The news out of Manchester and London over the last few weeks has refocused the media spotlight on the ever-present threat of global terrorism. As a frequent business traveler, you may have also realized that watching these events play out on a 24-hour news cycle has rekindled your nearly dormant sense of travel anxiety. It’s completely normal to feel some level of stress when it comes to embarking on a journey of any type, but in the wake of events like these, perhaps your stomach does just one more turn as you pack your bags. There is no denying the threat of terrorism. It’s real. No country is immune to it. It is also true, that when ratcheting up the stress levels, the real enemy comes from within.
Your Brain is Doing Its Job (Maybe Too Well)
One of your brain’s most basic functions is to assess threats and to keep you safe. Your brain spends a considerable amount of time collecting information, even when you’re busy doing something else. When an important piece of information comes along (such as the news out of Manchester or London) your brain matches it up with similar information it has stored and builds a pattern of occurrences that makes it seem like these types of things are happening with increased frequency. The term for this is the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It goes something like this. Perhaps you just bought a new car and within a few days of driving your new vehicle, you begin to see them everywhere. It seems like more and more people are choosing the same vehicle you did, but the reality of it is that the number of these vehicles has remained constant. Your brain decided that this make of vehicle was significant and has therefore placed an increased level of attention on it. Voila! They’re everywhere. There are two things happening in your brain when this occurs. The first is selective attention. Your brain is noticing something it considers important. The second is confirmation bias. You notice more of these vehicles so, therefore, there are more of them. You can read more about it here: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/baader-meinhof-phenomenon.htm
But Global Terrorism Is On The Rise, Right?
Global terrorism has been on the increase since 1970, while terrorist activity within the United States has experienced a steep decline within that same timeframe. It is important to note that most terror attacks do not involve civilians or result in injury or death (1.9 fatalities per attack globally on average). The overwhelming majority of terrorist-related attacks are carried out against businesses and military installations. The types of attacks that make the headlines and cause that all too familiar traveler anxiety have actually remained relatively constant over the past four decades, once you factor out active conflict zones around the world. You can research some global statistics here: https://ourworldindata.org/terrorism/.
The 35,000 Foot View
If you’re waiting in the security line at the airport or sitting at the terminal waiting to board your flight, you’ve already beaten the odds and have safely navigated one of the most statistically treacherous portions of your journey: the drive to the airport. While there were approximately 13,000 terror-related deaths reported globally (including perpetrators) in 2015, there was an estimated 1.6 million traffic fatalities during that same time. In fact, fast food is more dangerous than terrorism, as obesity is responsible for an estimated 5 million deaths each year, globally. The point is that the benefits to travel (both professionally and personally) far outweigh the terrorism risks. Just because it seems like it’s happening more frequently doesn’t mean that it is. Safely stow your anxiety in your overhead compartment and enjoy your flight.