Why you should stop stressing over the worst of your worst-case scenarios.
The Risk Factor: Very low.
The Stats: Of the roughly 38 million commercial U.S. flights between 2009 and 2012, exactly two crashed.
The Facts: When jetliner accidents happen (like the crash landing in San Francisco in July), they dominate the news cycle, but flying continues to get safer. "Planes are put through rigorous safety checks, including daily inspections and electrical checkups about every 200 flights," says former Delta Air Lines pilot Kevin Hiatt, now president of the Flight Safety Foundation. "Roughly every five years, mechanics nearly dismantle a plane to look for cracks and corrosion." Yes, we know you're thinking of all the other things that can go wrong: Bad weather! Pilot error! But the risk of dying on a U.S. airline flight declined by 83 percent from 1998 to 2008.
The Risk Factor: Even lower.
The Stats: Less than 1 percent of people worldwide have contracted bird flu in the past ten years.
The Facts: A snapshot of the ideal candidate for the current strain of avian flu (H7N9): She lives in China, and she's had direct or indirect contact with the secretions of infected poultry or a surface contaminated by those secretions. Is this you? Thought not. Only one case of this strain has been reported as being transmitted through human-to-human contact. The majority of people got it directly from bad poultry, but not by eating it; the virus is killed if poultry is cooked properly. "Even if an infected person boarded a plane right now and landed in the United States, the chance of the virus's spreading is small," says Gregory Härtl of the World Health Organization.
North Korean Nukes
The Risk Factor: Super low.
The Stats: No one can say for sure if or when a nuclear attack may happen— but keep reading...
The Facts: North Korea has been threatening to develop WMDs since the mid-1990s, and, yes, it does have nuclear weapons (between four and eight, according to The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation). But though Kim Jong-un talks tough, this is not a Cold War Superpower Standoff like the one that scared your pants off in the '80s. Here's why: North Korea doesn't have missile technology capable of carrying nuclear warheads all the way to the United States. To deploy a nuclear weapon, you need a delivery system; without one—well, imagine trying to hit a homer without a bat.
The Risk Factor: How low can you go?
The Stats: You have a 1 in 75 million chance of getting killed by a falling asteroid this year.
The Facts: Space rocks the size of basketballs enter our atmosphere every day, but they burn up well before they reach the ground, says Donald Yeomans, PhD, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program. House-size meteorites (like the one that hit Russia in February) do strike Earth, on average, once every 100 years, but NASA keeps close watch on the roughly 1,000 known asteroids big enough to do serious, Deep Impact–like damage. And objects that big make contact approximately once every, oh, 700,000 years.
During Rush Hour: Pop A Peppermint
What helps a frustrated, worn-out driver (besides vanishing traffic, of course)? Researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia found that pumping peppermint-scented air into the cars of ticked-off commuters helped <a href="http://www.wju.edu/about/adm_news_story.asp?iNewsID=1484" target="_blank">decrease anxiety and fatigue</a>. Stash a bag of peppermint candies in your glove compartment to help you keep your cool in honking traffic or during a hectic commute.
While Trying To Get Dinner On The Table: Stop Listening To The 6 p.m News... At 6 p.m.
The oil in your wok has started to smoke, your dog is barking to go out, the vegetables you were planning to stir-fry are too old to be edible -- and Brian Williams has nothing but bad news. It's important to stay on top of current events, but you're not helping anyone by catching up during one of the most frantic times of your day -- least of all, yourself. Exposure to media coverage of upsetting events can not only spike stress levels, but it can also make you <a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10880-012-9313-4" target="_blank">feel worse physically</a>, found a 2012 Israeli study that assessed 55 chronic-pain patients before and after a local three-week missile attack. Participants who watched more television reports of the attack said that their stress was more acute and their pain felt more intense. Your best bet: DVR the news to watch when the kitchen's closed for the night and every last fork is in the dishwasher.
As You Stare Down 3,572* Unread Emails: Remember to Breathe
A few years ago, <a href="http://lindastone.net/" target="_blank">Linda Stone</a>, a high-tech exec-turned-adviser and consultant, noticed that she was holding her breath whenever she sat down at her computer. She observed more than 200 people using computers and smartphones and found that the vast majority of them were doing the same thing--forgetting to inhale (or taking shallow breaths) after logging on. Stone, who calls this phenomenon "screen apnea," says it can trigger the body's fight-or-flight response, increase anxiety, interfere with digestion and, when doing it day after day (while never really making a dent in those 3,000-plus emails), compromise your overall health and immunity. You can see the value of a technique to stay calm and clear-headed as you file and delete. Stone personally had success with Buteyko, a form of diaphragmatic breathing--which is what <a href="http://www.columbiapsychiatry.org/clinicalservices/cucard" target="_blank">Anne Marie Albano, PhD</a>, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, says is one of the best and most effective stress-management techniques. There are <a href="http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Deep-Breathing-Methods-How-Breathing-Reduces-Stress" target="_blank">many different types of breathing techniques</a>, but the vast majority of us will benefit from making sure that we simply exhale for twice as long as we inhale. Stone regularly pauses to ask herself if she's breathing, and then she takes a break to inhale, exhale and stretch. <em>*The actual number of unread emails in this writer's Gmail inbox.</em>
When Researching A New Car Purchase: Snack Like A Hiker
Shoppers spend 16 weeks, on average, researching cars on the Web, reports the trade magazine <em><a href="http://wardsauto.com/dealerships/some-car-shoppers-suffer-info-overload" target="_blank">Wards Auto</a></em>, and by the end of that time, <a href="http://business.time.com/2012/11/14/consumer-fatigue-shopping-has-never-been-easier-or-as-mentally-exhausting/#ixzz2akfJsVFc" target="_blank">they're often more confused and overwhelmed</a> than when they started. One way to make the drawn-out process seem less daunting: Eat trail mix while you read reviews and weigh options. Recent experiments have shown that the simple sugar glucose (which is found in raisins) can counteract the negative brain changes wrought by <a href="http://www.oprah.com/blogs/A-Cheat-Sheet-to-Decision-Making-at-the-Mall#ixzz2YTpSs7Cv" target="_blank">decision fatigue</a> and keep your impulse control (ooh,<a href="http://editorial.autos.msn.com/10-outrageous-options-on-luxury-cars#7" target="_blank"> retractable door umbrellas</a>!) in check.
When You've Got 4 Hours To Finish 41 Tasks: Take The Right Kind Of Break
We usually make one of two mistakes when we dash out for a breather, says Susan M. Orsillo, PhD, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Mindful-Way-through-Anxiety/dp/1606234641" target="_blank"><em>The Mindful Way Through Anxiety</em></a>: We waste mental energy trying not to think about our to-do list, or we continue to worry about our workload -- by complaining to a coworker or calling our spouse to vent. Both types of response effectively cancel out the break, leaving us still frazzled when we return to our desk. Instead, Orsillo suggests taking a meditative break. Leave your phone and your coworker behind, and find a quiet place to stand and actively observe the world around you. "You'll feel renewed and slightly rested in just a few minutes," she says. Trying to be in the moment, as easy as it sounds, can actually be pretty challenging. Orsillo suggests practicing at times when you don't have as much on your plate, and she offers step-by-step audio meditation exercises at <a href="http://mindfulwaythroughanxietybook.com/" target="_hplink">this web site</a>. (If you can't get outside, try the 7-minute <a href="http://mindfulwaythroughanxietybook.com/exercises/" target="_hplink">Mindfulness of Clouds & Sky meditation</a> at your desk.)