The Panicked Entrepreneur

The mind is an amazing organism. It can move from a euphoric state to a panicked state in a millisecond. All of us – entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike – are continually challenged to manage our thought processes. That said, have you ever found yourself in what I call a “wired-up overwhelmed near-panic spiral?” You wake up at 3:30 AM with this gnawing feeling – you’re not worried about anything in particular, but that feeling is there. You can’t go back to sleep so you get up and make some coffee. You surf the internet while drinking three cups of coffee. Then you hit the drive-through at Starbucks on the way to work and get a Triple Frappasomething with an extra double shot of cappuccino. It’s been consumed before you reach the first stoplight. By the time you arrive at the office the feeling is welling up. With few more cups of coffee, a glance at 75 new e-mails and a minor crisis dropped in your lap, you’ve now reached the pinnacle of classic panic. Oh, and it’s only 8:11 AM. What to do?

The first step is to recognize the state that we’re in. The quicker we can do this the faster we can move toward resolution. When we push on without stepping back our feelings cascade and we end up in a spiral. In aviation parlance, we’re now in full-fledged crash and burn mode. When we recognize that we’re headed into a state panic we need to stop what we’re doing IMMEDIATELY. Then we need to go and find a quiet place for decompression.

Once in our quiet place it’s important to sit with our feet flat on the floor and hands in our lap with our eyes closed. We take a deep breath and let it out slowly. We do it again and again. Focusing on our breathing is a sure-fire method of calming ourselves. Deep breathing delivers increased amounts of oxygen to the brain. Livestrong.com says this: “Breathing slowly and mindfully activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out neurohormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body. The hypothalamus links the nervous system to the endocrine system, which secretes the hormones that regulate all activities throughout the body.” Scientific explanation or not, this process definitely works.

Once we have begun to “unwire” through deep breathing, we might undertake the ROY G BIV exercise. ROY G BIV is an acronym for the seven colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. In our mind’s eye we see each of the colors of the rainbow traveling from the center of the earth through the bottom of our feet, up our leg, across our midsection, down the other leg and back to the center of the earth. We do this slowly and intentionally with each color of the rainbow. The purpose of ROY G BIV is to ground ourselves. I know that when I’ve been in a state of panic, I have a weird free-floating out-of-control feeling. ROY G BIV eliminates this feeling.

After spending ten or fifteen minutes deep breathing and grounding ourselves, we are now ready to move back into the day. But first we should review our goals and objectives for the day. We spend a few moments with our “To Do” list and make sure we are clear on what we intend to accomplish for the rest of the day. Then we move forward with a new purpose and a new attitude. And . . . we avoid any additional caffeine for the rest of the day. We can also eliminate panic altogether if we exercise regularly (daily for me); limit our consumption of caffeine and maintain a daily practice of meditation or quiet time.

One more thought. The older I’ve become the more I realize how I tend to allow my mind to blow things out of proportion. Almost always, what I’m imagining isn’t nearly as bad as reality. And sometimes my imagination doesn’t even reflect reality at all. Bottom line – I’m learning not to take everything so seriously which also helps to eliminate the panic that I may have felt in the past.

Recognizing that we are heading into panic mode is critical. Breaking the spiral with deep breathing and ROY G BIV is paramount. Recommitting to the day with a clear understanding of what we intend to accomplish puts us back on the calm and productive path we desire.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

WUONPS

Have you ever found yourself in what I call a “wired-up overwhelmed near-panic spiral – WUONPS?” You wake up at 3:30 AM with this gnawing feeling – you’re not worried about anything in particular, but that feeling is there. You can’t go back to sleep so you get up and make some coffee. You surf the internet while drinking three cups of coffee. Then you hit the drive-through at Starbucks on the way to work and get a Triple Frappasomething with an extra double shot of cappuccino. It’s been consumed before you reach the first stoplight. By the time you arrive at the office the feeling is welling up. With few more cups of coffee, a glance at 75 new e-mails and a minor crisis dropped in your lap, you’ve now reached the pinnacle of WUONPS. Oh, and it’s only 8:11 AM. What to do?

The first step is to recognize the state that we’re in. The quicker we can do this the faster we can move toward resolution. When we push on without stepping back our feelings cascade and we end up in a spiral. In aviation parlance, we’re now in full-fledged crash and burn mode. When we recognize that we’re headed into WUONPS we need to stop what we’re doing IMMEDIATELY. Then we need to go and find a quiet place for decompression.

Once in our quiet place it’s important to sit with our feet flat on the floor and hands in our lap with our eyes closed. We take a deep breath and let it out slowly. We do it again and again. Focusing on our breathing is a sure-fire method of calming ourselves. Deep breathing delivers increased amounts of oxygen to the brain. Livestrong.com says this: “Breathing slowly and mindfully activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out neurohormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body. The hypothalamus links the nervous system to the endocrine system, which secretes the hormones that regulate all activities throughout the body.” Scientific explanation or not, this process definitely works.

Once we have begun to “unwire” through deep breathing, we might undertake the ROY G BIV exercise. ROY G BIV is an acronym for the seven colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. In our mind’s eye we see each of the colors of the rainbow traveling from the center of the earth through the bottom of our feet, up our leg, across our midsection, down the other leg and back to the center of the earth. We do this slowly and intentionally with each color of the rainbow. The purpose of ROY G BIV is to ground ourselves. I know that when I’ve been in a state of WUONPS, I have a weird free-floating out-of-control feeling. ROY G BIV eliminates this feeling.

After spending ten or fifteen minutes deep breathing and grounding ourselves we are now ready to move back into the day. But first we should review our goals and objectives for the day. We spend a few moments with our “To Do” list and make sure we are clear on what we intend to accomplish for the rest of the day. Then we move forward with a new purpose and a new attitude. And . . . we avoid any additional caffeine for the rest of the day. We can also eliminate WUONPS altogether if we exercise regularly (daily for me); limit our consumption of caffeine, and maintain a daily practice of meditation or quiet time.

Recognizing WUONPS is critical. Breaking the spiral with deep breathing and ROY G BIV is paramount. Recommitting to the day with a clear understanding of what we intend to accomplish puts us back on the calm and productive path we desire.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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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.