How to Panic

March 25, 2020 Level Up Coaching 0 Comments

Right now, most of us are quarantined, socially-isolating, working, or some combination of all three. People have become sick and more will be infected. Pull up a seat, bring your toilet paper, and settle in. Naturally we all have questions. We want to know how to protect ourselves. Meanwhile, the media is hemorrhaging updates. Things keep changing and sources often contradict each other. We’re all over the map. 

On one hand, technology allows instant access to information. We were aware of COVID-19 before it even breached our borders.

On the other hand, this steady stream of turbulent information affects us and our brains in ways we aren’t realizing. Our brains are magnificent and complex, but they are designed to process information in specific ways, and our current situation is totally screwing that up.

I am a nurse. I hear the same questions over and over and over.

Should I get tested? What if I get sick? What if I lose my job? What about the economy? Could I die? Am I over-reacting/under-reacting? Are my children safe? What should I do?

Understand that what your brain is doing is normal. Nothing has gone wrong. Your anxiety, panic, and fear are normal. It means your brain is working like it’s supposed to. 

It’s when we panic about our panic that things get messy. We aren’t used to feeling true panic. We don’t live in a world that requires it. When we do feel it, we aren’t sure how to respond. What do we do with our panic? How do we fix it?

Think of panic as part of your default brain software. Your brain is basically a computer. Your brain has programming that runs in the background on its own. This is what makes us breathe without thinking about it. We can’t forget to breathe, because it’s a program running on a subconscious level. This is very useful.

The world is weird right now and our brains have noticed. What our brains don’t understand, is that we’re in the 21st century, and we are NOT in danger of getting eaten by a bears. Your brain is running its “bear_panic_run.exe” program, and you are being flooded with adrenaline, anxiety, and fear. You are being motivated to either find the bear and kill it, or flee the bear and escape to safety. It’s running this program because of our constant exposure to sensationalized everything.


There is no bear. We can’t climb a tree to hide from a virus. There is no place we can run because we cannot leave the planet. This bear software is outdated.

We can try to ignore it. It never goes away. If we shut our brains down, the other programs in our brain don’t function as well as they should. Imagine lots of error pop-ups on your screen. 404 Error. 

We can be understanding with our brains. Just like computers, they’re only doing what they were programmed to do. In fact, this program probably saved our ancestors more than once. We can allow the program to run in the background without needing to respond to it, because we understand exactly why it’s happening. We can embrace it as part of our humanity, and not be resistant to it’s presence. We can stop trying to prevent our brains from doing what they’re supposed to do. We can stop panicking about our panic.

How to Panic 

1.  Allow the panic.

We are going to experience negative emotions in life whether there’s a pandemic or not. It’s part of being alive. Remember; life is 50/50. It’s when we resist negative emotions that we make our experience much worse. We hate anxiety. We deny fear. We stifle our feelings. The anticipation of feeling something negative makes us more reactive than if we let ourselves experience it. We think we shouldn’t be feeling these things; that it’s somehow inappropriate, or we need to fix it.

What if it’s normal to feel anxious when things are weird? What if it’s healthy to feel fear when things are uncertain? What if the stress we feel is exactly what is intended to happen in this situation? Some of my clients experience more anxiety about having anxiety than they do actual anxiety itself. What if it’s just OK to be anxious sometimes and we just chill with it?

Of course you’re worried. Of course you’re anxious. Of course you’re feeling stress. We need these emotions to remind us to be careful, to pay attention, and to be alert. You’re supposed to have them. It may not be comfortable, but it’s totally natural. It’s how our brain helps protect us. Remember, you’re brain doesn’t know we’re in the 21st century. Sometimes it’s going to interpret things as a bear and run the bear program. It’s OK. It’s just trying to help.

When we allow an emotion, we sit with it in our bodies and experience how it feels. We feel the chest tightness, the clammy palms, the heavy weight in our stomach, our however it manifests itself. We do this knowing we are in no physical danger. We understand that feeling the discomfort is the worst part of a negative emotion, and that’s all we need to do. We remind ourselves it’s reasonable to be feeling these things right now because the program is running. Let it run its course.

Yes, we’re all feeling strange and uncomfortable and that’s exactly how it should be. Congratulations on your humanity.

2.  Manage your stimulation.

Everyday we gather data through our senses, and then we interpret, or make sense of, that data with our brains. Our brains do it hundreds of times a day.

“In this way, every autonomous agent, be it human, animal, or artificial, must frequently sample (sense) its environment, process (make sense of) the input from such sampling, and select an appropriate response (action). Each cognitive cycle senses the current situation, interprets it with reference to ongoing goals, and then selects an internal or external action in response” (Madl, et al, 2011).

We have 24 hour access to news streams, social media, and websites. Most of us are already hyper-aware of news, but many of us are glued to our phones, computers, or tvs, so we don’t miss a single update on Coronavirus. This constant exposure causes our brains to develop sensory overload. This is what triggers the bear program.

Sensory overload happens when we get more input from our five senses than our brains can sort through.

Our brains cannot process fast enough and we start to feel trapped. We want to get away. Our bodies release adrenaline. We are not designed to have adrenaline surging for days. It’s intended for short bursts. When the stimulus never subsides we start fraying at the edges and losing our ability to rationalize. We exhaust our mental and physical selves. This is what happens when we watch the news 24/7.

Limit your exposure to a certain time daily. Take a break. Allow your brain to process and sort itself out. Recharge by exposing yourself to something relaxing, joyful, or peaceful to re-calibrate. We all need balance.

This panda agrees. Listen to the panda and absorb the cute.

Cited Sources

Madl, T., Baars, B. J., & Franklin, S. (2011). The timing of the cognitive cycle. PloS one6(4), e14803.

How to Panic was last modified: October 4th, 2020 by Level Up Coaching

Leave a Reply:

Your email address will not be published.