Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Is It Fear? Or Panic!

A few years ago I was in Guam on an assignment. I was alone and worked long hours six days a week. On Sundays I relaxed by snorkeling in beautiful Tumon Bay. 

The bay is long and narrow with a mild current sweeping in from the South and exiting the North.  It is resplendent with sea life and coral. I vividly remember the Staghorn coral because it reminded me of a lot of antlers all clumped together and looked quite dangerous.

The rules of water sports are clear – never dive or snorkel alone; always with a buddy. But, I was in Guam alone and had nobody with which to swim. So, I donned my snorkel, mask and fins and went out alone. It is easy to lose track of time and location when snorkeling in such beautiful surroundings. And that’s exactly what happened.

After some time I noticed that while I was snorkeling north, the sandy bottom told me the current was taking me west. I looked up and confirmed that the current had taken me to the north end of the bay and I was headed out to sea. The fear really set in when I saw an enormous bed of Staghorn coral in my path. It looked as if my body would be ripped to shreds. My fear turned to panic. 

My first reaction was to swim against the current like a madman. The current was too strong and took me backward, closer to the Staghorn coral. I remembered the protocol is not to swim against the current, but to swim across it. I tried that, but it didn’t work either. More panic set in. I had tried all the right moves but nothing worked. So I braced myself with my fins against the coral until I could figure out what to do.

After taking a couple of deep breaths and calming myself, the panic subsided and my mind was able to think clearly. I realized the water was only three feet deep. I simply stood up and walked out of the bay. Did I feel silly? Yes. And I still do. But I love this experience because it taught me something.

Fear is a natural response to a real or perceived future threat. The closer the future event, the more quickly the fear turns to panic. Here is the key. If we avoid the panic, fear actually helps us think more clearly. It acts as a stimulant sharpening the mind’s ability to think. The sooner we recognize panic, the sooner we can move through the panic phase and think clearly.

As silly as this snorkeling experience makes me feel, it was a good lesson. When faced with a new fear, I recall the image of myself walking out of the bay. That makes me laugh which calms me and helps in dealing with the current situation.

Next time you are faced with a fearful situation, take a few deep breaths and relax.  Remember, fear will help you make the right choices as long as you don’t allow it to turn to panic. If you don’t have a similar personal experience, recall my story and have a good laugh. This will help you deal with your current fear.

Original Publication - Meta Arts Magazine – October, 2010  

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