What will actually kill you

We all worry about a lot of things. Some of us more worry more than others. If you’re a student travelling on your gap year it’s likely that your parents' level of worry will take a dramatic upshot while you’re gone. They worry because they love you and want you to be safe. You probably have a few worries of your own.

Worry can be a healthy and natural response to danger as it’s what keeps us alive. It’s what keeps us from forgetting to turn off the stove, or falling downstairs. It’s what keeps us putting on our seat belts and eating healthy food. A natural amount of worry about the right things will lead us to lead happier, healthier lives.

But worry is a dangerous emotion as it’s hard to self-regulate. The media feeds worry by providing us with a constant stream of things to worry about. Terrorism. Plane crashes. Train crashes. Snakes. Being randomly murdered in our sleep. How other people suffer and die is on our screens morning and night and we morbidly tune in. What isn’t tacked on to the end of these news stories is the statistical likelihood of whatever is being reported happening to you.

Sadly, the ways we’re likely to actually die are quite boring. According to the BBC in 2013, the top killers in the UK are (try to stay awake here…):

  1. Heart disease

  2. Respiratory diseases

  3. Stroke

  4. Cancer

  5. Liver disease

According to the same study, if we’re talking about for people your age (teenage-34) the leading causes of death are:

  1. Car crashes

  2. Suicide

  3. Accidental poisoning (usually drug and alcohol related)

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the leading causes of death in the U.S. are similar: heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, accidents and strokes.

But are these the things that we worry about? Not normally. Maybe the answer to over anxiety and constant worry is to put our worries into statistical perspective. Take a collective deep breath and make sure we’re on guard for the dangers which are most likely to kill us.

What does this mean for you while you’re traveling on your gap year?

It means you need to find out what the actual – and not just perceived – dangers are for you on your trip. Are you travelling in an area where robbery is a concern? Are you going by car? Where are you staying? What types of things will you be doing? Each of these will carry a risk and you can prevent most problems that could befall you if you haven’t thought about them. Park your worries about being killed by a terrorist or grizzly bear and focus on preventing what could actually kill you.

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