What to Do When You’re Panicking Because You Can’t Make a Decision

“No one saves us but ourselves. We alone must walk the path.” ~Buddha

I got a frantic message from a friend last night.

Everything was going wrong—her job, her relationship, her life—and she didn't know what to do.

“Help me, please,” she kept saying. “I don’t know what to do.”

I tried hard to stifle a giggle. I know, completely inappropriate. But I found it really funny.

Why? Because I’m the last person anyone should be asking for advice. If I knew what to do, if I knew how to help her, I'd have:

  1. implemented this a long time ago in my own life to solve issues that I, myself, have been grappling with
  2. created a website and published a book and video tutorials with the answer
  3. bought my own island in the Caribbean just from the proceeds of the book sales (I'd give the money from my website ad sales and video to charity, obvs)

I'd be rich, because this is what every human being confronts at some point in their lives—what should I do?!

We all hate the unexpected. We all hate uncertainty. These situations usually mean we haven’t gotten what we want or things aren’t going as we wanted them to go. We know we need to make a decision. We know we need to do something. But making a decision is hard, especially when things are uncertain.

In moments like this, we become frantic, we flail, we panic. I know because I’ve done all three. Several times.

And then we become obsessed with our problems. We think about them.

All. The. Time.

And then we think about them some more.

Sometimes my brain actually starts to ache from all this thinking and analyzing. We get exhausted, mentally, physically, and emotionally. And when we realize we are no closer to solving our problems or making a decision, we start becoming more frantic and we flail and panic even more.

So of course, it makes sense that we turn to others for answers at times likes this. Because in this moment, we are in no state to save ourselves. My friend is not an exception. Most of us have turned to others at some point or another.

I couldn’t give my friend any answers that night. I knew she wanted a specific solution to address her issues. But I didn’t have any. And here’s the scary news: no one does.

You are the only one who can save yourself. You are the only one who can solve your problem.

Hearing that probably wants to make you hide under your duvet and never come out.

I don’t know what to do, remember? How am I supposed to save myself?? I don’t even trust myself to change a light bulb!!

I hear you. And you can stop hiding now and jump out of bed, because here are three simple things you can do in times like this.

(Note: These three ideas aren’t solutions to your problem. But they help you, they help the situation, and they allow you to get to a place where you are better able to pin down the right decision.)

I know they might not seem like much, and it’s easy to dismiss them. It might even seem like I’m not taking your problem seriously. All I can say is that I’ve gone through these situations time and time again, and doing the things below has definitely helped me.

It stopped me from being completely consumed with my problem. It helped me create much-needed space and clarity.

Also, if you are being put out of balance by one part of you life, your best hope is to bring in some balance from another end.

What’s the alternative? Thinking more about the problem at hand?

We both know how that usually works out.

1. Be frantic, flail, panic … then get it out.

Whine to your amazing friends who listen to you patiently with nothing but love and empathy, even though you've been putting them through this time and time again.

Then go jogging, go to the gym, go for a swim. Write in a journal. Do something to get all that anger, resentment, fear, and pity out of you.

You're in over-active child mode right now—tire yourself out.

2. Go spend some time outdoors.

Go for a meander in the woods, walk along the ocean. Observe the birds in action, pay attention to the trees, watch the clouds in the sky. Basically spend some time in nature.

I'm not sure what it is, but there's something calming about nature. It slows us down. It tires us out (see point 1). It gives us perspective. It shows us that there is more to life than our problems and worries. Mary Oliver's beautiful poem, The Shore comes to mind;

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour
the waves are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable, what shall—
what should I do?
And the sea says in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

3. Do something else.

Worried about whether you should end a relationship? Go learn to play a new musical instrument.

Worried about how you are going to make your mortgage at the end of the month? Go volunteer at your local charity. Or:

  • Read something uplifting every morning, afternoon and right before going to bed
  • Watch YouTube clips that crack you up
  • Meditate
  • Write five things you are grateful for every morning
  • Start a new habit (i.e.: get up an hour earlier, drink more water)
  • Learn origami
  • Spend some time cleaning your closet
  • Offer to babysit for your friends (kids are amazing distracters!! It's hard to focus on your problems when you are constantly trying to keep them from falling over or hurting themselves.)

As humans who lead very human lives, mud gets thrown at us at some point or another. And when you stop flailing and panicking, when you calm down, when you focus on something else, you give the mud a chance to slide off and settle down; you allow the waters to get less murky. And things get clearer.

Maybe in this clarity you'll know what to do. Or maybe you will have made your peace with what’s happened.

More likely, you'll probably have moved on to something else and forgotten what was winding you up in the first place. Or something else might have happened to completely transform the initial situation.

That's the other thing about life. It’s full of surprises.

