A recent post on the Cape Dory message board motivates me to write this. The post was a question of how to quickly reef, from the cockpit presumably. The writer noted that in unexpected high winds, he couldn't leave the tiller and still maintain control of the boat.
Heaving to, essentially depowering your boat in otherwise overpowered conditions, is a basic, save-your-life sort of skill. Back the jib/Genoa, adjust the trim of the main, lash the tiller, and frenzy turns to calm, giving you time to think, time to reef, time to check the chart, time for lunch.
Boats heave to differently, so it's worth experimenting with your boat to see what combinations of sails/rudder works best for you.
Practice on an easy day, in a place with sufficient sea room, and watch out for traffic. Heave to on a starboard tack and you'll have right of way most of the time.
As your boat takes care of itself, and you relax, count on at least one good Samaritan to come along and ask if you're okay.