Entries in fear (10)


Program Helps Flight Attendants Handle Stress of Job

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The flight attendant's job has changed drastically in the past 10 years, with the stress level skyrocketing, as demonstrated by some of their own caught-on-tape, airborne freak-outs.

This past June, American Eagle flight attendant Jose Serrano roughly invited passengers to deplane in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

"If you have balls to want to get off, I'll let you get off. Get off," he said into the flight PA system.

Then there was the 2010 case of JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who grabbed a beer from his airplane's galley, cursed out the aircraft and bolted through the plane's emergency exit at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, intentionally deploying the emergency slide to disembark.

"Due to 9/11, the job has become more stressful, because when passengers get on they're already stressed," Sheila Dail, a US Airways flight attendant, told ABC News.

Dail, a 30-year veteran, suffered her own traumatic and incredibly stressful day back in 2009 aboard the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight that crash landed in New York's Hudson River.

"There was a shudder; the plane shuddered," she said. "A few minutes later, we heard, 'This is the captain. Brace yourselves for impact.'"

Dail was unable to sleep for days following the experience and found she had nobody to talk to about her frightful flight. Dail's wish that she had someone to call drove her to set up a new peer-to-peer hotline called CIRP (Critical Incident Response Program). The hotline now is in its second year, using 46 volunteers to answer flight attendant crisis calls at all hours.

"We help people deal with death on board, serious illness on board," Dail said. "We have medical equipment to use ... security issues, weather issues, turbulence, emergency situations in the cockpit that require an emergency landing."

Incident reports show stress also comes from passengers "demanding drinks and cussing," according to the Association of Flight Attendants.

In one instance, a report said that a passenger "did some karate moves ... then rushed at her with his hands out in a choking way."

Susan Gilliam became part of the CIRP air team after an emergency landing made her afraid to fly.

"Sometimes, I'd turn around and just go back home and say it wasn't meant to be," said Gilliam, a US Airways Flight Attendant. "I used all of my sick time."

Trying to recover from anger and mood swings were difficult to accomplish alone.

"I thought I was strong enough to do it on my own, but I wasn't," Gilliam said.

Doug Parker, the CEO of US Airways, told ABC News that although pilots and flight attendants have trained for years for the stresses and traumatic events that can occur on a flight, it can "still be a traumatic event when it actually happens."

The CIRP program allows US Airways flight attendants to confidentially speak to another flight attendant after a traumatic event.

"They have a peer out there that they're able to talk to and be able to deal with it rather than telling them to go back out there and fly again," Parker said. "This program offers the flight attendants this opportunity to deal with that better and we're really happy it's in place."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Is Cinema-Phobia Taking Hold?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Emilie Yount was in her 20s, she used to spend five days a week huddled in Chicago movie theater seats, "banging out" film reviews and blogs for publications like Reel Reviews and Being alone in a darkened theater with hundreds of strangers facing the same direction never fazed her.

But on Saturday, Yount, 30, gave away her tickets to see The Dark Knight Rises even though she'd bought them in advance because she loved the second Christopher Nolan Batman film so much. She said she couldn't face going to the theater in the wake of the Colorado shooting on Friday morning that left 12 moviegoers dead at the hands of a stranger.

"My nerves have peaked," she told ABC News. "To have something like that happen… I can't think of anything worse, to be honest."

Yount said she has no history of anxiety or problems with small spaces, but she thinks it will take her a few months to head back to the cinema.

And psychologists say Yount isn't alone.

"I'm sure there will be people who the horror of that situation will indeed lead them to be afraid of going to the theaters," said Dr. Phillip Levendusky, director of the Psychology Department at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts and a professor at Harvard Medical School. "Do I think it's going to be a crisis in the movie industry? Probably not, but it wouldn't surprise me if some people have a reaction."

Levendusky told ABC News that he has treated phobias from fear of snow to fear of fish, and even to fear of butterflies. He defined a phobia as being afraid of something though conventional wisdom suggests there's no threat.

To be a legitimate phobia, however, the fear has to impede day-to-day activities and last at least six months.

