June 30, 2016

Post Panic

What does it mean to panic? The dictionary defines panic as a "sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior." Wikipedia clarifies the definition by stating,
Panic is a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking, replacing it with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frantic agitation consistent with an animalistic fight-or-flight reaction.
Panic, regardless of the definition, is a feeling, a sensation, that can unnerve even the most steady and stable person. I know. I suffer from panic attacks every so often. Sometimes the panic is so severe that I become incapacitated for a time, and other times, it is appears as a mild but lingering feeling that seems to never go away. I try hard not to panic -- er -- not to give into panic, yet sometimes I find myself swept away amidst a stream of panic-induced thinking. Why?

Thinking and Doubting

In order to understand the origins of panic, we have to analyze why we choose to panic in the first place. Typically, panic produces a "fight or flight" response in us, and serves as a stress-control mechanism to protect us from harm. If pushed to an extreme, we will either stand and fight or run away. Our loving God created this response so that we could flee circumstances that would harm us physically. It was a gift designed to keep us out of harms way or to give us the courage to stand and fight when the situation required it.

In our modern world, however, often our brains will signal for us to "flee" when we are overcome by other circumstances besides physical danger. We may panic when we are under emotional or mental stress as a result of some type of serious experience. We may find that we become conditioned to panic if we have lived in a prolonged state of stress. Victims of abuse or military action suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to their experience. They will find that they cannot control their desire to run away or to fight. Other people, simply allow panic to become a normal experience, and even when they are not situated in circumstances that place them in harm, will panic (suffer panic attacks).

For many of us, we panic as a precursor to running away. Therefore, panic is the first step in a process that leads us to one of these two outcomes. The key is to recognize why we panic. If we are not in serious danger, then we need to control our stress mechanism and not allow it to lead us to run away. Moreover, if we allow ourselves to be in a pre-panic state for too long, we can inadvertantly allow the process to develop. When we give in to those first "panic" signals, we will 'fan the flame' or 'feed the fire,' so to speak. Thus, the first step in controlling our response to flee is to check our thinking to make sure we are not giving "it" room to develop "panic thoughts." When we check our thinking by rationally analyzing our motivating fears, we can come to recognize the trigger or triggers that are leading us into a full-scale panic attack.

1. Thinking Negatively Begins the Process. Panic begins when we start to entertain thoughts that suggest that a particular outcome will be negative. Typically, panic begins to take hold once we consider the all of the possible negative scenarios that "could happen" as a result of an action or circumstance. Almost always panic presumes some irrational or illogical conclusion. More so, the process involved in determining these negative outcomes is based on faulty logic. We will use post-hoc fallacy such as correlation and causation to suggest an outcome. In laymen's terms, we will assume that just because two things occur at the same point in time they are related to one another. For example, we might say "every time I apply for a job, I am rejected." We are assuming that applying for jobs always equals rejection. The action in applying is directly related to the causal outcome of rejection. However, this logic is faulty. There could be many reasons why an application is rejected. The act of applying may be part of the process, but there is no determining link to the outcome. In philosophy and in argumentation, we call this reasoning "post propter ergo hoc" or post hoc.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin: "after this, therefore because of this") is a logical fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states "Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X." 
In short, we panic when we allow illogical thoughts to predominate our thinking. This thinking then creates irrational consequences for us. In almost all cases, the fear sensation is real, but the process that created the scenario is not. In many ways, when our circumstances entice us to panic, it is almost always the result of negative thinking that has caused a fault or error in our ability to conceive a true analysis and determine a more realistic, and yes, positive outcome.

Panic is induced by faulty logic.

The Sky is Falling!

Do you remember the story of Chicken Little?  This common folktale recounts the story of a chick who gets hit on the head by an acorn that has fallen from a tree. The chick runs around crying, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!" In the end, the chick is enticed by the sly fox to enter his den whereby he is eaten (I know, gruesome -- thats how people 200 years ago saw things). The moral of the story -- don't be foolish! It is not wise to believe everything you hear.

