ICYMI, Aliens Might Be Real. Why Are Some of Us So… Unbothered by This News?

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In case you’ve been living under a rock recently, allow me to get you caught up on the highlights of the current news cycle. Barbie has been a smash hit at the box office. Former president Donald Trump has been charged with conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 election. Oh, and aliens might be real.

No, I’m not kidding. In June, former intelligence officer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency David Grusch blew the whistle on what he says are covert U.S. government programs that have been withholding information about the government's retrieval of “intact and partially intact vehicles” of  “non-human” origin. And in July, Grusch expanded on these claims by way of a shocking testimony in a congressional hearing. Under oath, he told Congress that there is a conspiracy to cover up what he says is a decades-long effort by the government to capture and study unidentified flying objects (aka UFOs)—or what are officially known as “unidentified anomalous phenomena” (UAPs). *GASP*

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To be clear, that almost definitely means that there are alien forms of life walking (floating?!) around out there in our solar system or beyond. Indeed, Jonathan Grey, an officer at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center told The Debrief in the original report of Grusch's claims: “The non-human intelligence phenomenon is real. We are not alone.”

People reacting to the UFO news on social media haven't been expressing feelings of shock or fear so much as, well, total indifference.

If confirmed to be true, this news could alter the trajectory of humankind as we know it. It only seems right that such claims from top intelligence officers involved in analysis of UAPs should come as a mind-melting revelation. But instead, the general public seems to be a bit… underwhelmed. Indeed, people reacting on social media haven't been expressing feelings of shock or fear so much as, well, total indifference.

So, why don't we seem to care much at all about the (potential) presence of aliens? Why does it seem like no one really gives a f*ck? And, more importantly, does this mean we’ll finally be getting a proper Independence Day sequel?

4 reasons why plenty of us don't seem to care about the potential presence of aliens

1. We’re burnt out on existential trauma

A pandemic, climate change, gun violence, ongoing wars: Life on planet Earth hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park lately. According to clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, the brain has a unique way of protecting itself through such multifaceted, prolonged trauma—and typically, that involves disconnecting us from our thoughts, emotions, and memories.

“When you get overwhelmed, oftentimes, the brain does a thing called dissociation,” says Dr. Daramus. “It's sort of your brain’s way of saying, ‘I cannot be here doing this right now. I need rest.’ And so it refuses to pay attention to things, and it refuses to process things.”

When we experience a repeated series of traumatic events over time, our minds eventually become subject to burnout, at which point they no longer have the capacity to process new events for what they really are. “You get trauma-exhausted to the point where you almost don't care if something else happens,” says Dr. Daramus. “There's already so much going on with collective trauma over the past few years that we don't even have the energy to care or stress about aliens.”

2. More immediate threats are taking up our attention

While some of us may indeed be disassociating our way through the recent UFO revelations, clinical psychologist Gayle Watts, DClinPsy, says that a prioritization of emergencies may also be at play. That is, we might be deprioritizing the alien news over, well, everything else. It's not that we don't care about aliens, but just that we care about other things more.

And that makes sense: Our responsibilities at work and home, for instance, tend to live at the top of our mental lists since there are real, immediate consequences that can happen if we don’t fulfill them.

“Our brains tend to focus more on those threats that are seen as immediate and affect our day-to-day lives rather than these kinds of potential threats.” —Gayle Watts, DClinPsy, clinical psychologist

“We tend to focus on more immediate and urgent crises,” says Dr. Watts. “With things like UFOs, and even climate change and artificial intelligence, we don't really know what will happen or if it will happen.” Whereas, with things like work, your social life, upcoming travel—you know, with clarity, that you have to devote mental headspace to them in order to avoid very real problems. “Our brains tend to focus more on those threats that are seen as immediate and affect our day-to-day lives rather than these kinds of potential threats,” says Dr. Watts. And aliens are still very much in the potential camp.

3. It’s outside of our control

Let’s say that aliens really do exist among us. What’s an Average Joe like you or I gonna do about it?

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty ill-equipped to handle a human home intruder, let alone an extraterrestrial one. When traumatic events that we can't control happen over and over, we develop something called learned helplessness, according to Dr. Watts, which could be another reason why we don't really care about the news of aliens.

“If we perceive that we have no control over something, then we can become quite apathetic about it,” says Dr. Watts. “If something's happening, and it's negative and outside of our control, we get to this stage where our brains don't even try to solve the problem because we feel like there's nothing we can do to change it.”

