Is Anyone Here Naturally Calm?

 

Causes-of-Panic-AttacksLadies and Gentlemen of Ricochet, your ordinarily affable morning-in-Paris editor just had a complete meltdown.

Before anyone gets concerned, let me assure you: nothing is wrong. Nothing. No one was shooting at me. No large animal was trying to eat me. There was no fire or famine at the door. I’m in a warm, quiet apartment in the heart of a developed city. There is nothing wrong (beyond my usual concerns about the state of the world).

Except that I tried to update my OS and it didn’t go so well. In fact, it seems to have killed my ancient but usually affable Mac. So I’m typing this on my backup computer, which is very slow and too old to run all the programs I usually use. I can’t get on Slack to chat with the other editors, although I’ve alerted them by e-mail to my temporary incapacity. I’m worried that whatever I’ve done wrong will be expensive to fix.

That’s all that’s wrong. And all of that is is — objectively — what normal people think of as a nuisance, not an emergency, right?

Even as the screen went black and the computer died, I knew, rationally, that this was not a real emergency. I knew that even in a worst-case scenario — even if I’d really, permanently killed my computer (and I probably hadn’t) — everything was backed up. I knew the other editors’ lives did not, in fact, depend on my being on Slack. I even knew they were probably safely abed and completely unworried about me. I knew I could make this right by walking ten blocks to the Apple Store and spending money. Heck, I’ve been needing a new computer for a long time, it might even be fun to get a new one. So nothing about this is a big deal: It can all be fixed. Would that all the world’s problems could be fixed so easily, right?

There was really no good reason at all for my amygdala to send that kind of distress signal to my hypothalamus this morning. But it did. And off to the races it went, telling my adrenal glands to dump epinephrine into my blood and start pushing it to my muscles and heart. Pulse and blood pressure flew up. (Or so I assume, based on what I’ve read about the stress cascade; I wasn’t actually monitoring any of this. Subjectively, though, I pretty much felt the way I assume one would right before being devoured by a shark.)

I’ve calmed down now.

But it took about three hours to talk myself off that ledge, and I’m annoyed with myself. That whole unpleasant this-is-an-emergency internal drill was entirely unnecessary. It didn’t fix the problem and it made me unpleasant to be around. (There’s no one else in my apartment, but I’m capable of being just as annoyed with myself as I would be with anyone else who was pointlessly freaking out over nothing.) And it’s really uncool. I hate being uncool.

I don’t tend to freak out like this, by the way, in real emergencies. When those happen, I get cold and functional until whatever it is has been dealt with, after which I get depressed. If this had been a real emergency, I’d have probably coped just fine; then I’d have filed three impeccably-proofread columns about how I narrowly avoided being devoured by a landshark, submitted the invoices, and collapsed into exhaustion and depression for weeks. But computer emergencies — and other small stresses like misplaced keys and unpaid bills — make me freak out in a way real problems don’t.

Why? Is the problem that I conduct so much of my life online that somehow my brain has really confused my ability to connect at high-speed to the Internet with my ability to breathe? Is the problem some other, deeper, existential anxiety that gets displaced into something trivial because I can’t confront the real problem?

Insight, anyone? Are any of you the same way? If so, have you been able to change it?

I’ve often suspected that the naturally calm people who instinctively say things like, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” are just biologically different, and that it isn’t realistic for me to expect my personality to change all that much.

But perhaps someone here has become better at dealing with life’s smaller stresses.

If so, do you have any advice for me?

(PS: Think twice before installing El Capitan. Just sayin.’)

 

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  1. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Howdy. Glad to hear things are back to nermal :-)

    • #1
  2. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    a) I’m sure your Rico fans would gladly pitch in to help you get the best computer money can buy. Even two of them to assuage any Computer-Outage-Anxiety (COA in therapist speak).

    b) You need a man in your life. Someone to buck you up, with a shoulder to rest your frazzled head on, etc., etc., Cats just won’t stoop to such undignified behavior I am told.

    Case solved. Who’s my next appointment?

    • #2
  3. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Rent is paid? Got money for food? Utilities all working? The rest is gravy. You’re probably displacing legit freak-out from too-important-to-go-sideways things into harmless opportunities to freak out over things like this. Computers can be especially frustrating because you’re never further than an internet post away from somebody telling you that if you had only done Thing X first, you buckethead, you wouldn’t have this trouble now. So it goes.