In other versions of the story, the moral turns toward courage rather than fear. In either ending, the theme is the same. Sometimes things are not as they seem. Whether an acorn or a leaf, the sky IS NOT FALLING nor is the end of the world imminent.

Sometimes when we doubt, we become like Chicken Little. We take one instance or occurrence of a phenomenon and turn it into wide-scale panic. We presume the worst when the facts run contrary. For example, just because a promised opportunity doesn't come to pass, does not mean that EVERY promised opportunity with do the same.

2. Giving In Rather Than Staying the Course. Albert Einstein is credited with saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. ~ Albert Einstein
Whether or not he actually said this phrase is speculative at best (some people say it was Ben Franklin, but again, that is not a proven fact). What is interesting, regardless, is the underlying premise. This statement presumes that doing the same thing over again and NOT expecting a different result is normal. This would lead one to believe that all actions should be perfectly executed the first-time because the first-time result would be expected to be best.

For example, it would suggest that an athlete doesn't need to practice to improve performance because there would be no justifiable reason to do so. Instead, athletes who train over and over again would be insane to expect to perform better through practice. Likewise, many scientists would not need "trials" or practice attempts in order to develop life-saving drugs, treatments or procedures. Insanity, therefore, would be the result of repeating behaviors with the HOPE that the practice would would lead to perfection (or some measured improvement).

In many ways, this line of thinking is at its core faulty, irrational, and ill-conceived. It can hardly be attributed to Albert Einstein, one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. I doubt we could say Benjamin Franklin said it either. He was known to have created inventions after many failures. The English idiom of "practice makes perfect" stems from older sayings of "use makes mastery" (c. 1560. Apparently, throughout history the belief that doing something over and over was practical, good, and proved a worthy endeavor (just an aside). Many people say that the insanity saying must be taken in context rather than on face value. They will suggest that perhaps he (Einstein) simply meant to say that a some point in time, the return on value diminishes (the law of diminishing returns), and thus, to continue past that point in time is "insane." Most of the time, we hear personal life coaches and others use this saying to encourage individuals to change their behavior. The idea is that if something isn't working, the solution is to change one's behavior. Again, either idea is fraught with illogical thinking. Sometimes the best course of action is to keep trying and to follow the "use makes mastery" approach. Other times, we need to consider the law of diminishing returns as our signal to make a change. Wisdom, consequently, should dictate change -- whether in thinking or in behavior.

3. Always Look for the Root Cause. When I am teaching my students how to write a causal analysis, I have them spend time analyzing causal relationships. Causal relationships are central to many problems we face today. My students find the process difficult, but the truth is that almost all circumstances or situations we face begin with some primary or mediating cause. If we take the time to understand causes and their relationships to variables or factors in our life, often we can short-cut our analysis and determine a wise and appropriate course of action to follow.

A good example is why we choose to change jobs. There can be many reasons for a job change: lack of pay, travel time to and from work, no room for advancement, hostile work environment, etc. Sometimes we change jobs because we are bored with the work we are asked to do. Other times, we change jobs because we want a different career path. Sometimes, though, we change jobs for reasons that appear to be clear on the surface, but underneath are prompted by motivations contrary to expected outcomes. Let me explain...

I recently applied to a job that was not in my current field. On the surface, the decision to change jobs seemed good. It was a practical move, predicated on two primary needs: income and stability. In analysis, the idea was a good one. The current job I have doesn't pay enough monthly and the work is not stable (permanent). Therefore, the practical, good, and rational course of action is to find a different job.

The job I applied for is something I can do (as in abilities). It aligns well with my experience, and my skills and abilities are well-suited to this type of work. The positive outcomes would be better pay, opportunity for advancement, and stability with a good company. The negative outcomes would be having to work full-time in an office, traveling on the freeway (perhaps 25-40 minutes each way), and limited time to complete my research and dissertation. In all, the opportunity is a good one, and the variables are both positive and negative in their scope. The compromise that is required is to determine what pros/cons I am willing to either accept or reject.

