Thursday, October 18, 2018


The word “panic” comes from the name of the Greek god Pan, the god of the woods and fields, and the entity responsible for making mysterious noises that would spook herds of animals and scare people in lonely places. The dictionary definition of “panic” is a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior, and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons or animals.

Let's break that down and look at the individual parts and how to counteract them where possible.

People don't plan to panic; it's a flight response to something that their minds either can't comprehend or is perceived as a threat. I've seen people panic when they can't find their child in a store, misplace or lose something of great value, or just plain get scared out of their wits. Panic hits quickly, and there is very little warning.

Situational awareness will prevent a lot of the causes of panic: if you know what's going on around you, it's less likely that something will appear suddenly. Organize your things and control your offspring.

Panic takes over a person's thought processes, hindering or preventing logical thought. The instinct to flee danger is hardwired into us, and isn't something that's easy to turn off once triggered.

Unfortunately, the only two ways I know to break a panic spell are to wait until it passes or have an external source of control impose order into the situation. Talking a friend down from a panic attack is never fun, but it's something we should be prepared to do. You can be the source of control that they need. Laughing about it later is a choice you'll have to make based on your level of friendship.

With or Without Cause
Panic with cause is natural; panic without cause is an anxiety disorder. The natural forms of panic are easy to identify after the fact, and may even be predictable in some cases. I'm not a psychologist or doctor, so I won't try to diagnose a mental disorder.

Anxiety disorders are treated with anti-anxiety medications. Most of them have side effects that should be carefully considered and discussed with the doctor who prescribes them. They are also one of the classes of medications that you don't want to stop taking suddenly.

The “with cause” forms of panic are best countered by avoiding, or at least being aware of, what may trigger them. Situational awareness is a good defense, as is a healthy self-knowledge.

Irrational Behavior
This is where panic can become dangerous. The word “hysterical” is out of fashion, since it originally referred to women and the emotional roller-coaster they endure during menstruation, so I'll stick with “irrational”. Irrational means without a rational basis; in other words, mindless. Irrational behavior can mean running towards a greater danger or freezing in the path of oncoming danger.

Strength of will is the only way I know of to fight irrational behavior. You have to be in control of yourself and know how to think things through under stress. Recognizing the first tinge of panic and telling yourself, “No, I will not let this take control of me” is difficult, but necessary.

Spreads Quickly
Panic is highly contagious. The more homogeneous the group, the faster panic can spread because of shared cultural and personal biases. Financial panics are a good example: a large group of people who all deal with the same products and processes, and who communicate in many ways, is very susceptible to the spread of panic. If one person panics, another one will see their actions and likely panic as well, causing a chain reaction of irrational behavior. Natural and man-made disasters that affect large groups are perfect triggers for mass panic, especially when routes of escape are limited or blocked: fire in a crowded building, rumors in a refugee camp, and unlocking the doors of a store on Black Friday are all examples of things that can trigger a crowd into a panic.

The easiest way to avoid the spread of panic is to avoid crowds. If you can't avoid a crowd, always know where the exits are and position yourself near one. If you see a panic starting, get away as quickly as you can. By definition, irrational people will hurt you without thinking about it, so get clear by any means available.

Absent an underlying anxiety disorder, most people only panic when they are abruptly presented with something that is foreign to their lives, or if they get caught up in a “herd” mentality and someone else panics.

To prevent panic:
  1. Know yourself and your surroundings.
  2. Think about what could go wrong and plan accordingly.
  3. Have a backup plan. 
These are all part and parcel of being a prepper, and will keep you a bit safer during a panic.

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