    I’ve been struggling for months (i.e., I have all but given up) moving my beautiful 2009 MBP off of Snow Leopard. My iPhone still runs 6.0.1 (and works fine, than you very much).

    So rock on. You’ll be fine, meltdown included.

    • #3
  4. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Manfred Arcane:a) I’m sure your Rico fans would gladly pitch in to help you get the best computer money can buy. Even two of them to assuage any Computer-Outage-Anxiety (COA in psychiatry speak).

    b) You need a man in your life. Someone to buck you up, with a shoulder to rest your frazzled head on, etc., etc., Cats just won’t stoop to such undignified behavior I am told.

    I was thinking I needed my mom.

    • #4
  5. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ball Diamond Ball:Rent is paid? Got money for food? Utilities all working? The rest is gravy.

    Exactly. I agree, rationally, 100 percent.

    You’re probably displacing legit freak-out from too-important-to-go-sideways things into harmless opportunities to freak out over things like this.

    Probably.

    Computers can be especially frustrating because you’re never further than an internet post away from somebody telling you that if you had only done Thing X first, you buckethead, you wouldn’t have this trouble now. So it goes.

    I’ve been struggling for months (i.e., I have all but given up) moving my beautiful 2009 MBP off of Snow Leopard. My iPhone still runs 6.0.1 (and works fine, than you very much).

    So rock on. You’ll be fine, meltdown included.

    Thanks. It’s unnerving to my pride to lose it over high-speed Internet access, but yeah, no lasting harm done.

    • #5
  6. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Causes-of-Panic-AttacksLadies and Gentlemen of Ricochet, your ordinarily affable morning-in-Paris editor just had a complete meltdown.

    I’ve often suspected that the naturally calm people who instinctively say things like, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” are just biologically different, and that it isn’t realistic for me to expect my personality to change all that much.

    Dear Claire. Being of similar temperament, I regret that I must agree with your statement regarding biology. So much of us comes forward with the genes. Therefore be gentle with yourself. This acceptance also aids me in being patient with my fellow beings who don’t carry on the way I think they should.

    • #6
  7. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Manfred Arcane:a) I’m sure your Rico fans would gladly pitch in to help you get the best computer money can buy. Even two of them to assuage any Computer-Outage-Anxiety (COA in psychiatry speak).

    b) You need a man in your life. Someone to buck you up, with a shoulder to rest your frazzled head on, etc., etc., Cats just won’t stoop to such undignified behavior I am told.

    I was thinking I needed my mom.

    Ummm, well no, that would be the proper prescription for your earlier years. For a mature, ripe women of your stripe the medicine changes.

    • #7
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Trink: Dear Claire. Being of similar temperament, I regret that I must agree with your statement regarding biology.

    All the evidence (from twin studies) seems to be on the side of huge amounts of personality being genetically determined. And everyone in my family is wired up a bit weird — which has a positive and a negative side. But it seems fatalistic to say, “None of this is under my control” — and that answer doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for free will, either. Does it?

    • #8
  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Manfred Arcane: For a mature, ripe women of your stripe the medicine changes.

    Because there’s nothing a man loves more than dealing with a mature, ripe woman who’s totally freakin’ out over nothing, right?

    • #9
  10. Hugh Member
    Hugh
    @Hugh

    One of the greatest skills in life is the ability to secure your sense of panic and start the process of developing a solution or workaround. Sure, that panic is still there in the background but with a plan it soon becomes a sense of urgency and then eventually a concern about the implementation of the solution.

    i find this works with depression as well (lots of depressed folks with panic attacks). Once you work on the plan to improve your situation the panic subsides and your sense of depression with it.

    I think the brain must like solving problems or maybe it it just re-directs the processing capacity from one function (panic) to another (solution).

    Sorry, bit of a ramble. It’s early.

    • #10
  11. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Manfred Arcane: For a mature, ripe women of your stripe the medicine changes.

    Because there’s nothing a man loves more than dealing with a mature, ripe woman who’s totally freakin’ out over nothing, right?

    You’d be surprised. It makes us feel useful, you see. We being the solid, imperturbable (Ok, with a little tincture of obdurateness thrown in) sex.

    • #11
  12. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: If so, do you have any advice for me?

    Just a bit of insight.

    Whenever the car blew up or the furnace, my husband was always calm, and I was always a wreck.

    Then the babies came along. He freaked out, and I was the calm one.

    The reason was really simple: He understood cars and furnaces and knew what to do. I had spent a great deal of time reading and talking to the pediatrician and nurses so I had a better sense of what was really an emergency and what wasn’t.