Dr. Fred Neuman, who directs the Anxiety and Phobia Treatment Center in White Plains, N.Y., said he's already heard from patients who said they're uncomfortable going to the movies. In fact, one patient told him he's afraid of seeing the new "Batman" movie in particular.

"The usual thing that happens whenever calamity like this occurs is that people who are already nervous tend to get more nervous, and people who are not nervous in the first place tend to ignore it," Neuman said.

Dr. Donna Pincus, director of the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at Boston University, told ABC News that the uneasiness some people feel about movie theaters right now is normal.

"When such a tragedy occurs, it focuses our attention on our vulnerabilities rather than control and safety," she said. "Fear is just a natural human emotion…It wouldn't be human not to feel those feelings when you're watching things like this."

But when a fear interferes with a person's ability to function, it's classified as a phobia. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, 8.7 percent of Americans in 2008, or 19.2 billion people, suffered from a phobia of some kind. It's not clear how many people are specifically afraid of theaters.

Pincus said that children and adults should understand the difference between possibility and probability.

"How many movies have you ever been to in your life and how often have you ever had trouble or danger present?" Pincus said. "The news does not show us…thousands of people went to the movies tonight and they they all had a wonderful time and all got home safely."

Yount says she knows she's more likely to be struck by lightning than to be shot at a movie theater, but she can't stop herself from reading news coverage of the shooting in Aurora. Although Yount was an avid Harry Potter fan who attended midnight showings of the films, she said she doesn't think she'll ever go to another midnight release.

"When you really enjoy anything and it kind of gets marred, it's never a nice thing," she said. "It will be months [before I return to the cinema], I can just tell. It's not something I'm going to rush to do."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Can’t Sleep? You May Be Afraid of the Dark

Erik Snyder/Photodisc(BOSTON) -- If you’ve been suffering from sleepless nights, you may have more than simple insomnia -- you may be afraid of the dark.

Results from a new study presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies annual meeting in Boston are the first to suggest that some adults can’t sleep because they fear darkness.

Researchers in Toronto studied nearly 100 college students who were either good sleepers or poor sleepers. They monitored small twitches in eye muscles during sleep while exposing the subjects to unexpected bursts of sound when the lights were either turned on or off, and what they found was startling.

Poor sleepers were more easily disturbed by the noises and their reactions were exaggerated by darkness.  And over time, while good sleepers became increasingly accustomed to the disturbances, poor sleepers became even more anxious and startled at these alleged bumps in the night.

While treating people with insomnia, Dr. Colleen Carney, principle investigator of the study and director of the Ryeson University sleep and depression laboratory, would continually hear how her patients could only fall asleep if they turned on the television or left the bathroom light on, mannerisms shared with children who are afraid of the dark.

Sure enough, when surveyed, a surprising 46 percent of poor sleepers admitted to harboring current fears of darkness, almost double that observed in good sleepers.

More than 50 percent of Americans report having experienced insomnia in the past year, and 19 percent have chronic sleeping problems.

The high incidence of insomnia among Americans has been attributed to risk factors such as high levels of stress, shift work, or mood disorders such as anxiety or depression.  This study, however, is among the first to suggest that an underlying fear of the dark could be a major contributor.

“Listening to unexpected noise is a useful way of assessing fear of the dark because we can’t inhibit our startle reflex,” Carney said.  “And these behaviors are typical of a phobia.”

Currently, the National Institute of Health recommends improved sleep hygiene and behavioral therapy as first-line treatments for insomnia.  A common recommendation for someone who hasn’t fallen asleep after 20 minutes is to do something else away from bed before reattempting sleep.  But for someone trying to get over a phobia of the dark, turning the light back on may have the unfortunate effect of making them feel even more awake.

The good news about this is that phobia treatment is one of the big success stories of non-drug therapy, and many frustrated poor sleepers may have finally found a new and easy answer to their problems.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Spiders Appear Bigger When You Fear Them

Duncan Smith/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS) -- If you suffer from an irrational fear of spiders, you may perceive the critters to be much larger than they actually are, according to a new study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.

Researchers from Ohio State University recruited 57 people who suffered from arachnophobia, a fear of spiders, to better understand how perception affects phobia.  In the study, participants agreed to encounter tarantulas that varied in size (1 to 6 inches wide) five different times within an eight-week period.

