-free zone, but drinking as a way to alleviate your anxiety might be doing more harm than good. There is no evidence that a moderate amount of drinking — usually defined as “two alcoholic beverages per day” — will cause an otherwise healthy person to develop an anxiety disorder, but it may negatively affect your mood as your blood alcohol content rises and falls throughout the night.

“The sense of relaxation you feel when you drink can often be attributed to your blood alcohol content,” according to Healthline. “A rise in BAC levels leads to temporary feelings of excitement, but feelings of depression occur as BAC levels fall. As a result, it’s possible that having a few drinks that make your BAC rise and then fall back to normal again can make you more anxious than you were before.”

So, in summary: Exercise regularly, talk with your friends and keep your drinking to a minimum. Also, you should probably make sure at least one of your friends has a reinforced, zombie-proof door. We’ll get through this together, folks.

Editor’s note: For information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Both provide free, anonymous support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.