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Friday the 13th - Fact or Fiction? - By Chris Gearing

Friday, January 13, 2012

Watch Dr Sylvia Gearing on CBS 11 talk about Friday the 13th and superstitions in general - click here.

Why does Friday the 13th have such power over us?

Life is really uncertain and superstitions give us a way to be sure about something in our lives. The day Friday has been picked on for hundreds of years and has been considered unlucky since the 1400s in Europe, although no one knows why. In addition, the number 13 is also considered unlucky around the world so when you combine the two of them, it is a pretty powerful effect for a lot of us.

The truth is that most of us have our own superstitions even though most people won’t admit to them. Superstitions usually start in family traditions that are passed down generation to generation. Most of these stories are meant to prove a point and they are in every family and in every culture, even dating back to the ancient Mayans!

Are any of us fighting back against being superstitious?

A new trend though is to embrace the superstition and make it your own. You don’t allow the superstition to control you. You control the superstition. As a result, some people go out of their way to do something that involves risk such as finally asking that special girl out or skydiving or even getting married on this date. It makes a lot of people feel empowered to not give into the fear but to push directly against that fear.

Why do we want to believe in superstition so much?

Cause and Effect: Human beings fundamentally like to explain events to ourselves. We insist on making sense of something even if it is random. Sometimes things just happen but we like to wrap events up in theories and that is when superstitions get going. Think of this way, somewhere, sometime, long ago, someone had a really bad day on Friday the 13th. Other people heard about it, everyone abandoned reality, and the superstition was invented.

Self Protection: Superstitions give us all a lot of false security. Nobody likes it when bad things happen to them. We want to think that we have done everything to protect ourselves, even if it involves superstition. As a result, we will do whatever is required if we can avoid bad luck. So, if we are told that we need to avoid walking under ladders and not break any mirrors, most of us view it as a small price to pay for a little more comfort and confidence.

Proximity to Trauma: If you have ever experienced a traumatic situation, you may be more anxious in general and you may turn to superstitions to help mitigate the fear. Knowing that you have a lock on what date or object to avoid gives reassurance that you can avoid more trauma.

When does being superstitious go too far?

For most of us, it’s all fun and games and we like to laugh about our superstitions but some people may take this too seriously. They begin to experience overwhelming anxiety around superstitions. They lock their lives down to avoid the superstitious trigger. You know that things have gone too far when the following things are present:

Vulnerability to Anxiety: Some people's brains are built to generate anxiety. Obsessing and reviewing the trigger becomes rampant and they begin to map out the world according to what is dangerous and what is safe.

Overwhelmed with Stress Hormones: Remember that your brain does not differentiate between real events and fantasized events and will generate the constant warnings to keep you safe. That adrenaline and cortisol for fighting and fleeing will keep your system in a continuous alert state.

Loss of Critical Thinking: Failing to keep the situation in perspective and grounded in reality means that you are losing objectivity and are failing to maintain perspective about what you can do to protect yourself. You may be thinking in an illogical manner or overestimating your control over events.

Here's what you can do if you or someone you know is taking superstitions too seriously?

Get the Facts: Get some distance on your superstition by reading about where the superstition began and why. Most of them have great stories that are absolutely fascinating, but they have nothing to do with reality.

Healthy Habits: Make sure to keep living your life in a healthy way– get consistent sleep, eat healthy meals, and make sure to see friends and family often. Conversations with friends can foster a sense of normalcy and provide great outlets for sharing worries and releasing tension.

Maintain a Hopeful Outlook: Your mental health is one of the keys to staying healthy. Anxiety leads to state of alarm, which can be exhausting. Ironically, by stressing about the superstition, you make yourself more vulnerable to it. Distract yourself and break up the negative thinking.


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