In converse, as an adjunct instructor (my current role), I am well-suited to the job now that I have three years of practical work experience. Furthermore, the job is positioned within my educational achievement (English and Communications). The positive outcomes of staying in my job for one or more semesters are freedom in schedule (time off each week), holidays and breaks, as well as choice of teaching assignments. The negatives include low pay, contracted work (not permanent), and no long-term security (work is as needed). Again, the decision comes down to the variables and the determination of what is acceptable to me regarding my work/lifestyle.

Internal Motivating Factors

I chose to look for another job this summer because I realized that my bank account was getting very low. I was worried that I would run out of money to pay my bills. The contracts I have set for fall are not sufficient to meet my needs, and even if I were to pick up another contract, I still would not have enough income to cover my monthly expenses. Furthermore, I was unsure of my financial aid package for fall, and I didn't know if I would be able to borrow loan money to offset some of my living expenses for the year. I didn't want to continue to borrow, racking up debt, and the fear of either defaulting on my loans or my credit cards/expenses sent me looking for a different type of work.

My underlying motivation was based in fear. Fear of losing control of my financial life and fear of what that might bring to me long-term (credit debt, bankruptcy, etc.) Moreover, secondary motivation was prompted by my Dad and his disapproval of my ability to pay my own way. He understands my desire to teach, to complete my PhD, but he also wants to know that he can manage living in the home we share. He cannot do it without my part of the expenses each month. I felt his disapproval, and my response was to look for work in order to resolve that tension. Additional motivation was based on other secondary needs. For example, my son needs a car to get to school in the fall. I cannot pay for a car, so getting a job that solves that problem seemed practical and rational. In all, my motivation determined my course of action. I allowed these internal motivators to cause me to panic, to forget who is responsible for my debts and my life (the Lord), and who is responsible for the steps I take. Now, I am not saying I am not responsible for my own debts, but what I mean to say is that the debts I have are related to school and not my overspending on miscellaneous things. My debt is part of God's plan for school, and while I am not saying He wanted me in deep debt, it was simply a by-product of graduate school. I had to work part-time to facilitate my studies. I had to take loans to facilitate my program. They are part of the process, so I do place the responsibility on the Lord for provision since I believe I am follow His will in this pursuit.

Thus, I can say that my panic produced action that resulted in my seeking a job outside of my current field. I attempted to change course in order to resolve the tension. My motivation to change jobs was not prompted by any rational reason, per se; rather it was prompted by my own feelings of fear of losing control, losing stability, and losing my sense of producing results. I envisioned a negative outcome instead of a positive one. I forgot to consider the options, and in doing so, I followed the wrong motivation.

The better motivation would have been to seek how to please the Lord. Had I said, "Lord, would leaving teaching now please you?" I probably would have heard Him say "remain still." My motivation could have been, "Lord, how can I serve you or others best?" In doing so, I would have been placing ministry above worldly situations, and thus, the answer may have been "stay put." You see, my motivation was based on panic, a flight or fight response and the need to please my earthly father and son. If my motivation had been based in faith, in order to please my heavenly Father and His Son, things would have turned out differently. Am I motivated toward pleasing God in all things or in satisfying my own self and my needs?
In Closing

As I think more about my life, about where I am today and where the Lord is leading me, one this is for sure: I am right where He wants me to be. I am sitting at this crossroads because it is His will for me to be in this place. I am in complete dependency upon Him for all my needs. I am sitting here trying to guess which way to go, and wondering why He isn't providing for me as I think He should. In truth, rather than asking "why haven't you resolved this problem yet" -- I should be asking the better question -- how can I please you today, Lord?

Dear Lord,

I am letting all of this go today and I am choosing instead to focus on your abilities and not my own. I am weak, frail, and filled with human pride. I try hard, but fail often. I want to do my best for you, but often I ended up trying to please other people. I want to focus on your work, your will, and as such, I am struggling to not fall apart. I ask today for clarification as to how I am to go, where I am to go, and what I am to do. I am seeking to serve you and serve others. I ask Lord that you will close the doors you want closed, and open the doors you want to be opened for me. Make my way clear, make my path smooth, and help me to make wise choices this good, good day. I ask all this in the Name of Jesus, my Lord and my Savior, Amen. So be it, thy will be done. Selah!

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