If you’re pursuing the road less traveled—as a writer, actor, dancer, filmmaker, entrepreneur, or any other “improbable” career—you’re likely familiar with the panic voice that says “I can’t.” On this less traveled road, the requirement to continually take huge risks can generate a great deal of anxiety.
I already have anxiety. Then add actual nerve-wracking circumstances to my day? Situations upon which my dreams might hinge?? Let me just be real here. I’ve thrown up before big pitch meetings. I threw up before the screening of my short film. I’ve had panic attacks just thinking about all the risky plans I have coming up, wondering if I could handle it. And guess what?
…I have big risky plans for 2017. I’m preparing for some major “leaps of faith.” And last night, as I was lying in bed, the panic voice woke me up. I became overwhelmed with this feeling of total dread and doom. I felt absolutely certain that everything is going to fail, my dreams are too big, I’ll fall flat on my face and look like a fool. My mind raced and I seriously considered turning back. I thought, “I can’t.” But as I lay there, heart pounding, nausea churning my stomach, I began to meditate…
And to breathe.
In about three minutes, it was all better and I fell back to sleep. I woke up in the morning feeling great, almost laughing at myself for how stuck I was in this dark labyrinth of thoughts I’d created.
The secret to getting rid of that inner panic voice that says “I can’t” is simply your own breath. I know it sounds too easy to be true. But it’s true.
Conscious breathing is a powerful self-regulation tool
Your brain is programmed to protect you. Put in very simple terms: external and internal stimuli are processed by the thalamus, which sends this information to both the neocortex (the “thinking brain”) and the amygdala (the “fight, flight, or freeze” brain). If there is a perceived threat, the amygdala signals an emotional response that hijacks rational thought. It’s called the amygdala hijack, and it can be a real bitch.
The amygdala hijack describes “emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.” Anything from visual stressors to obsessive negative thoughts can trigger an overreaction.
Conscious breathing enables you to take back control. It slows your heart rate, centers you in the present moment, and calms you down by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. Instead of allowing fear to trap you in some horrifying narrative, deep and conscious breath will slow it all down.
When the breath slows down, the body slows down, and physical symptoms—like a racing heart, shallow breathing, sweaty palms, nauseous stomach, trembling voice, and even high blood pressure—will subside. Breathing gives you the power to conquer your brain chemistry. It enables you to overcome a lifetime of conditioning, to maintain a grounded perspective, and to let go of past failures (as well as the irrational dread of future ones).
The breath is a game-changing tool for self-regulation and emotional freedom. And there it is—always with us, always at our disposal. Anxiety, stress, panic attacks, the “I can’t” voice, all go quiet as you really utilize conscious breathing.
So when your inner panic voice starts to tell you some dumb shit, find a place where you can relax. Breathe deeply through your nose, all the way into your lungs, and deep down into your body. Let your belly expand like a balloon. This inhale should take at least 4-6 seconds. When you’re ready, exhale through your mouth. Don’t hold back. Really release. Purge the anxious energy. Let out some noise if you need to—a sigh, a groan, a grunt.
There are many different breathing techniques. Fast, slow, nasal, oral, with counting, etc. I highly recommend looking into it and trying it for yourself. Give it time and stick with it. Soon, you’ll be able to tell your inner panic voice, “YES, I can. Now shut up. I’m going back to sleep.”