Facing Your Fears 101: I Thought I Was Going to Die!
For all of you skiers and snowboarders out there, you know that the Black Diamond slope is no joke, and really only more advanced athletes should try it. Well, I was a self-proclaimed badass snowboarder - I mean after all, I had the outfit to prove it. I decided I was going to try the Black Diamond and I was going to be awesome! The moment was far too real for me when I found myself a quarter of the way down the slope, realizing there would be no way I could carve my way down the mountain. Every time I stood up to ride my snowboard, I saw a straight vertical drop, and would find myself thinking, “This is how I’m going to die.” There was no one to help me, no emergency number to call, and no way back. The only way that I was going to get down was on my own. After about 30 minutes of sitting in the snow and gripping the mountain with my frozen fingers, I felt my body temperature starting to drop, and more and more fear taking over my body and mind.
I knew I had to get down sooner than later. As the sun started to set, the temperature started to drop, and the fluffy snow started to get icy. All I had was myself to depend on. I took a deep breath in, and took a big exhale, and made the decision that I was going to survive this. I started to breathe - inhaling and exhaling - until I felt settled. Then, I said a prayer and negotiated with “God” - “If I make it down, I promise to be kinder to my family and friends.” Then the idea came to me that I could gently scoot myself down the mountain in such a way that I wouldn’t slide out of control or spin out head-first. After about 20 minutes of scooting, I was home free, and arrived at where my friends were patiently waiting for me.
I’ll never forget that moment when my breathing saved my life. Research has shown that the body can greatly influence our emotional system. For example, when we smile, it can stir a happy emotion in us. When we intentionally breathe, it can help our minds calm from fear and dooming thoughts, giving us the space to respond to the situation we’re in.
I used to love the television show MacGyver for how nifty he would get when caught in a life and death situation. Even with only 30 seconds left, he always seemed so calm. Of course most of us won’t have to detonate a bomb in 30 seconds, but we can learn a lot from MacGyver and how having a calm mind can often save us from detrimental situations.
Next time you’re faced with your vertical drop or on stage giving a talk and you only have seconds to resolve your panic try the following 3 steps:
Take one deep inhale, and exhale fully through your mouth (you can do this subtly to yourself).
Find a spot to focus on and stare only at that spot.
Breathe: inhale and exhale. Rather than only focusing on the air entering your body, focus on how your body is expanding and collapsing with your breath.
Let us know if you have any questions.