In the first experiment, participants stood 12 feet away from a tank containing a spider, and moved closer to it upon instruction. Participants rated their own fear level using a distress scale of zero to 100 as they moved closer, and once beside the tank, researchers told them to move the spiders around with an eight-inch probe.

Afterwards, researchers took the spiders out of the room and participants were instructed to draw a single line to show how long the spider was that they saw.  Researchers found that, the more fear the participant expressed while encountering the spiders, the larger, and more inaccurate, they guessed the spiders to be.

“Given that our informal observations suggested the occurrence of the bias, we were not surprised that we found evidence for it in our study,” said Michael Vasey, lead author of the study and a psychologist at Ohio State University Medical Center. “However, it is fair to say that we were very surprised by the magnitude of the bias. We have seen highly fearful participants draw lines that are two to three times as long as the actual spider.”

Even in other research, Vasey said participants have looked directly at the spider while drawing the line and still estimate a larger-than-actual size.

The findings suggest that such biased perceptions may be a useful target for treatment, which could help patients recognize their observations, and then discount them and adjust for them, experts said.

Vasey said treatments for phobias are remarkably effective, although many who live in fear may not even know about them. The treatments typically come in the form of cognitive-behavior therapy, which assists the person in encountering the thing they fear so that they can correct the mistaken beliefs about the object that feeds their phobia. Nevertheless, most people who suffer from arachnophobia do not seek treatment.

“Individuals with phobias typically avoid the thing they fear or engage in safety behaviors, [or] behaviors designed to minimize risk despite encountering the feared object or situation, and therefore they are sheltered from discovering that their expectations regarding the feared object are wrong in ways that feed the fear,” said Vasey.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


From Halloween to Horror Movies, Why We Love to Be Afraid

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For those who like the genre, a good horror movie arouses a cocktail of chemistry in the cerebral cortex -- the part of the brain that controls memory, perception and consciousness.

And it's not just movies, but amusement park rides and even books and fairy tales that can elicit simultaneously both pleasure and gripping fear.

As Oct. 31 approaches, businesses are capitalizing on the psychology of fear -- the spine-tingling sensation and the joy that goes with it.

This year, Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween horror -- costumes, haunted houses and fright fests -- according to the National Retail Federation.

"We don't have many other holidays that are really directly connected to a strong emotion that is almost universal -- fear and the dark side," said Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University who specializes in thrill-seeking and extreme behavior.

One 2007 study published in Science Daily dispelled earlier assumptions that humans respond to pleasure and avoid pain: "It certainly seems counterintuitive that so many people would voluntarily immerse themselves in almost two hours of fear, disgust and terror.  Why do people pay for this?  How is this enjoyable?" But pay they do: as one example, the third film in the low-budget Paranormal Activity series grossed $54 million over last weekend, making it the highest ever for a film released in October.

Researchers from the University of California and University of Florida concluded what most thrill-seekers know: People can experience both fear and euphoria at the same time.

"Pleasant moments of a particular event may also be the most fearful," it concluded, comparing horror movies to the thrill and fear of extreme sports.

But not everyone likes being scared, according to psychologist Farley, and how a person responds to fear is wired in their personality.  Those who thrive on fear are so-called T-types -- they are thrill-seekers, according to Farley, who coined the term in the 1980s.

"They like uncertainty, suspense, unpredictability, the unknown," he said.  "Uncertainty is the prime source of fear.  You don't know what's going to happen."

Movie makers and amusement park ride creators know how to induce fear.

"There is intensity of stimulation," he said.  "It can be the sound of screams or the visual -- something comes out of nowhere into the face, like a house of horror."

Music is also important, like the pulsating, unforgettable theme of the movie Jaws, heard whenever the great white shark stalked its prey.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Poll: Half of Adults Impacted by 9/11 Still Struggle with Fear, Anxiety

ABC News Radio(NEW YORK) -- A new poll from Harris Interactive and HealthDay found that almost half of adults who were traumatized by the events of Sept. 11, 2001 are still struggling with their emotions a decade later.

The poll was conducted in late August with over 2,200 adults. Nearly a quarter of these adults suffer from worry about the safety of loved ones, and another 13 percent reported anxiety. Nineteen percent reported that they are afraid of flying.

