What are your biggest fears? It appears from surveys our country has a slew of them.

I fear the incompetence, extremism and corruption at the top of government, our failing school systems, media with partisan political agendas, biological warfare, as well as the steadily escalating crisis with China, to name several.

Those concerns have evolved over the years from fear of falling and of not meeting expectations to spiders and snakes.

Chapman University, a leading private research university in Orange, Calif., in October published its ninth annual report on fear in America, using a nationally representative sample of our deepest individual and collective concerns.

The Chapman University Survey of American Fears follows national trends over time, identifying new fears as they emerge. Turns out there's indeed a wide variety of things frightening Americans today, with 92 fears on the latest list.

"Unfortunately," a column by Chuck Norris on WND notes, "it turns out the majority of Americans suffer from tremendous fear. Many--perhaps as high as 85 percent of the population--live with a sense of impending doom. This is a classic sign of clinical anxiety."

The university notes on its blog: "This year's topics range from fear of being the victim of mass shootings, to fears related to Jan. 6 and the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, to fears related to immigration and gun control. Fears are ranked by the [percentage] of Americans who report being afraid or very afraid."

This might be a good time to remind valued readers that the late Americana singer John Denver assured us "all the things that you fear, at the most they mean nothing."

The Chapman study found the following were the top 10 fears: Corrupt government officials, 62.1 percent; People I love becoming seriously ill, 60.2; Russia using nuclear weapons, 59.6; People I love dying, 58.1; Being involved in another world war, 56; Pollution of drinking water, 54.5; Not having enough money for the future, 53.7; Economic/financial collapse, 53.7; Pollution of oceans, rivers and lakes, 52.5; and biological warfare, 51.5.

The university found that Americans' fears today center on five primary topics: corrupt government officials (No. 1), harm to a loved one (Nos. 2 and 4), war (Nos. 3, 5 and 10), environmental concerns (Nos. 6 and 9) and economic concerns (Nos. 7 and 8).

Christopher Ingraham reported in The Washington Post in 2014 that fear of public speaking afflicted more than a quarter of those surveyed. It surpassed fear of drowning, flying, snakes, heights, needles, earthquakes and clowns. I was surprised not to see public speaking in the top 10 of this Chapman Report (it came in at 46).

Denise Craig of Nexstar Media Wire wrote in 2021 about a list of the top phobias in every state based on Google searches. In Arkansas and Arizona, it was a fear of heights.

"Only Montana residents searched for 'fear of humans' the most this year despite it being the top fear in 2020. Utah was the only state to rank for fear of needles," she wrote. "Regardless of being in the middle of a global pandemic, Maine was the only state to have 'fear of germs or viruses as a top-searched phobia. Last year, it was the top fear in both Florida and Nevada."

So what is fear anyway, and why do we so frequently experience it?

The Foundation for Conscious Living explains: "Humans have evolved with a variety of innate, hard-wired, automatically activated defense behaviors, termed the defense cascade. Choosing and rapidly implementing the appropriate response in a threatening situation is critical for survival."

The foundation notes, "Biology tells us that fear increases the chances for survival when expressed in friendly ways and, conversely, can lead to anxiety and stress-related disorders when suppressed or undealt with.

"The fight-or-flight response was discovered by Walter Canon in the early 20th century. This term has described our body response to fear for over a century. Since then, neuroscientists have come a long way in their understanding and characterized four types of fear."

Those are the fears that cause us to either fight, freeze, faint or flee, and the foundation says they're less well understood but prevalent in our everyday behaviors and reactions; most of the time we don't even notice.

No one asked me, understand, but if they did, I believe I'd add a fifth reaction to the list. Seems to be we always have the choice to face and overcome our fear, which I suppose could fall under the semantics category of fight, since in many ways they are similar, especially if the result is the same.

Yet facing my fear feels different to me than fighting it (such as a fear of heights or snakes), since I'm facing and overcoming it on my own terms.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].

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