Don’t Panic!

The most useless phrase in creation, but it’s true. Panicking rarely solves any problem, and usually makes it worse. The only good thing about panic is that it can alert an outsider that the problem is serious, if the panicker can’t or won’t express that in other terms.

How did I get on the subject? Well, funny story, that. And it has nothing to do with politics or the state of the world, which are my usual sources of anxiety at the moment.

No. My DH decided to make cookies.

It went something like this:

DH: My workplace is having a baking contest, so I’m going to make cookies.

Me: Okay, honey; have fun. Save a few extras for us. Have to do quality control, and all that.

(DH does a test batch of sugar cookies, and they come out great, but are too large. Cookies must be bite-sized according to the rules)

DH: Hmm. How can I make these smaller, without ruining the structural integrity of the cookie?

(I make a few suggestions, but it’s been years since I made sugar cookies, so I’m just guessing)

DH: (Makes valiant attempts to reduce the size of the cookies) None of those ideas worked! And the contest is tomorrow! What do I do?

(DH and I stare at each other in dismay. DH throws up his hands and runs around like a chicken with no head)

Okay, that last bit is entirely fabricated. DH and I talked about various options and came up with a plan. He went back to the kitchen, and I went back to writing, and he now has a batch of completely different but yummy cookies (chocolate chip with mint frosting) for the contest. But there was a brief moment of feeling overwhelmed because of too many options, on top of a long and stressful day at work, and something very close to panic because the task was time-sensitive.

Let the record show that DH is extremely useful in a life-or-death emergency, and doesn’t panic (or anything close to it) when the stakes are high. Only when the stakes are relatively low. But the episode of the recalcitrant cookies got me thinking about the nature of panic, and how to handle it. Because, let’s face it, a baking disaster is the perfect time to practice dealing with panic- if nothing else, the punishment for failure is that you have to eat your mistakes, and in this case, that’s not a punishment. DH is a good cook and a passable baker, and gets better every time he does it.

My preferred method of dealing with disaster is to disengage, examine the situation, form a plan, and dive back in, altering the plan as necessary, and sometimes disengaging again if I need to (sometimes this requires walking away from the problem for a minute; sometimes it’s a deep breath and a quick glance in another direction, to give my mind a second to shift gears). This can be extremely dangerous in a violent situation, but as long as nothing’s on fire and no one’s shooting at me, it works reasonably well. In the case of baking cookies, I had time and space to examine the problem, make suggestions, and know when to scrap the original plan and convince DH to come up with a new one.

But the point is, panicking rarely helps solve a problem, and a wise person will subject himself to low-stakes tense situations as a normal part of life, so he (or she) can learn his own preferred method of responding to catastrophe, and practice it.

Someday that low-stakes disaster might turn high-stakes, and we should all be prepared to deal with it as quickly and competently as possible.

23 thoughts on “Don’t Panic!

      1. Actually, that’s what you were/are supposed to do if you in an airplane and surrounded by lostness. Circle over a landmark or chosen location, climb if possible, and call on the emergency frequency and last known usable frequency (most radios are at least two channel).

        1. Yep. Old airline pilot adage: When something goes wrong, take the time to wind your watch.

          Basically, don’t do a knee-jerk reaction to the problem – take the time to make sure your actions are the correct actions.

          1. In one of his books — I think it was The Defense Never Rests — F. Lee Bailey, in recounting his days as a pilot-trainee in the Marine Corps, wrote that only a “ground bum” points his troubled aircraft toward the earth, because he knows he doesn’t belong in the sky. A true pilot reaches for speed and altitude, because he knows that he cannot be hurt as long as his plane remains airworthy and well aloft.

    1. When there’s a threat, move and make noise. Figuring what’s a threat, and what’s merely weird stuff needing to be made less weird- that’s the tricky part.

  1. Okay, one of the things that annoys me to no end on crime shows.

    “Why did you move/hide/etc the body?” (Why didn’t you call the police/ambulance/local necromancer)
    “I panicked. I didn’t know what to do, so I …” (Did something really stupid)

    All the time!
    Drives me nuts.

    1. You can’t expect them to answer honestly:

      “Well, officer, if I had done that, the real killer would have been obvious at the 10 minute mark, and the writer need to stretch this into a full hour episode.”

      1. Now I want to write a story where the witness actually says that, just to mess with the officers. Alas, because I’m me and have trouble suspending reality, the witness would then be thrown in jail for tampering with a crime scene.
        Maybe I should write it from the detectives’ perspective.

            1. If one knows that an individual is seriously disturbed, and both inclined to tamper with crime scenes, able to do so, and yet unwilling to actually do murder themselves, one might try to arrange for them to be first to find the body.

  2. One of the cures for panic is to do something.
    (I have one of this guy’s shirts about ‘shut up and do something’ on the way.)

    On my mind because his other shirt is: “Keep calm and have an epic day.”

    (Yes, they’re not exactly deep philosophy…he does metal covers of songs, and is otherwise cute, and a generally decent and inoffensive fellow. An actually decent and inoffensive, not the dishrag sort. Making folks smile is a big success.)


    That said, I am now trying to remember the methods for dealing with thin’n’crispy sugar cookies. I know there’s the “make sure the balls are cold” trick, but I can’t remember if you want to make the oven hotter or colder.

  3. As I remarked to the grand daughter who is in her first year of culinary school, cooking is an art, but baking is chemistry.
    Panic helps your body generate adrenaline which aids in fight or flight.
    And do give DH a break. He was after all raised by a sensible father and a crazy mother. Leaves marks on a man that does.

    1. A gal I knew online a few years ago…

      Gal: “Alright. Am I cooking or am I baking?”
      KidCousin: “Baking”
      Gal: “How do you know?”
      KidCousin: “Because you’re measuring everything – twice.”

  4. — The most useless phrase in creation… —

    How can that be, when it’s inscribed in large, friendly letters on the cover of every copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

    1. Wasn’t there situations where a person checked out what the Guide said about that the situation where the Guide said “OK, Now You Can Panic”? 😈

      1. (chuckle) I think you’re correct. Also, I recall an old Theodore Sturgeon story, “The [Widget], The [Wadget], and Boff” that proposed panic as a last-ditch tactic for certain situations. Still, it’s decent general advice.

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