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.