January 21, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
Drowning in the Atlantic
Keeping Your Cool In Moments of Panic and Anxiety
In 1994 we took a trip to Florida. Although I had visited Florida a few times, I had never been in the Atlantic Ocean; so we set aside a day to visit the beach.
The beach was almost completely empty the day we went. There had been some storms in the area during our visit, so it was a bit cloudy and dreary.
We kicked around the beach for a bit, and waded in the shallow water. I’m not a great swimmer, and I generally don’t enjoy spending a lot of time in water. That being said, I like to experience new things when opportunities arise. And the Atlantic was a new experience for me.
So after a while I decided it would be fun to go out a little farther where I could swim. I waded into the chilly water a little distance until I was about chest deep, and then I started swimming out.
After a few moments of paddling I stopped and looked back at shore. My feet couldn’t touch the bottom, so I treaded water for a moment enjoying the rising and falling waves. Then I decided to head back, so I put my head down and started paddling in.
After a minute or so I looked up to see how close I was, and strangely, it didn’t look like I was any closer to land. I put my feet down and I still couldn’t touch the bottom.
So I paddled toward the shore again, this time for a little longer and with a bit more intensity.
I looked back up, and not only wasn’t I getting closer, I seemed to be moving farther away. And still my feet didn’t touch.
It was a bit alarming.
Another moment of strokes and my arms started feeling weak and I was breathing more heavily. This was particularly unnerving because I was an experienced runner, so the feeling of exhaustion and being out of breath was unusual for me.
And still no closer to shore.
It was at this moment that I felt the undeniable sensation of panic. There are thousands of stories of people in similar situations who have drowned. Things can quickly go bad when facing the power of the ocean. My heart beat faster and my stomach turned as I imagined the water pulling me out to sea.
I took a few deep breaths and thought, “Do not panic.”
It’s impossible to say if I was truly in danger as far as the water was concerned. But responding to panic created by the human brain can cause its own danger in a situation like that. I knew that if I allowed myself to panic, fear would take over and I would almost certainly drown. Panic, like most emotions, clouds your judgment and it pushes logic and reason to the back seat.
So I put my head back for a moment and did my best to float and relax while the waves continued to push me around.
Something was happening in the water right there, I didn’t know what it was, but it was preventing me from moving toward shore. But I was certain of one thing; if you fight mother nature, you will lose. I knew that if all I did was paddle harder, I would wear out in a matter of minutes. That’s an ominous position to be in. I had to do something different.
My arms felt tired, but my legs felt strong, so I knew they could propel me.
I don’t know why this occurred to me, maybe I heard this strategy before, but rather than push straight back into shore I decided to move away from that area by swimming parallel to the shore. I thought of people I knew who had swam a mile or more in athletic events, this helped convince me that a long swim upshore was perfectly reasonable. I even told myself this could be a fun athletic adventure.
So I looked up at the shore again to get my bearings, then laid my head back down. I knew my psychology was critical in this moment so I decided to swim on my back so my mouth and nose would remain above water. I wanted to maintain the feeling of control. I needed the sensation that everything was fine, that my head was above water and that I was breathing at will.
I calmly started kicking upshore to the north. I used my arms sparingly so as not to exhaust them in case I needed them later. I also angled myself slightly toward land. After a moment I stopped and looked up, and although I didn’t appear to be getting any closer to shore, I seemed to be moving. This built my confidence. The tiny spark of adventure started displacing the feeling of concern. And I was able to keep the sensation of panic at bay.
Somehow over the next several minutes as I kicked and paddled parallel to the shore, I drifted closer and closer toward land.
I didn’t put my feet down because I didn’t want to feel the emptiness below me, so I just maintained a slow methodic pace.
I have no idea how long I was out there, but when I could see that I was making real progress toward land I began testing the bottom, and after a few tries I felt the sand. I finally pulled myself onto the beach and had a sense of humility I had never experienced before.
Here we are 30+ years later, and every month or so that experience comes rushing back into my consciousness; the sensations of panic and helplessness hit me all over again. To this day I still have to reframe the experience in my mind because those feelings can actually alter my mood.
Panic is an evolutionary development that likely began with animals hundreds of millions of years ago. You can even see rudimentary forms of this reaction today in lifeforms as basic as insects. The sensation of imminent danger and focusing your energy to quickly escape to safety.
There is no question that panic has saved the lives of innumerable creatures over the eons. But unfortunately for us, our brain often assigns the panic response when it shouldn’t.
It’s ironic that my life would have been in more danger had I responded to a sensation that was intended to keep me safe. Panic, anxiety and fear all play an important role in physical safety when we are confronted by something that can hurt or kill us. But as humans in the 21st century, we are rarely in true physical danger.
Our brain has a limited tool chest of automatic reactions, so it often assigns the tools it does have to situations where they can do more harm than good. Think of all the ways we feel panic, anxiety and fear today. The loss of a job, disease, environmental concerns, an upset boss, making a big mistake, politics, food, your physical appearance, financial problems, interpersonal conflict, etc. When those reptilian feelings of panic and anxiety are assigned to 21st century “problems” they can stop progress or even exacerbate the issue. Sadly, those reptilian reactions actually get in the way of advanced human capabilities like critical thinking, effective communication or logic. And if you indulge those feelings, they can destroy you.
Starting with that experience in the ocean, over the years I have trained myself not to be reactive. Not to let sudden emotions, feelings or anxiety control me. It’s not easy, and I’m not always perfect, but it has helped me socially, emotionally and financially many times.
A decision made in a moment of heightened emotion will be questionable, incomplete or simply poor.
What does this have to do with Audiomover? It’s pretty simple.
One of the things I enjoy about my business is its methodical nature. Although we want people to have a sense of urgency to get their cassettes, video tapes, etc. converted to digital, we don’t rely on emotional reactions in our sales or marketing. It’s not unusual for more than a year go by from the time someone first contacts us until they finally send in their project. This is particularly common for churches and government agencies.
I thoroughly enjoy the process of helping a client think through a project, discussing options, and presenting solutions they may not have considered. I spend hours on the phone with clients talking through choices, often encouraging them to pursue less-expense options that will work better for their situation. I think this methodical approach is one of the reasons that, after almost twenty years, we are still in business while most of our competitors have gone.
We encourage you to call and talk to us. We want to help you make the right decision for your needs.