4. We simply don’t believe it

Dr. Watts says that we, humans, tend to subscribe to the "seeing is believing" frame of mind when it comes to things like ghosts, aliens, and cryptids. It’s hard to trust someone else’s accounts—yes, even those of a top intelligence officer—when you haven’t ever experienced something for yourself. “We may not be seeing [aliens] as a threat because we don't believe things until we see it with our own eyes,” says Dr. Watts.

Neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, says that the overall legitimacy of alien contact may seem iffy to us because unproven UFO sightings aren’t exactly novel. The repeated exposure to the news of sightings over the years, coupled with a general distrust of governmental officials may make it hard for us to take the new claims seriously, even when they’re being shared under oath in front of Congress.

“We've been talking about UFOs for years and years and years,” says Dr. Hafeez. “For the longest time, it was mostly jokes. Remember the SNL skits? So, even when there's seemingly legitimate news about it, it may sound like a joke, and the brain is primed to dismiss it.”

Why it may be a good thing that we don't seem to care about aliens

While prolonged disassociation can be harmful for your mental health, the fact that plenty of us just don't care about aliens (and are choosing not to engage with the news) might actually be pretty healthy in this scenario, says Dr. Watts. Letting go of the “what ifs” of UFOs and extraterrestrial life can free up our attention and energy to focus on things over which we have real, actionable power.

“It reminds me of that serenity prayer: ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,’” says Dr. Watts. “This is very much linked to a type of therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy, which is about trying to accept facts as facts; if I don't have any control over it, then instead, I'm just going to focus on those things that I can control and can change.”

For some people, however, that might be easier said than done. Perhaps the threat of alien life is, in fact, throwing you into a tailspin, and you could use some help getting back down to Earth. Below, the experts share what to do if the UFO news feels like one more unwelcome thing contributing to your mental burden.

What to do if you *are* freaking out about aliens, according to psychologists

Do a high-intensity activity you enjoy

If you feel as though the UFO news may be causing you to dissociate, your brain could go on autopilot, or enter survival mode, says Dr. Daramus. This can cause gaps in your memory over time, leading to something psychologists refer to as dissociative amnesia.

“The first step in forming a memory is paying attention to something—being able to concentrate on information long enough to get it into your head,” says Dr. Daramus. “When you feel like you can't pay attention to things [like the alien news], you're going to have a really hard time remembering anything clearly.”

One way to boomerang your mind back to the present moment is by engaging in an intense activity you love, like listening to heavy metal music or lifting weights. “One of the best things for dissociation is any kind of strong sensory experience that you like and feel safe with,” says Dr. Daramus. “Intense music, intense sports you like—there’s a lot of creative ways to use sensory stimuli and mindful awareness to help you feel comfortable coming back to the world and paying attention to it.”

Use a "worry tree" to move on

If the looming possibility of an alien invasion is weighing heavy on your mind, Dr. Watts recommends using what psychologists call a "worry tree" diagram to help quell your anxious thoughts.

“It's essentially a picture of a tree that asks, ‘Is the thing that I'm worrying about within my control? Or is it a hypothetical worry?’ If it's within your control, then the next step [or branch on the tree] is problem-solving and doing something that might make a difference and solve that worry, allowing you to move forward.”

On the flip side, if the source of your worry is outside of your control—say, something like little green men invading our planet—the next step is openly acknowledging that you have no control over that thing. From there, you can “refocus your attention on something you find enjoyable, something that is value-oriented, something that is important to you, rather than going over and over the same worry again and again,” says Dr. Watts.

Limit your news intake

Yes, it’s often easier said than done to stop doomscrolling. Wanting to be in-the-know on the latest facts and figures regarding the UFO hearing is natural, but if it’s becoming something that you feel like you have to do (and from which you can't easily pull yourself away once you start), it’s best to completely unplug from this news for a while.

“For some people, knowing more about something can be helpful [to mitigate worries], and for other people, it can be unhelpful,” says Dr. Watts. “I recommend limiting the amount of time that you read about something if it is causing you stress, and make sure that you are focusing on the things that you can control and the things that are important to you instead.”

According to Dr. Daramus, it may also be helpful to remember that the existing news at this point is still largely unverified—and much about UAPs is still largely unknown. “[The testimony] absolutely could mean that there actually are spaceships from another planet, or aliens from another planet, arriving on Earth, but what are some other explanations?” she says. “Yes, it appears that there are objects flying around, and we're not sure what they are—but that does not necessarily mean that they're something out of Star Wars or Star Trek.”

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