U.S. President Donald Trump’s avowal to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if they don’t “get their act together” has raised the spectre of a nuclear confrontation between the countries, ratcheting up public anxiety about the potential for such a devastating event.
While the escalating rhetoric may be mere sabre-rattling, psychologists say feeling fearful or anxious about the threat of a nuclear holocaust, or any life-altering catastrophe, is perfectly normal.
“Sometimes we might experience a sense of being in constant danger, especially if we’re questioning if there’s this threat to life and safety,” said Dr. Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
“And it becomes not only the concern for the safety of self, but then, of course, for the safety of loved ones, the destruction of everything we have established,” she said.
“The uncertainty can induce more worry. We feel more vulnerable and it can lead to feeling more helpless and powerless.”
Hard-wired to err on side of caution
Shmuel Lissek, founding director of the ANGST Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, said humans have been hard-wired to err on the side of caution.
From an evolution perspective, organisms that were overly cautious in the face of low-probability threats were more likely to survive and pass on their genes — and humans inherited those genes, Lissek told the Washington Post this week.
“So when there’s a very small-probability threat that is of very high intensity, we tend to worry, instead of not worry,” he said.
A person’s age may also dictate how they react emotionally to the perceived threat of nuclear war, Kamkar said.
Many baby boomers grew up during the Cold War, when then U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev took the world to the brink of a nuclear conflagration with the 1962 Cuban…