My mom was stuck alone in an elevator for about an hour the other day. She said she’d been uncomfortable and nervous but generally ok and added that it was better her than one of her friends who’d have had a complete meltdown in the same situation. What if it was something more life threatening?
So, what’s better “staying calm” or “not panicking?” By staying calm your sense of urgency might be tamped down too much. Often you’ll need to do things more quickly than normal to deal with a bad situation.
Let’s say you’re flying a plane, and there’s a big problem. You’ll need to check gauges, flip switches, and turn knobs more rapidly than normal. And do it all while probably communicating as well.
“Don’t panic” is the better state of mind than “stay calm.” Panicking brings on the fight or flight response and stress and you’re just reacting and not able to access your higher level thinking. In a bad situation it’s good to be able to react with good judgement, so panicking is usually not a useful response.
Soldiers training for special forces can be taught all the mechanics of their jobs and be physically in top shape, but they can’t be taught “Don’t panic.” That’s really what it comes down to: thinking under stress and not panicking. If that mindset is not already baked in for a candidate, that soldier probably won’t make it through the training no matter how fit or sharp.
So don’t panic and you’ll probably have a better outcome.