Nearly half of those polled reported that they try to appreciate life more as a reaction to the attacks.

Slow economic recovery and natural disasters like Hurricane Irene may be frustrating the healing process for many Americans affected by 9/11, HealthDay reports.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


ABC's Nick Watt Takes Part in Experiment to Alter Memory and Expunge Fear

ABC News Reporter's Notebook By Nick Watt

(AMSTERDAM) -- "Does that hurt yet?" the lab assistant asked after administering an electric shock.

"Yes," I replied. "But I think I can take a little more." It was sore. But I was trying to be tough and cool.

She upped the voltage and hit the switch again. I convulsed, jumped from my chair and heard laughter from the other side of the wall. The lab assistant was laughing because my colleagues -- producer Paolo and cameraman Andy -- were laughing.

I was wired up for a bizarre experiment in an Amsterdam basement. Not an S&M basement, you understand, but the basement of the University of Amsterdam's psychology department.

The lab assistant was calibrating just how much voltage I needed for the shock to be unpleasant without making me really, really sore. Why? I was playing guinea pig in an experiment.

These Dutch psychologists believe they have found a chemical way to alter our memories -- specifically, to expunge fear from bad memories.

This treatment might one day help people exposed to traumatic events -- explosions, car wrecks, plane crashes -- who have developed develop post traumatic stress disorder, deep and often irrational fears associated with their painful memories.

After my time reporting in Iraq, I was one of those people and was treated with a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy. What's different here is these Dutch researchers suggest that chemicals, not therapy, could be used to remove fear from our memories.

"Part of the reason you get those associations is that your body produces a large amount of adrenaline when you go through an unpleasant experience," Professor Neil Greenberg of the Kings College in London told me. "So any memory of that traumatic experience would again cause you to pour out large amounts of adrenaline."

But for this particular experiment to work, researchers first needed to create fear in me. Hence, the electric shocks. I was wired up, headphones on and positioned in front of a computer screen. Images flashed before my eyes. And every time an image of a particular spider popped up on the screen, I received an electric shock and heard a harsh, high-pitched screech through my headphones. After a few rounds of this, I had effectively developed a fear for that image of the spider.

Now, in the actual experiment, what happens is that the next day the guinea pigs return and go through the process again -- the shocks, the noise, the images. ... The memory and the fear of the spider are essentially reopened.

A few of the guinea pigs are given a drug, an adrenaline suppressant called propranolol. For those guinea pigs, the memory and fear of the spider is reawakened by the photo, the shock and the noise. But because they are under the influence of proporanolol, the memory is re-imprinted in their brain without the fear response, without the adrenalin rush that comes with fear. So basically these people have been cured of their fear of that nasty spider picture.

The problem for me is that I was only in Amsterdam for one day. I got only as far as having the fear of the spider created in my brain. No one gave me any drugs. No one cured me of my fear of that spider. So now I'm scared of that spider forever.

And by the way, I'm also scared of cows.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hurricane Fears: How to Talk to Kids

JupiterImages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The National Hurricane Center has urged the 65 million people in Irene's path to prepare for the worst -- a plea that weighs heavily on anxious parents with nervous kids.

"Just as kids look to parents to see how hurt they should be after falling off their bike, they look to parents to see how scared they should be," said Rahil Briggs, a clinical psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center and assistant professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College in New York.

Hurricane Irene continues to hurdle toward the East Coast, forcing families to brace for ferocious winds and torrential rain.

"To the extent that parents can convey a relatively calm and in-charge persona to children, the better they're going to do," said Briggs. "That's really the strongest cue, even stronger than the news."

Media coverage has climbed steadily since Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut declared states of emergency -- a decision that allows them to tap into national resources. "We know that the news can lead to serious anxiety in children -- even if they're watching it with a parent," said Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and director of Yale University's Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. "A little is fine, but not too much."

Kazdin said parents should answer kids' questions about the hurricane directly and without embellishing.

"That's true with questions about sex, and it's true with questions about hurricanes," he said. "I wouldn't hide anything, but I wouldn't elaborate either."

Maintaining routines and rituals can help comfort children through the commotion. And a little distraction, such as playing a board game, can go a long way in soothing storm-related anxiety.

