What is Dread?

Saleem Reshamwala
November 10, 2022
More Than a Feeling | The Dread Project | Learn to feel better when anticipating the worst

It’s not just you – dread is on the upswing.

Whether it’s world events like political polarization or climate change, or personal anxieties like meeting new people or speaking on camera, more and more people are reporting experiences of dread: the uneasy feeling you get when you think that something you really don’t want to have happen, is going to happen.

We know this not only because we're feeling it ourselves, but because of the overwhelming response we got when we asked our community to tell us about their dread experiences.

So, starting on Monday, November 14, we’ll be launching
The Dread Project, a miniseries and interactive listener challenge. We’ll be publishing a five-day miniseries on More Than a Feeling, with new episodes each day, and offering easy and fun exercises that listeners can try to help feel a little better, even when you’re anticipating the worst.

One of the experts featured on the podcast is psychologist (and
YouTube star) Ali Mattu, who teaches global audiences how to use psychological science to achieve their goals. Here's an excerpt of the interview.

Saleem Reshamwala: So, in our survey, many people mentioned world events: political tensions, climate change, the pandemic. I'm curious whether you think there has been a shift in the amount of dread people are feeling.

Ali Mattu: Definitely. Pretty much every single mental health professional I know is beyond full and completely at the burnout point. Part of it's related to Covid, part of it's related to our political climate, and part of it's related to technology. In my case, ‘dread’ is the perfect word to use to describe my relationship with some people in my family and thinking about spending time with them. There is no other word to describe it. It's not a fear, it's not a worry, it’s dread. And I didn't have that a few years ago. I didn't. It has changed.

SR: Of course, every generation has their own challenges to tackle. I imagine that even if we had been born into a period of peace and tranquility, dread would probably still be with us to some degree.

AM: Sure. A good chunk of our emotional temperament is genetic. Some people are born pretty fearless. They're the kids you see on the playground that are climbing a little bit higher, doing stuff that I never did because I was terrified. And then you have the opposite too: kids who have a lot of behavioral inhibition to the unknown. They press the brakes and look around for a long time before they move forward. And then those people turn into adults. So there's a lot of diversity.

SR: When is someone having so much dread that they might need some professional help?

AM: What I look for is: what's the thought that's coming up for you, and how long is this thought sticking around? A lot of mental health challenges rob you of being in the moment. What I think is really dreadful about dread is how it can keep you stuck. It can keep you from taking any action besides thinking about this horrible event that may occur in the future. That can really be a barrier and a hindrance. If it's happening a lot and it's making it hard for you to live your life, that's when it's a problem. And that's when we need to intervene.

SR: If someone is not yet at that point, what can they do?

AM: First, I think it's important to remember why we even have this emotion. In so many ways, it's adaptive. The purpose of dread is not to paralyze you. The purpose of dread is to help prepare you, to help you think about what might happen. It's to help you take actions that you can right now. A healthy amount of dread is needed to show up to work, or to make an earthquake preparedness plan, all of that kind of stuff.

Building on that, you might try giving dread a container on your calendar, before it has the chance to monopolize your whole day. Like, what is a time and place where I can open up Pandora's Box a little bit, and explore these feelings? If bringing up something is too much, it's okay to back off. Sometimes people think like they have to go straight to the biggest traumatic stuff that they've experienced in life. But you absolutely don't. You want to be taking on things that feel manageable for you right now. So if you feel overwhelmed, back off. Remember to trust yourself.

Intrigued? Well, we’re going to try this practice – and much more – over the next five days. Go to dreadproject.com and enter your email address. You’ll get links to new podcast episodes as they’re released and get insights and exercises from the Dread Challenge right in your inbox. The website also has instructions for how to record a voice memo about your experiences and send it to us.

Don’t wait – the challenge starts on November 14th, and if you join at the beginning, you’ll be doing it alongside thousands of other listeners. But don’t worry, you can also sign up anytime to do it on your own. We’d love to hear from you!

Saleem Reshamwala is the host of More Than A Feeling, Ten Percent Happier's podcast about human emotions. He is an Emmy-nominated producer, for his video work on implicit bias with the New York Times, a winner in the Best Music Video category at Harlem's Hip Hop Film Festival, and a mentor for The Sauce Fellowship, a Southern youth digital storytelling program in conjunction with the New Orleans Video Access Center.

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