Thursday, September 29, 2016

Existential Dread

Do you live your life DREADING certain activities?  It feels like I always have something I am fretting about or dreading.  It is annoying.  Yesterday I had to attend a meeting that had me so nervous.  I considered calling in sick, but couldn't since I head out on vacation in a bit and it just wouldn't have gone over well.  So instead I dreaded this damn meeting all week.  Said meeting finally took place and it really wasn't THAT bad.  

I'm heading out-of-state on vacation soon, and I'll be staying with two people that I HAVE NEVER EVEN MET.  I am trying not to freak out about it, but what if they take an instant dislike to me?!?!?!?   EEEEE.  That could be awkward, and to be honest this happens more than I would like.  I can USUALLY overcome it and turn someone around, but not always.  But hopefully things are fine and we hit it off.  But the DREAD is definitely in the background and I am TRYING to get a grip and tamp it down.

While obsessing about dread yesterday, I found this article on-line.  I've read it repeatedly.   WEIRD. Bizarre.  And rather fascinating, if you care to read it:

Experiencing Existential Dread?  Tylenol May Do the Trick

Thinking about death can cause us to feel a sort of existential angst that isn’t attributable to a specific source. Now, new research suggests that acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pain medication, may help to reduce this existential pain.

The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

According to lead researcher Daniel Randles and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Canada, the new findings suggest that Tylenol may have more profound psychological effects than previously thought:

“Pain extends beyond tissue damage and hurt feelings, and includes the distress and existential angst we feel when we’re uncertain or have just experienced something surreal. Regardless of the kind of pain, taking Tylenol seems to inhibit the brain signal that says something is wrong.”

Randles and colleagues knew from previous research that when the richness, order, and meaning in life is threatened — with thoughts of death, for instance — people tend to reassert their basic values as a coping mechanism.

The researchers also knew that both physical and social pain — like bumping your head or being ostracized from friends — can be alleviated with acetaminophen. Randles and colleagues speculated that the existentialist suffering we face with thoughts of death might involve similar brain processes. If so, they asked, would it be possible to reduce that suffering with a simple pain medicine?

The researchers had participants take either Tylenol brand acetaminophen or a sugar pill placebo in a double-blind study. One group of participants was asked to write about what would happen to their body after they die, and the control group was asked to write about having dental pain, an unpleasant but not existentially distressing thought.
All the participants were then asked to read an arrest report about a prostitute, and to set the amount for bail.

Just as expected, the control group that wrote about dental pain — who weren’t made to feel an existentialist threat — gave relatively low bail amounts, only about $300. They didn’t feel the need to assert their values.

On the other hand, the participants who wrote about their own death and were given a sugar pill gave over $400 for bail, in line with previous studies. They responded to the threat on life’s meaning and order by affirming their basic values, perhaps as a coping mechanism.
But, the participants in this group who took Tylenol were not nearly as harsh in setting bail. These results suggest that their existential suffering was ‘treated’ by the headache drug.
A second study confirmed these results using video clips. People who watched a surreal video by director David Lynch and took the sugar pill judged a group of rioters following a hockey game most harshly, while those who watched the video and took Tylenol were more lenient.
The study demonstrates that existentialist dread is not limited to thinking about death, but might generalize to any scenario that is confusing or surprising — such as an unsettling movie.
“We’re still taken aback that we’ve found that a drug used primarily to alleviate headaches can also make people numb to the worry of thinking about their deaths, or to the uneasiness of watching a surrealist film,” says Randles.
The researchers believe that these studies may have implications for clinical interventions down the road.
“For people who suffer from chronic anxiety, or are overly sensitive to uncertainty, this work may shed some light on what is happening and how their symptoms could be reduced,” Randles concludes.

In addition to Randles, co-authors on this research include Steven Heine and Nathan Santos of the University of British Columbia.
This research was supported by a grant and doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
For more information about this study, please contact: Daniel Randles at and Steven Heine at

Needless to say, I'll be bringing a lot of TYLENOL on my trip!  :)


Felicia said...

I used to DREAD giving presentations in school. Like, full of anxiety. Can't wait to hear about the trip! If it goes well you have to visit me next!!!!

Marla said...

I recently had to get a biopsy and I DREADED it. Not the result, because both I and my doctor were pretty sure it would be ok, but the actual procedure. I put it off and off until I finally psyched myself into it and went with total DREAD. It took maybe 2 minutes and wasn't that bad - and I was giddy with relief when it was over, so much so that I had totally forgotten it until I got the all good call about a week later. Oh and public speaking... don't get me started. Hope the vacay is awesome!!

Carrie said...

Dude, this is true. I get whacked out on over the counter Tylenol and one time I ran out of Advil and had to take one. Well shit. I was pulling my car in the garage and it was pretty narrow. I clipped the fckn mirror off and totally didn't even care. In fact, I was like, "I think the mirror is going to hit the side of garage door" but then thought "ah, who cares" which btw is TOTALLY NOT like me at all. I still think about that to this DAY. I knew it was the Tylenol.

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

If you ever want to pop over to Pittsburgh to visit the Warhol or the Mattress Factory, you are welcome to stay with us! Have a great vacation!

Lorena said...

Hey I'd been missing you. Thank you for all your comments.
Physical and social pain... mmm
If tylenol makes a person more lenient I should begin taking it, maybe I'll be happier ?!
You know for your vacations I think you should prepare to make things less awkward with these people you don't know:
1. Prepare a few topics you can talk about, make them diverse. Stay away from politics unless you are all for the same candidate
2. Bring a gift
3. Take them out for lunch/dinner one day
4. Don't leave underwear behind when you leave, it makes a bad impression. I am saying this because my cousin left hers in my house. I will spare the details.