How to Panic

Panic is paranoia with legs. Panicking is like pushing your fast forward, delete and eject buttons all at once. The first thing that runs riot when you panic is your imagination. As imagination works at ten times the speed of common sense, your life suddenly seems to accelerate from plodding kitchen sink drama to breakneck thriller.

Some people panic from birth and never really recover. Unless they’re on the verge of complete nervous breakdown they don’t seem to be able to generate any forward momentum in their lives. These kind of people often serve as mobile panic inducers in other moderately apprehensive people.

Many people in life are calm on the outside but panicking quietly inside. Almost everybody occasionally has a panic attack. This is the realisation that your entire life is actually a rickety scaffolding structure you’ve built very poorly without reference to the instructions and the whole thing is about to collapse.

Occasionally someone panics and then they very rapidly do exactly the right thing required by the situation. This is how medals are won and reputations acquired for having a cool head in a crisis.

Generally, the British don’t do panic. Even when we’re panic buying, it all looks a lot more orderly than your average Italian supermarket. Mass panic is always a frightening phenomenon (especially at election time). In a crowd situation the trigger for setting off panic is somebody shouting in a loud, clear voice, ‘Don’t panic!!’

A Panic Button is a button you’re supposed to press when panicking in order to summon help quickly. What happens in reality is you press the button and the help at the other end panics and that’s the last you’ll hear of them. It’s called a Panic button because clearly you can’t be panicking if you’re thinking straight enough to press it but, once you’ve pressed it and nothing’s happened, you really do start to panic.

There are two types of panicking: headless chicken and headlight rabbit. With the former you lose your head and then run around in all directions. With the latter you are transfixed by oncoming danger. Some people who seem to be caught in the headlights aren’t panicking at all. Instead they’re probably thinking, like the rabbit, that if the car doesn’t slow down it’s going to be smashed to pieces.


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