This featured guest blog post is written by Meera, a UVic student majoring in Psychology. Check out her blog “Pause. Breathe. Repeat.” to read more!

I’m sure you’ve encountered your fair share of panic-inducing high-pressure situations. You check your class and realize your paper is due an entire week earlier than you had been counting on. Or, maybe your boss leaves you with a task that you’ve never had to do before and now you’re stuck figuring it out on your own. In moments like these, feelings of panic can make us freeze up. I’m going to talk you through what stress triggers in panic situations really mean, and how you can deal with these environments in a productive way, while taking care of yourself.

Before we can talk about handling panic, you need to understand what this concept means to you and to your body. There are 3 general states of being in which you live your life: Comfort, Challenge, and Panic. Almost every aspect of your life can fit into these categories.

RunBrainRun has an interesting piece here about how the model applies to situations like team work and team-building.

The Comfort state is just what it sounds like. Here, you feel at ease with what is happening, and are confident that you can handle it without much stress. With no pressure, you are also less motivated and geared towards apathy and idleness. It is easy to take care of yourself, but this can lead to both contentment or boredom.

The Challenge state is a little more complex. At this point there is definite tension and stress to a situation. You might be encountering something unfamiliar to you, or known to be difficult. At this state, you likely have some kind of urge to back out of the situation. Yet, you also generally feel capable of dealing with whatever is going on. You’re being pushed outside of your comfort zone but are more or less confident that you will work something out. This zone is also often called the “learning” zone (hmmm…)- Keep this in mind as we’ll come back to it.

The Panic state pushes you much farther beyond your comfort zone into an area of high-level stress, often fear, and confusion. In this state, you know the situation is high-pressure and you feel much more threatened by it’s difficulty. In this case, your fight or flight (or freeze) response is likely to kick in and you lose most of the perks of the challenge stage. Though difficult and often scary, this stage’s high energy-level can be useful.

Now the question becomes: why is this important to understand?

Comfort doesn’t encourage learning or drive, which can very quickly suck the life out of, well, life! The most powerful moments for growth as an individual actually find themselves in the second 2 stages. Here, you’re pushed outside of what you confidently know and have to develop the skills you need to handle the situation. As daunting as this may sound, it’s a powerful energy to take advantage of. The trick is you want to control it, not eliminate it.

So- How do you do it? How do you harness this energy and turn it into productivity?

1. To start: Recognize it.

Get used to the signs that your body shows leading into feelings of panic, and to the situations that push you there. You need to also understand how you feel when you’re in the middle of it. A crisis springs up and you can’t avoid it or postpone it: how does you mind react? your body? Then, you can approach the problem strategically.

2. At this point, Stay focused. Recognize the reality of the problem itself. Don’t distract yourself with easier or happier things for a quick fix of feeling better. Hold on to the high energy and channel it to your mind. In a sense, when given the feeling of fight-or-flight, choose fight. Work out the step-by-steps of the crisis you’re facing.  Then, you have a better understanding of what the main problems are, and what solutions may exist. With the pieces laid out in front of you, I assure you the problem will look more manageable already.

3. With a clear view of the tasks ahead, Keep Moving. Think of it like the last leg of the marathon. You’ve completed the hardest part -taking control of your panic- and now you just need to do the leg-work. At this point I sometimes feel the heavier, damper stress coming on which can start to drag on my momentum. This is where I pull on that panic as a resource.

There’s an energy of survival coursing in you, so embrace that. Feel your heart beating fast, because it means you’re alive and you body is fighting for you to get through this. I find I have to work one step at a time, one task to complete, or issue to solve, then the next. You’ll work up a rhythm of doing until suddenly- you’re done.

We also have to remember that we are all unique, and we may have our own tactics that work best for us. Keep an open mind about your reaction to panic and how that might affect how you use these tactics. Panic and stress are a part of all of our lives. We can all learn from each other, so let’s keep this conversation going.

Comment below how you know you’re going into the Panic state? What kinds of approaches do you use to cope?

Now, you can relax and eat that ice cream.

-Meera (author of blog Pause. Breathe. Repeat.)

The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.