Thursday, April 16, 2020

Slow Down, Don't Panic

In times of crisis, panic is one of your main enemies. I covered what panic is about 18 months ago so I won't redefine it, but I do want to talk a bit more about its effects and ways to remedy it.

Panic is natural, and it makes us do stupid things. Marketers learned a long time ago that fear, uncertainty, and doubt were powerful tools to get people to spend money, and panic-buying is all three of them wrapped up in a single bundle. Panic-buying creates artificial (and unnecessary) shortages that create more panic-buying, leading to empty shelves and price-gouging. I've seen price-gouging occur at the mere threat of an earthquake (for example, $2.00 wrenches marked “gas shut-off valve wrenches” and sold for $10.00), a disease outbreak (N95 mask that I sell for $1.50 priced at $5.00 or more), and snow storms (generators sell out fast if the weather-geeks start using the word “blizzard”).

Politicians may not be marketers, but they do hire them. Normally sane people will allow horrendous restrictions of their rights if a politician can get them to panic over something. If you're a fan of history you'll be able to pick out a dozen or more examples of this in the last few hundred years alone. It's a form of “crisis management” wherein they create a crisis so the people will beg them to manage it on behalf of the public. 

Being able to confront an emergency without letting panic take over requires training, practice (or experience), or a mental defect.
  • Proper training can (but not always will) lessen the shock of an emergency situation. If you know how to bandage a wound or splint a broken limb, the sight of blood or a crooked arm isn't as likely to instill a panic response. You may still be a but unsure about the situation, but your training should give you the confidence to do the best you can and get through it. The “confidence chamber”, AKA the gas chamber that the military uses to expose trainees to tear gas, instills a sense of confidence in their equipment and training. It also teaches them that while unpleasant, tear gas is not lethal and it shouldn't evoke a panic reaction.
  • Practice is a follow-on to training. I like to remind folks that the old saying “practice makes perfect” is wrong; “practice makes permanent” is closer to the truth, because if you practice something wrong then you'll do it wrong when it's needed. 
  • Experience is having done it before, which should remove some of the mystery and “unnaturalness” of a situation. I've dealt with minor wounds on myself and others for most of my life, so seeing a cut, gash, or puncture isn't going to cause panic as it's nothing new to me. The same goes for first responders who witness a car crash or fire; they may move quickly, but with purpose because they've seen it before.
  • Mental defects are a bit touchier. Certain types of sociopaths and psychopaths don't see people or animals as living beings, but rather as objects. Bad things happening to “objects” doesn't set off panic, or really any other emotional response, to those with these forms of messed-up brains. It makes no difference if it's a matter of bad wiring, chemistry, or spiritual defect, some people just aren't right in the head. It should be noted that this sort of reaction can also be learned or ingrained. Long-term abuse and some forms of PTSD can “burn out” the normal ability to panic, causing unusual responses to emergencies.

The main remedies for panic are pretty basic:

  • Slow down. Don't rush, or allow yourself to be rushed by others, into making decisions unless there is an immediate danger to life or health (IDLH in safety-geek). Even if there is a major threat, slow down and take things one step at a time. Gather as much information as you can before making big decisions.
  • Step back. This is often an instinctive reaction, and it works. When confronted with something unusual, people tend to take a step or two backwards. We're wired that way to put distance between us and danger, but it also gives us a chance to look at the whole scene and make better judgments. Removing ourselves from the immediate danger gives us a chance to view things from a less personal level and that will often lead to better decisions.
  • Prepare ahead of time. I'm hoping that is one of the reasons you're reading this blog. Having redundant systems in place to take care of the necessities of life removes or reduces the opportunities to panic. For example, if you have a spare tire for your car, a flat tire is merely an inconvenience instead of an emergency. If you have the tools and training to deal with an emergency, panic is a lot less likely, and even if it does kick in it will be short-lived. Having sufficient supplies on hand also means you will avoid the costs of panic-buying and artificial shortages. The recent run on toilet paper, several instances of ammunition shortages in the last few decades, and various fuel price spikes can all be ignored if you have your own supplies laid in before the masses go berserk. Furthermore, the “I got this” mentality is very powerful and can delay or halt panic in others, and not having to deal with panic in others will free up your time to deal with other issues while also avoiding further panic. 
  • Avoid the panic. One of the blogs I read every week uses the phrase “stay away from crowds” a lot. It makes sense on many levels, but crowds will panic as fast as the fastest person in them. Think of it as a weakest link situation: the one person who panics can set off a chain reaction in the rest of the crowd. Large groups of people are dangerous on a good day, but add a dose of panic and you get people killed by being trampled by the herd as they flee.

Take care of yourselves and your tribe in the weird times we're living in, because nobody else is going to step in and do it for you without a price that you'll regret later.

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