Dive Deeper into Shark Week: Uncovering Fear

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This summer marks the 30th Anniversary of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, affirming its continued popularity as a televised underwater exploration on the creatures of the deep blue. This is not surprising as sharks tend to provoke strong emotional reactions. Personally, I am fascinated by all species of sharks. I have been an avid fan of Shark Week since I was a little girl, attempting to spot one off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts during the summer months. Marine research shows that a shark’s role in the marine ecosystem is vital. They maintain equilibrium in the ecosystem by keeping other fish from overpopulating the ocean. Overfishing or arbitrarily slaughtering sharks could throw the entire marine food chain off balance.

However, there are those who don’t watch Shark Week. The reason may be tied to fear. Fear is complex; it is both instinctual (survival-based) and learned (by experience) or taught (through societal/cultural norms or beliefs).

Anything associated with danger can trigger the brain to pay attention in the name of survival. “The psychological characteristics of pain and suffering, uncertainty and powerlessness, make the idea of being attacked by a shark way scarier than the statistics show.” Shark-attack stories get a lot of coverage and exposure through the media, which can contribute and amplify the fear. This can cause the “flight” (avoidance) response to watching Shark Week, because of the perceived threat to the emotional state. If fear is primed, the more scared you feel, the scarier things will seem. That is why it is best to learn adaptive ways to address rational and irrational fears as they swim (I mean, come) along.

To help debunk some misunderstandings about sharks, I wanted to share some therapeutic insight from Shark Week!

Keep moving forward. Ever notice sharks seem to be constantly moving? Well, they have no other choice. If most sharks stop moving even for a short period of time, they can drown and die. Just like sharks, we need to keep moving forward in our lives. Experiencing adversity and difficulties can be a road block for growth. To increase resiliency, we must keep progressing forward, even if its small steps at first.
Be opportunistic. Sharks have six senses and they use all of them to their advantage. As a bonus to sight, sound, taste, touch and smell, they can detect electrical currents through their heads to find prey effectively. Humans may have one less sense compared to sharks, but tuning into all five senses can create an increase in self-awareness, thus more opportunities for emotional, mental and spiritual growth and development.
Sense of Mastery. Sharks are well equipped for their role as the top apex predator. They know how to use their abilities and capabilities to its full potential.  As humans, its best we operate from our most authentic, highest sense of self to life a value-driven life. Are you working in your areas of strength? What creates a sense of mastery/competence? How are you best equipped to handle life’s circumstances?

 

References:
Bracha, H., Ralston, T. C., Matsukawa, J. M., Matsunaga, S., Williams, A. E., & Bracha, A. S. (2004). Does “fight or flight” need updating? Psychosomatics, 45, 448-449.
Lang, P., Davis, M., & Ohman, A. (2000). Fear and anxiety: animal models and human cognitive psychophysiology. Journal of Affective Disorders, 61, 137-159.
Lerner, J. & Keltner, D. (2001). Fear, anger, and risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2001. 81:1, 146-159.
Sylvers, P. Lilienfeld, S., & LaPrairie, J. (2011). Differences between trait fear and trait anxiety: Implications for psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 122-137.


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