    When you feel you are in control of the situation, you feel calm.

    When you don’t, you get nervous.

    That’s just human, and it’s true for everyone.

    • #12
  13. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I wonder if there is some deep biological need to exercise those fight or flight, adrenaline pumping responses just to keep them sharp. We live in such a safe world that real opportunities to use these natural skills are almost extinct, and, to top it off, we’ve trained ourselves to handle real emergencies with a hyper rationality so as to make those more instinctual reactions less effective. And yet our bodies and minds require us to sometimes make an exceptionally big deal of something.

    I don’t think you’re at all unusual in this instance. I can be in the kitchen and nearly sever a finger with nary a freak out. Rather, I instantly create a mental checklist of all the appropriate first aid steps to stop the bleeding, begin going through the appropriate actions, and evaluate the digit for further medical treatment. But, let the skillet I need be dirty and STFB.

    • #13
  14. Capt. Aubrey Inactive
    Capt. Aubrey
    @CaptAubrey

    I am impatient, short-tempered and easily distracted so I often turn into a grumpy old man when my young sons are impatient, short tempered and easily distracted. The good news is my wife is calm and easy going and they get it her too! That makes me laugh.

    • #14
  15. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    I understand completely. I get all panicky when my computer goes haywire. Last year on a relatively new computer I forgot the password I put in (without having an administrator’s password) and I could not retrieve my files and I had not backed my files up. I couldn’t get in there and both HP and Microsoft informed me there was nothing to do but clean the hard drive out and lose all my stuff. I was so f’n furious. Luckily the computer was new and I didn’t have a lot of stuff on it yet. There’s something about computer issues that drive me mad.

    • #15
  16. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    MarciN: When you feel you are in control of the situation, you feel calm. When you don’t, you get nervous.

    Yes. There’s something about computer problems that gets me in a deep way because I know my competence to solve them is very limited. I don’t deeply understand what’s going on with them — but deeply understand how dependent upon them I am.

    • #16
  17. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    MarciN: When you feel you are in control of the situation, you feel calm. When you don’t, you get nervous.

    Yes. There’s something about computer problems that gets me in a deep way because I know my competence to solve them is very limited. I don’t deeply understand what’s going on with them — but deeply understand how dependent upon them I am.
    Yes, that’s it: competence to fix it is limited and so we panic.

    • #17
  18. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    The King Prawn: I don’t think you’re at all unusual in this instance. I can be in the kitchen and nearly sever a finger with nary a freak out. Rather, I instantly create a mental checklist of all the appropriate first aid steps to stop the bleeding, begin going through the appropriate actions, and evaluate the digit for further medical treatment. But, let the skillet I need be dirty and STFB.

    That’s exactly what I’m talking about. And glad I’m not the only one. It’s an interesting idea — we’ve trained ourselves not to freak out if the stakes are genuinely high; but perhaps the brain needs to go through a regular drill every now and again? I’ve never physically or mentally practiced “getting through a computer problem” in the way I’ve practiced “surviving an earthquake.” It would probably help, next time it happened. But if the theory’s right (that the brain needs to freak out over something, every now and again), then I’ll start freaking out over a dirty skillet.

    • #18
  19. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    The problem is that people today are so desperate to believe that they are doing something. We really aren’t doing anything. We’ve passed that point. We should be enjoying the fact that our work is all unnecessary nonsense. But for some reason we can’t handle that. So we pretend our nonsense is important and any time the mask gets ripped off we freak out because it reveals just how unimportant we are.

    Once you discover this is all nonsense everything will make sense and you’ll calm down.

    • #19
  20. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Casey:The problem is that people today are so desperate to believe that they are doing something. We really aren’t doing anything. We’ve passed that point. We should be enjoying the fact that our work is all unnecessary nonsense. But for some reason we can’t handle that. So we pretend our nonsense is important and any time the mask gets ripped off we freak out because it reveals just how unimportant we are.

    Once you discover this is all nonsense everything will make sense and you’ll calm down.

    That’s an interesting idea, too — and it’s kind of compatible with the idea that the brain just needs to freak out regularly to keep itself prepared. I wonder if we need to persuade ourselves, unconsciously, that having our computer work is a matter of life-and-death because the alternative is realizing that whatever we’re doing with them isn’t a matter of life-and-death, which would make the time we’re spending on them seem meaningless?

