Scott Hanselman

Try time-boxed panics

March 09, 2021 Comment on this post [3] Posted in Musings
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panicMy mom is very clever and thoughtful and when I was in my early teens and easily overwhelmed and generally freaking out or panicky she'd say, "feel it. Be here. What is your body telling you. Freak out fully but put a time limit on it."

This idea of "time-boxed freak outs" has always stuck with me. A few times a year I get overwhelmed. I think we all do to some extent. Often I'd try to fight it, don't cry, don't get overwhelmed.

But I remembered what my Mom said and I started being present in the freak out. I'd set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and REALLY own it. Get upset, cry, and not feel bad about it.

I deserve the release and by time-boxing it, it allowed me to own it and accept it. I can ramp up, and then ramp down. I've found this to be far more healthy than trying to swallow feelings and hold it in. Sometimes it needs to be OK to go and cry in your car in the parking lot.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I'm a random person and this is my random blog. This advice works for me and has worked for others, but know yourself and talk to a therapist if you are having uncontrollable panic attacks or feel unsafe. If this doesn't sound helpful, be present and be safe.

I tweeted about this idea and found a number of replies that also found this technique helpful. Here are some anonymized quotes:

“time boxed panic” I love it. Don’t skip the feelings. You can’t. You just defer them often to disastrous results. Sit with the discomfort a while. The way out is through.


Great advice. For some reason, we have been taught to suppress emotions, not to let things get to us and to not panic. And unfairly, men in particular have been encouraged not to show emotion. But it is a natural human response. Give yourself permission to feel & time box it.


This is a phenomenal idea. I would add, if you could add a few more minutes, take a walk away from whatever is stressing to clear your head. Sometimes being away from what is causing the stress can help as a reset.

and finally

You don't even have to cry or freak out. Just give yourself a time box to sit, stare, and clear your mind. No phones, no distractions. We have too much swirling in our heads.

Again, as with all random internet advice, you are under no obligation to do anything you don't feel is safe for you. However, some have found this helpful. I also recorded a TikTok about it that is just 1 minute long:


I hope it helps you. Be well!

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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March 13, 2021 13:55
Hi Scott. That is the essence of mindfulness. A non-judgmental observation of your thoughts and feelings.
March 13, 2021 22:14
Hey, Scott: this post and especially the video is really strong and helpful, and I just wanted to say thank-you for putting it up. Cheers, Alasdair
March 15, 2021 17:20
I like this idea - in fact I've used it myself. In the first weeks of the pandemic, my job disappeared. I told myself I had that night to feel sorry for myself, scream, shout, stuff my face with chocolate etc, then the next day I was going to get on the job hunting horse and sort myself out, but that night was about behaving like a spoilt brat if I needed to.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.