About Shoba Haridas

Shoba Haridas writes and blogs about her experience off the beaten path. She’s intent on creating a life on her own terms and she writes about making difficult decisions, slowing down, tackling uncertainty and interviews people who take the BIG leaps. Follow her on

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  • LaTrice Dowe

    I HATE panicking. Period. It sucks! I understand that life happens, and none of us can be prepared to expect the unexpected. Unfortunately, I can’t look into the future. For the worst case scenario, the only thing I can do is to remain positive.

    I’m extremely analytical about EVERYTHING, and determined to think through my decisions. I do ask for someone’s two cents, but in the end, I have the final say.

    Thank you for writing an excellent article, Shoba.

  • Bullyinglte

    Shoba – you hit on some very critical points in a very important piece. The only part I think I slightly disagree on is the idea to go ahead and panic. I feel, as adults, we can panic, but we don’t have to. When I first started working and didn’t know what to do, I would panic at every assignment. I’d probably panic and be frantic for an hour, complaining to my boss, etc. But the lesson I learned is…I just wasted an hour when I could have been working on the assignment.

    The more I matured, the more I realized that panic served me no purpose but to stress me and make me lose valuable time. I feel that time is our most valuable commodity. Let’s face it, it’s limited. I learned to use Mindfulness techniques (Yoga and Meditation) to learn to calm my mind. I also “grew up” so that I would try to react with my Adult Brain instead of my Child Brain (that is where that panic is coming from).

    Today, I rarely panic, unless it is a super big problem that I can’t figure out. I think that, while there is a tendency for people to want to panic, we can teach ourselves through Mindfulness not to panic. Just my two cents.

  • Hi Shoba..

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. realizing that we ourselves are the ones to move through our dilemmas….our friends maybe able to listen, empathize, but we are the ones to work with our mind.

    One of your distracters is:

    “Offer to babysit for your friends (kids are amazing distracters!! It’s hard to focus on your problems when you are constantly trying to keep them from falling over or hurting themselves)”

    I wonder if preventing kids from falling over encourages them to depend on others rather than to experience the fall, move through it, get up. or enjoy being on the ground and explore. This action may teach children that they need others to fix things…which is the opposite of what you suggest is beneficial. Falling down, being hurt is not a problem. It is a part of life. the physical pain eventually disappears. the memory of how others around us react, interact or don’t imprints our minds.

    enjoy, linnaea

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Yes, it’s always good to let the steam out first and not make decisions in the heat of the moment. We tend to want to make many decisions in a rush and just move on with the consequences.

    In a frantic environment, it’s important to remember to take a step back, chill out, then make a decision with a clearer head.

    Thank you for your great post!

  • Linzi Clark

    Some great insights here – ironically, getting out of your head is the best way for solutions to reveal themselves, the endless spiral of worry is a never ending road.

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  • When nothing seems to be going our way, it always works to just breathe and pause, do something else, and let things settle a bit, and unfold by itself. As long as we stay centered and grounded, the energy will flow.

  • Thank you, so appropriate for me today, when I feel like a hamster on a wheel, my mind spinning over the same issues. I need this reminder that it’s time for action, to embrace every day. Blessings to you!

  • Another strategy, which helped me a lot in such situation is described in the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron ( ):

    1) Take 3 pages (pages, not sheets) of paper, A4 or similar in size.

    2) Then write down whatever comes to your mind, until 3 pages are filled.

    Extra credit: Do it with your left-hand if you are right-handed, or vice-versa.

    3) Do this for at least a couple of days, ideally – for 40 days.

    Writing down your inner monologue (or polylogue) gets useless thoughts out of your system so that good ones (solution oriented, creative ones) can come in.

    Some people call this method “sewer for the soul”.

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  • Krithika Rangarajan

    Your words ripple with honesty and humor – lov. Thanks Shoba <3


  • Donna Jenkins

    The physical condition of panic attacks is different from panicking over our day to day life issues. I, however, am very impressed with this blog and some of the comments. Learning how to prevent panicking can be difficult. 1st suggestion “Just do something different!” Obviously thinking about the fact that you are panicking is what I like to call “snowballing”. I myself have only suffered from just a few real panic attacks. One of the suggestions to learn mindfulness is very good, there is also several grounding techniques, simple forms of meditation, and breathing techniques, but I so love the idea of physical exhaustion. One of my childhood ways of clearing my mind was to walk in one direction, it does not matter how fast or slow, just walk until you feel as if you can’t take another step, then turn around and walk back. You will be surprised how much clarity you will have on the walk back. I believe is was His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama said: “Just as we are responsible for the circumstances in which we find ourselves in, it is up to us, to find our own release.” (this is not an exact quote) Remember, no one can do this for you. For the path to self actualization is not at the end of your journey, it’s the journey itself. Enjoy- galewinds