Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Near Panic

Written by: on October 26, 2022

The morning I left on my trip to Africa, I was in a state of near panic. I had an hour and half from my drop off at the airport curbside until I needed to get to the gate where my plane would be waiting to take me to Newark, New Jersey.  I did not think that the airport would be busy on a Sunday morning, but I was wrong.  After I checked in my bag and I was looking for the correct security line, airport attendants saw the swelling crowds and took a group of twenty, running, to a special security line.  I joined this group, moving as quickly as I could with a carry on. In this process I was able to get ahead of a family of three. Arriving at the security gate line is when panic thoughts went to a new level. The family of three was directly behind me with the father notably agitated, the young adult son breathing hard, and the mother using loud foul language. The father was silent when the mother screamed, “Can’t you do something? Why can’t we let people know that we have a son who is autistic?”  I couldn’t help but think, “Kristy, you are the therapist, you help people like this, and it is your job to stay calm.”  The mother continued to talk about the departure time of their flight, and this was after I was due to be on my plane.  They were more freaked out then me and I had less time than them. Push came to shove, and I bee lined past fifty people to get to the front of the security line and the family ended up trailing behind me.  I took this bold move, but it did not come before a war ensued in my mind.

Daniel Kahneman introduces many concepts about how people think in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.  His position is widely accepted that brains operate with two systems in motion: The first system is fast thinking where ideas are quickly assimilated without much effort and the second system is slower in processing and is more deliberate in making judgements. [1] Marcus Warner, in RARE Leadership, explains fast and slow thinking and describes how fast thinking takes place in the prefrontal cortex (PFC).  Warner provides a list (not exhaustive) of the many functions of the PFC. To describe my experience at the SFO the morning I left for Africa, I will use this list as a guide. [2]   I will include many of the thought processes that I had personally, with observations of those around me. I hope to illustrate how my fast thinking was predominately in effect.

  • Identity (what do I and my people do under these conditions)

I was traveling alone and had no one else to look to for decision making assistance.  From getting into line until I boarded the plane, decision making was completely up to me.

  • Personal preferences (what values reflect who I am)

It is my preference to make decisions quickly, I often take pride and security in this.  It was taking everything in me to be patient in line and to wait for a “boiling point” in making the decision to cut in line.

  • Moral and social behavior

Cutting in line was a risk because I ran the chance of making 50 people very angry. Condemnation and ridicule were my fear.  I had to tell myself that I would never see these people again in my life.

  • Comparing how I am doing over time

The time crunch narrowed my options and needing to get through the security line meant I had another distance in reaching my gate. I didn’t know how long this would take me.

  • Calming upsets in myself and others

Standing in line with others who were panicking while having a later departure time was unnerving, but I was attempting to keep my cool.  I knew I needed to stay calm even if others around me were not.

  • Figuring the least damaging situation

I figured I would hold up my ticket and let people know my departure time as an excuse for my rude behavior, cutting in line.  I hoped this would promote a forgiving position towards me.

  • Predicting a negative outcome

A negative outcome was incredibly motivating to me as I did not want to miss my connecting flight to Cape Town in Newark.  My husband had worked hard to secure my travel plans and I did not want this to come to a negative end.

  • Feeling appreciation

The mother of the family who had been behind me thanked me while putting her belt and shoes on after getting through security. She said, “I don’t know what we would have done if you didn’t start cutting in line.”  I did not have time to talk with her, but I gave her a reassuring look.

Assessing this fast paced, nerve tingling morning, I wonder how my brain was able to operate in fast and slow thinking.  Much of my fast thinking was operating but I am grateful for the slow thinking that kept me in check and helped me problem solve. In Robert Cialdini’s book Influence the Psychology of Persuasion, he explains a lever of influence.  “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor, we will be more successful if we provide a reason.” [3] Unknowingly, I used this lever while I was cutting through a line of fifty people by letting those around me become aware of my flight time.  I was grateful to have my wits about me enough to not embarrass myself, impact others positively despite my selfish motives and influence others with a bit of reason.  I made it to the gate for my flight to Newark and to my final destination: Cape Town Africa, phew!


[1] Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, 2011, p.20-21

[2] Rare Leadership, Marcus Warner, and Jim Wilder, 2016, p.37

[3] Influence the Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, 2021 p.4

About the Author

Kristy Newport

2 responses to “Near Panic”

  1. Michael O'Neill says:

    I love your honesty and humbleness, Kristy. I think everyone can relate to this type of situation. This is a perfect example of thinking fast and slow and the title says a lot. In regard to “panic,” how do you consult people in times of panic? Do you draw more on your leadership background or counseling?

    Thank you.

  2. Kristy Newport says:

    Hello Michael,
    Thank you for reading my post! I love this question!

    When my clients are panicking(having a panic attack) or wanting to lessen their anxiety, I am needing to where both hats: leader and counselor. I do not believe these roles are mutually exclusive.
    First, I must be calm myself. This is possibly the most important thing I can do. I role model calm for my client.
    Second, Breathing. Focusing on breathing is top priority. When the body can regulate breathing, it can begin to regulate thinking.
    Third, Grounding techniques. Grounding techniques are very simple. They help the client focus on where they are and what they are experiencing around them without being overwhelmed. It may begin with statements/observations like: I am standing on pavement. I can see “….” in front of me.

    In my mind-often I am praying. The different prayers I pray are similar to sending up flares for help.

    Have you ever assisted someone in the gym who has blacked out? My interventions would be similar to this.
    Thank you for probing how I might do things clinically. I appreciate your curiosity.

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