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Luck, Superstitions, and Your Mental Health

Do you feel lucky or unlucky around St. Patrick’s Day? Typically connected with religious practices or pagan beliefs, superstitions are commonplace in our society. Rather than being rooted in facts or logic, superstitions coincide with cultural traditions or simple coincidences. Superstitions allow people to feel more in control of their lives, which is why even highly educated people still have their own superstitions. While most superstitions are harmless or just fun, some can feed into certain mental health conditions.

Superstitions that come from individual experience and cultural tradition are often coping mechanisms. They can help us calm anxiety or help us prepare ourselves to “get in the zone” or concentrate. When they become a habit, they give us a sense of control. It may be as simple as having a “lucky” pair of underwear to wear to a job interview or performing a simple routine when it’s your turn at bat during a baseball game.

A 2016 study suggested that our brain’s play a powerful role in superstitions. The logical side of us knows that superstitions, such as always wearing a jersey when your team is playing, don’t affect the outcome, but our brain doesn’t want to correct the intuition we have that creates superstitions from seemingly unconnected things.
There are many superstitions that have stayed popular over the years. Here are a few that are still in practice today:

Avoid Walking Under Ladders, Black Cats, and More
In ancient Egypt, triangles were considered sacred. Walking beneath a ladder disrupts the triangle shape and is thought to bring the individual bad luck. Ancient cultures also believed that mirrors were windows into the future. Breaking a mirror could indicate bad luck to come. In German and Nordic traditions, black cats and the number 13 are unlucky. Black cats are believed to bring bad news or signal an impending death. Crows are also deemed to be bearers of death. The number 13 is thought to be evil because it is the number after 12, which is regarded as a sacred number.

Or Try These for Better Luck
This time of year, four-leaf clovers are thought to bring luck because they are rare and difficult to find. The leaves on a four-leaf clover symbolize luck, love, faith, and hope.
In the kitchen, particularly in new homes, boiling milk and rice is lucky. In some cultures, this practice is known to bring wealth and prosperity. Spilling valuable salt is considered unlucky, except when you throw the spilled salt over your left shoulder. This reverses the bad luck and restores your “balance”.
Speaking of balance, if you make a statement that could be construed as arrogant, many cultures knock on wood in order to ward off spirits that may disrupt your plans. Saying “God Bless You” after someone sneezes is also thought to ward off spirits that could enter the body after the sneeze.

But What Happens if Superstitions Affect Your Daily Life?
For some, superstitions can affect their day-to-day life. Individuals who struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), superstitions can become fixations, triggering obsessive thoughts or anxiety. They are unable to dismiss their superstitions beliefs and behaviors. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders may also struggle with common superstitions.
Superstitions become a problem when they prevent people from doing everyday tasks or inhibit them from specific activities. It may also be the first sign to a loved one that something is wrong. People should seek help from a mental health professional if they feel they are being controlled by their superstitions. Cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and habit reversal therapy have all been shown to be successful treatment options.

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