    • #20
  21. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Trink: Dear Claire. Being of similar temperament, I regret that I must agree with your statement regarding biology.

    But it seems fatalistic to say, “None of this is under my control” — and that answer doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for free will, either. Does it?

    My friend, a pediatrician, and I – go round and round on this. As one of 7 children, I’ve landed heavily on the side of genes. Of course we choose . . . but how freely and within how broad a range of choices . . well . . .

    • #21
  22. Barkha Herman Inactive
    Barkha Herman
    @BarkhaHerman

    I am one of these people who genuinely does not “get” freaking out. What is the advantage? Does it help? In my case, it does not. To me, it seems like a waste of time at best, and downright destructive at worst.

    Do I loose composure? Sure. Do I need to sometime go shoe shopping? Yes. The short time advantage of this behavior is the high of acquisition; and the long term advantage is an awesome wardrobe. But the panic, immobilization and negative thought indulgence does not make much sense; to me they seem a lose lose proposition. That is not to say that they would not work for others.

    On genetics, while I agree generally, both Ken and I are calm to the point of stoicism; while my son inherited this trait, much to our dismay – my daughter has the panic gene. The best thing to do is allow her time and be a devil’s advocate. Seems to snap her out of the panic mode when I agree that her life is indeed over because she lost her favorite pen (or some such crisis).

    On the negatives of calm, is that my life is not half as adventurous and full of quest as hers. I see her life as a Calvin comic strip – her world is so much more interesting – with Dinosaurs in staff rooms and worlds colliding and tigers for companions etc. It does not surprise me, then, Claire, that you live in just such exciting world.

    • #22
  23. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it – I freak out when my computer starts crashing too, but I’m realistic enough to know that it’s probably not that different than another type of junkie’s drug dealer being arrested.

    Sure, I could go to that other purveyor down the street (my phone) – but it’s just not the same!

    • #23
  24. Scott R Member
    Scott R
    @ScottR

    My guess, Claire: at some subconscious level the stimulation of your freak-out feels good, just as a two-year-old is subconsciously enjoyably stimulated by his own tantrum, even though he’s miserable.

    Try upping your caffeine intake, or even adding a Nicorette here and there, to increase your baseline stimulation, so your brain will be less inclined to boost that baseline by other — sometimes irrational or annoying or even destructive — means.

    • #24
  25. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    anonymous:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: (PS: Think twice before installing El Capitan. Just sayin.’)

    Here is wisdom; take heed. This is my experience installing El Capitan on a 2009-vintage Mac Pro.

    Wow. Just read that. Yes, if that’s been your experience after doing this stuff for fifty years, how indeed would someone like me get this stuff to work?

    I think this makes me feel much better. Suggesting that indeed, part of the panic is a sense of painful incompetence. If this happened to you, too, perhaps the problem isn’t me. Maybe I can blame someone else for it!

    Although I still blame myself for trying to install it without having as many backups as I needed — not of the data, but backup computers. It didn’t occur to me that the computer might just die completely.

    Whenever something like this happens, I don’t feel panic (I have multiple, layered backups, and in the worst case I can just junk the machine and load everything onto a new one), but exasperation at the wasted time. I always find myself exclaiming (usually to myself, in a low mutter, but also to anybody else within range), “I’ve been doing this stuff for almost fifty years. I’ve written three operating systems from scratch. I’ve built an application used by more than a million people. If I can’t get this stuff to work, how do people who haven’t wasted their lives as I’ve wasted mine have any hope of doing it?”

    And, no, the second monitor still isn’t working.

    • #25
  26. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    I am typically at least one system behind on Mac upgrades. As much as I love Macs, I don’t rust their system upgrades until they’ve been vetted for a year or more. I’ve already received word from a 3rd-party software company that their music plug-ins are not working on El Capitan.

    • #26
  27. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    We’re all gonna die!

    • #27
  28. Barkha Herman Inactive
    Barkha Herman
    @BarkhaHerman

    Mike LaRoche:We’re all gonna die!

    If this motivates people to do great things in the time they have, Panic!!!

    • #28
  29. katievs Member
    katievs
    @katievs

    You’ve just had a close encounter with the extreme contingency of human life. No wonder you freaked out!

    • #29
  30. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Manfred Arcane: For a mature, ripe women of your stripe the medicine changes.

    Because there’s nothing a man loves more than dealing with a mature, ripe woman who’s totally freakin’ out over nothing, right?

    Um. It is a package deal.

    • #30

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