"Do what feels genuine," said Briggs. "If they're terrified and you're trying to distract them with Monopoly, that might be confusing."

When kids are frightened, physical touch can reassure them that they're safe.

"For some children, there's nowhere they'd rather be than on Dad's lap or in Mom's arms. For others, just being in the same room might be enough," said Briggs. "It's really about knowing your child and providing the comfort they need during times of stress."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Afraid of Elevators? Some Tips to Conquer Your Fears

Photos[dot]com/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Take claustrophobia and agoraphobia (the fear of panicking), add some social anxiety disorder, throw in funky odors and bad music -- what do you have? A little slice of hell called elevator phobia.

It's a serious fear that's rarely discussed, despite periodic stories like the recent one of a freight elevator dropping three floors with a group of construction workers aboard.

If elevators elevate your heart rate, here are some expert tips from The Anxiety and Phobia Treatment Center at White Plains Hospital.

20 Useful Tips for Elevator-Phobes

  1. Carry a book of crossword puzzles you can take out when you need to.
  2. Snap a rubber band on your wrist.
  3. Put your keys in your pocket and try to distinguish which is which by feel.
  4. Have some coins in your pocket and try to distinguish which is which by feel.
  5. Pop some strong mints or sour candy in your mouth.
  6. Circle all the five-letter words on a newspaper or magazine page.
  7. Put a pebble in your shoe and press your foot down on it.
  8. Make lists: ordinary tasks, people to catch up with, life goals, etc.
  9. Count the tiles on the floor or ceiling.
  10. Go through the alphabet and think of a girl's name that begins with each letter.
  11. Do the same thing with boys' names.
  12. Play a memory game by recalling telephone numbers you call often.
  13. Needlepoint or any other type of sewing.
  14. Count down from 100.
  15. Count down from 100 by threes.
  16. Carry a prickly hair curler and squeeze it in your hand.
  17. Choose a word and see how many other words you can think of that are related to it.
  18. Read. If necessary, take your newspaper, magazine or book and try to read it upside down.
  19. Smelling salts.
  20. Most importantly, lower your fear by riding an elevator every day!

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Afraid of Snakes? Scientists Explain Why

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Fear of snakes, spiders and other creepy crawlers is so universal that most of us probably believe we must have been born with it. It's universal, so it must be innate.

Not necessarily, according to research at several major universities.

That work suggests that we learn which things can be harmful at a very young age -- even just a few months -- because we have an evolutionary bias that predisposes us to fear things that have posed a threat throughout human history.

"What we're suggesting is that we have these biases to detect things like snakes and spiders really quickly, and to associate them with things that are yucky or bad, like a fearful voice," developmental psychologist Vanessa LoBue of Rutgers University said in releasing the research.

LoBue's co-authors of the study, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, are David H. Rakison of Carnegie Mellon University and Judy S. DeLoache of the University of Virginia.

The research is based on experiments with infants and very young children to see if they automatically know something can be harmful, like a snake, or if they have to learn it by observing fearful faces of adults, or associating a snake with something unpleasant, like a loud shriek.

They found repeatedly that babies don't recognize something as potentially harmful until they are conditioned to do so by something in their environment, and even then they may not show actual fear for a while.

"We propose that humans have a perceptual bias for the rapid detection of evolutionarily relevant threats and a bias for rapid association of these threats with fear," the researchers conclude in their paper.

But we weren't born with it, and in some cases female babies reacted differently from male babies, possibly explaining why some little boys seem fearless of snakes and spiders and things that go bump in the night, but most little girls scream at the mere sight of a snake.

In his part of the research, Carnegie Mellon's Rakison studied 11-month-old infants to see if an image of a snake, for example, alongside a human face showing either happiness or fear, would cause them to recognize that a snake is either harmless or dangerous.

It worked for the girls, but not the boys.

He found that "11-month old girls -- but not boys of the same age -- associated recurrent threats with fearful faces," according to the study. Interestingly, when the babies were shown flowers or other non-threatening images along with faces showing either fear or happiness, it made no difference.

That suggests the presence of a bias to recognize that snakes may be threatening, but not flowers. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio