At the End of the Rainbow

Question: You blogged recently about fear and I understand that it’s necessary to deal with fear on a long-term basis. But what can I do about moments of sheer panic?

Answer: Entrepreneurs frequently find themselves in situations where there is an opportunity to panic. It could be a situation where we must speak publicly. Or it might be an e-mail from our largest customer telling us that they are taking their business elsewhere. And it could be a personal situation – that phone call from the hospital telling us that a loved one has been injured. Of course we want in the worst way to avoid feelings of panic. We will try our darnedest to refrain from showing anyone else that we are in distress. But regardless, the feeling is there and at the time, it is the worst feeling in the world. Which brings us back to the original question – what do we do when we feel the wave of panic?

Just take a breath. Seriously. Taking slow deep breaths is the first order of business. Focus on breathing from the diaphragm. We’ve all heard this but may forget to do it when it’s most important. Getting oxygen to the brain is critical to helping us sort things out and think clearly. Next, move into a grounding exercise that has been powerful for me. Have you ever heard of ROY G. BIV? Here’s how old Roy works. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your hands unclenched in your lap. Close your eyes and visualize the most brilliant colors of the rainbow – one at a time. Start with the color red, and see it slowly traveling from the center of the earth and running up your left leg; across your harrow point (just below your navel); then running down your right leg and back to the center of the earth. Follow this with each of the remaining colors orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet – hence the acronym ROY G. BIV.

Earlier this year I injured my left knee and left shoulder and had two successive MRIs. The MRI for the knee was no big deal but the shoulder was a different story. Though the machine was “open” it certainly didn’t feel that way for me. I made the mistake of realizing how close to my face this massive imaging machine was positioned and felt an enormous wave of panic. I felt like I was wedged between two giant rocks in a cave. This wasn’t simply a case of butterflies but real, honest-to-goodness terror. I did my breathing and that helped. I went through the Roy G. Biv exercise which also helped. But I knew that I was stuck in this machine for another 35 minutes and resolved that I would NOT succumb to the panic and call off the procedure. Instead, I replayed in my mind each day of a wonderful vacation trip that we had taken a few weeks earlier. I visualized my wife, my children and my grandson. It probably took at least 15 minutes for my heart to slow down to the point that it didn’t feel like it was going to explode. But I made it through the procedure and conquered the panic.

By remaining centered, we can manage our minds and bodies if and when panic occurs. Focus. Breathe. Relax. Visualize.

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