Happened across an excellent article: "Panic! How It Works and What to Do About It." It's by legendary interface designer Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini, but it's mostly not really about design; it's about panic situations in the real world, and especially in situations like SCUBA diving and small-airplane piloting.
I've learned, sadly, that I'm totally useless in an emergency. I freeze up. I start thinking things like "I know there's something you're supposed to do in this situation; I wonder what it is?" It's common for people to say that everything goes into slow motion in an emergency, but for me everything speeds up; the situation is generally over before I have a chance to react, even mentally.
Tog suggests that repeated experience of simulated panic situations can help; that may well be true. But I think for me, my usual risk-averseness probably serves me in good stead. If you know your car doesn't perform well enough to get you out of dangerous situations, then you can work on avoiding getting into dangerous situations. And I think the same goes for brain performance.
Of course, dangerous situations can happen no matter what you do. I've been in several of them despite my best efforts. But I now think it's probably just as well that I gave up on motorcycling and never pursued piloting (after getting through ground school).
I sure would like to try hang gliding some day, though. But I'll probably stick to the equivalent of bunny slopes.