'Outside' Magazine Correspondent Examines Her Fears In 'Nerve'
NOEL KING, HOST:
Eva Holland is afraid of many things - heights, driving, death. Counterintuitively, Eva Holland makes a living doing things that would scare the bejesus out of most people. She's a correspondent for Outside magazine and does much of her work in below-zero temperatures. A few years ago, Eva decided to find out what was at the root of all these fears. She's written a book called "Nerve: Adventures In The Science Of Fear." And when we talked, she told me that when she was a kid, she was really afraid her mom would die. I asked her, why?
EVA HOLLAND: My mom had lost her mom when she was 9 and her dad when she was 19. And I grew up very aware of the impact that that had on her. It had quite a lingering impact in terms of sadness and depression and that sort of thing. And I was very aware that that was because she had lost her parents. And so I became very afraid of losing her in turn.
KING: After your mom died, what happened? Your worst fear has now come to pass. And I could extrapolate out and say, OK, well, now the worst has happened. So are you not afraid anymore?
HOLLAND: That was sort of what happened, in a way. Yeah. It wasn't quite that simple. But, you know, after a few months of pretty acute grief, I understood that I was sad. And I missed my mom. But I wasn't going to be harmed sort of deeply in the same ways that she had been. And once I understood that, it was very empowering to realize that I was going to be OK and that I had faced my worst fear and survived.
KING: There are two other things that you're very afraid of, heights and driving cars. You work a job that many people would consider dangerous. You're a correspondent for Outside magazine. You put yourself in positions a lot where you are either driving (laughter) long distances...
KING: ...Or you're, like, halfway up a mountain. Why pick a job that's going to force you to do things that you're so scared of?
HOLLAND: It sort of happened by accident. What I wanted was to be a writer. And I didn't set out to be a writer who takes road trips to mountains, necessarily (laughter). As a freelancer, you sort of follow the path of least resistance. And when I moved to the Yukon territory, where I live, that was - those were the stories that were available to me. And it wasn't necessarily planned. But once I was in it, I found that the parts that didn't terrify me I really liked.
KING: So there's a way to go about this in which you write about fear like a memoir, right? But you decided that you weren't just going to think. You were actually going to face fears. And so you did a couple things, including exposure therapy, which is all about really, really confronting what you're afraid of. Tell me about the exposure therapy you put yourself through.
HOLLAND: I thought maybe I could sort of puncture my fear of falling from heights with, like, a extreme approach. So I went skydiving...
HOLLAND: ...Which, it turns out, is not the recommended method of exposure therapy (laughter).
KING: Wait. Why not, though? That's sure as heck is exposure, right?
HOLLAND: Because the secret to exposure therapy isn't just about facing your fear. It's about learning a new pattern of reaction and learning to remain calm.
HOLLAND: And so there was no way for me to learn to remain calm during freefall. So that's why exposure therapy is so incremental, typically, is to allow you to sort of build new brain patterns that say, I'm calm. I'm OK.
KING: In the end, if we say you've conquered your fears, was the thing that worked learning the science behind them? Or was the thing that worked having the worst possible thing happen?
HOLLAND: I think maybe the biggest part is having the worst possible thing happen and understanding that I was going to be OK. So understanding my resilience puts everything else in context.
KING: I have a last question for you. You are joining us from the Yukon territory, a Canadian territory. It's not that often that we speak to someone in the Yukon. Can you just describe what it's like there?
HOLLAND: The Yukon is the size of California. But instead of 35 million people, it has 35,000, older mountains, big, fast rivers, grizzly bears, wolves - all that good stuff. But, you know, we have three Starbucks here in town (laughter).
KING: Not bad.
HOLLAND: And - yeah. We have craft beer and kombucha and all that stuff (laughter).
KING: Eva Holland is a correspondent with Outside magazine. And her new and first book is "Nerve: Adventures In The Science Of Fear." Eva, thank you so much for joining us.
HOLLAND: Thank you so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE ECHELON EFFECT'S "FALL OF THE DECADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.