Don’t Choose Panic When You Can Choose Calm
Trying his salad, the man yells: “Oh my god!” Five feet away, a woman goes: “Oh my god! That man just said, ‘Oh my god!’” That’s how panic spreads.
We don’t hear the muffled “This is the best salad I’ve ever had” that follows. We just hear a noise and create more noise because of it. We fill in the blanks, and we fill them with horror scenarios. The news taught us how.
A few months ago, I was waiting for the subway. A drunk man walked around the platform, trying to start conversations. He seemed misunderstood. Irritated. Angry. He was looking for a fight. Of course, everyone walked away.
Eventually, he sat next to me on the bench. I was on my phone. He kept mumbling. Then, with one loud roar, he smashed his beer bottle on the floor right in front of us. Splash! Beer runs down the train tracks, broken glass everywhere.
To my own surprise, I didn’t flinch. I just kept texting. The world was still turning. Maybe, he noticed it too. Maybe, he was disappointed at the lack of engagement. Either way, a few minutes later, he left the station in peace.
There’s a difference between panicking and being alert. Alertness is about realizing a situation’s gravity. Is it serious? Urgent? Important? If so, calmly assess the important factors at hand, consider what actions and resources you have access to right now, then make a decision. None of this requires throwing your arms up, running around, or yelling “Oh my god!”
Panic floods your body with cortisol and adrenaline. It’s a physical response to a physical threat. When’s the last time you had to literally run away? Panic ups your stress level, not your problem-solving capabilities. It creates energy that is doomed to dissipate into thin air from the start. Lots of movement, no progress.