I found an interesting article that talks holding eye contact with hysterical citizens as one of the most effective methods police officers can use to calm people down.
It completely makes sense of course if you stop to think about it. I remember one time paddling out with a group of friends. A member of the group froze up when we came to some chop and she promptly flipped. Trying to get her to calm down wasn't working until I got her to look at me in the face. That took her eyes off the waves and she calmed down right away.