A problem of panic


“Panic” by Liu Baomin (2008)

Have you ever had a problem where you know something is going to happen, and you visualize the worst possible outcome? I’ve had this happen before the Christmas holidays were over, due to having a lot college work and doing a lot of other stuff in the background, combined with contracting norovirus last week (trust me, it was a really nasty stomach virus for all concerned). All that while trying to enjoy the holidays pretty much led me to doing almost nothing related to college work, so I wound up panicking more than I should.

Anyway, it turns out there’s a word for what had happened to me. This mental and emotional habit is known as “catastrophizing”, where you habitually imagine the worst possible scenario for a situation that your mind is imagining to be far worse than it might actually be. It certainly sounds like something that’s happened with me. In fact, I can’t help but think that this problem occurs quite often with people aged between 16 and 25, especially in the context of a school, college or university setting, where looming assignment deadlines have people panicking over whether or not the tutors will have their asses on a platter for not doing the work on time. And then there’s the problem I frequently suffer – fearing that I haven’t done enough work at all, which debatably could be far worse.

Clearly there’s one thing those situations have in common. When we catastrophize, we are responding to what we don’t understand yet, and we ruminate on that constantly, which does nothing other than make an already tense mental situation worse, to the point that, in my case, it can lead to a somewhat brief, depressing inertia until I eventually start overworking myself to the point of exhaustion, followed by further inertia. It’s really depressing, but after the day passes, we get over it as though the panic never existed. In my case, when I started college again, I found out that much of the stress was caused by me as a result of having skipped a lot of time recovering from my holiday illness. After that, I felt relaxed enough to get back on my feet and start working again.

And there’s where the panic stops. As my experience has taught me, panic is immediately vanquished by confidence and experience, and I think this is true with most of us as well. We tend not to realize just how much we’ve been panicking and how it has affected our judgement until it’s too late. Too often we allow ourselves to be gripped by panic without even knowing it, and in my case, it kind of spoke to me about how little confidence I had in my own work, which isn’t too surprising because I’m presently working a huge major project in college as we speak. However, as this panic is slowly being replaced by confidence and vision, I find myself aware of my catastrophising tendencies, and able to overcome that panic, at least for now.


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