Mind over matter, mind your mind, it’s all in your mind, clear your mind, open your mind, be mindful… so much mind advice is easy to follow on a good day; however, how do you navigate it when you’re feeling stress, worry, fear, doubt, or any other human emotion that takes over your mind and makes you feel like you can’t breathe?
A while back I was feeling uninspired and lethargic, as if I was a lost soul. I thought that if I did something really uncomfortable, it would shake me up and maybe get me excited about life again.
An opportunity came up to do something I have never wanted to do—go to the bottom of the ocean. Without thinking about it, I said yes to scuba diving. (Side note: I grew up on a lake where the scary Ogopogo lives, so deep water terrifies me.)
After two hours of learning and practicing in the pool I was feeling good, confident, even excited. Until…
Out in the ocean, at the dive spot, there were sharks everywhere! The guide assured us that they were just “saying hello.” I didn’t believe her; however, I thought I should trust her. On the count of “one” I jumped in the water because if I waited until “three” I would still be standing there.
Halfway down the safety rope (fifteen feet below the surface) with sharks swimming above me, my heart began racing, and in a nanosecond I had a panic attack.
It felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I desperately wanted to be back on the boat, but I couldn’t remember the “up” signal to tell my guide. I was paralyzed and just clung to the rope trying to breathe. (The signal is a thumbs-up, by the way.)
My thoughts were racing as fear took over my body: I’m afraid; I can’t breathe! What if my mask gets water in it? What if the sharks get me? I can’t breathe! What if I go up? What if I can’t get uncomfortable? What if I drown? I can’t breathe!
My panic worsened, my thoughts kept racing, my heart was pounding harder, my hands squeezed the rope tighter… then I heard a scream. STOP! Breathe! My inner voice took control. I took a deep breath, then another and another. A truth bomb dropped: I could breathe! I WAS BREATHING.
I felt calm return to my body as I told myself that there is no danger, there is nothing to be afraid of, and I can breathe. I put all of my focus on taking deep breaths, in and out, in and out. Then without thinking (again), I let go of the rope and swam to the bottom of the ocean. Soon my thoughts were about admiring the beauty and magic all around me.
I can breathe…
The mind is fascinating isn’t it? This experience was a reminder for me that we can control our thoughts in any situation. Whether it is sharks, a work deadline, an uncomfortable conversation, or negative self talk, you are in control of your mind. So how do you manage stress, worry, anxiety and nervousness, when you feel out of control?
Start by focusing on the SHARK (…in your mind).
- Stop: When thoughts are swirling, take a moment, breathe in and out, in and out, and tell your mind to stop.
- Be Honest: Ask yourself, What is really going on? Find the truth, and get clear on what is actually causing the stress, anxiety, worry, or fear.
- Acknowledge: Ask yourself, What do I need? Am I in danger or do I just need to get uncomfortable? How do I take careof me right now, in this moment?
- Respond: Take action. You may need to call someone or get professional help. You may need to journal about it. You may need to change your thoughts. You may need to pause before responding.
- Know: When our emotions take over and it is hard to put things in perspective, find comfort in knowing that you really are okay (provided you aren’t in immediate physical danger).
Remember, “change is the only constant in life.” That includes emotions. Emotions are a part of the human experience; no one is exempt. Learning to calm them when it feels like a shark is swimming around you is a mind game.
Have some curiosity with your thoughts. Pay attention to the negative or positive, good or bad. By being aware of our thoughts in good times, perhaps we will better equipped in bad times.
Writing down and journaling your thoughts is a productive way to “play with a shark.” Just remember to always breathe!