Living with risk can carry a price.
Not just a financial one, but one that exacts itself on your body and mind.
Driving back from the gym one evening I experienced what I now know is a panic attack – though at the time I thought I was genuinely about to die.
Constant irrepressible thoughts of worry, increased heart rate, cold sweats, palpitations, and an overall fear of impending doom. It wasn’t the greatest experience in the World.
I had extensive tests on my heart – from ECGs to scans on my heart valves to ensure they were operating as they should. All clear.
I suspected it was a panic attack shortly after the episode, but I wanted to 100% rule out any potential of it being a physical issue.
The weird thing was, I didn’t actively feel stressed or worried that often. Yes, I have stress, though I felt like I managed it effectively – but this episode taught me otherwise.
I wanted to write this post so that I could help others that have experienced this terrible feeling – it really is quite horrifying when you’re in the moment, but if you can pinpoint its cause, you can beat it using some simple techniques that I now regularly employ.
Pinpoint the Cause of your Fear or Stress
For me, this was the hardest part – I wasn’t consciously worried or fearful of any one thing, at least not constantly anyway.
Of course, I had bursts of fear or worry when I thought about a particular concern in my business – like taking on debt to further fuel growth or managing cashflow, but I actively faced these issues aggressively and planned-out how and when the debt will be repaid and how cashflow would fare by creating financial forecasts.
This defeated fear and worry with rational perspective and planning – so I could put the emotions to rest.
After much thought, I managed to pinpoint what was causing my subconscious mind to worry – I realised that, as my company had grown, my daily thoughts and perspective had changed.
No longer was I focused on longer-term, exciting objectives that I’d set for the business, and on how we could develop and grow the business further, I had become sucked into day-to-day worry about cashflow, and my focus had switched to managing and attempting to control potential negative situations, rather than dealing with and compartmentalizing these so I could continue to focus on growth and the positive prospects for the business.
This might seem like I’m suggesting its a good idea to ignore issues in your business – it most definitely is not. But issues should be dealt with swiftly and aggressively, and should not consume your day-to-day thoughts – otherwise your longer-term vision becomes clouded and you don’t achieve the growth that you could if you focused daily on the positive prospects and growth projects.
What had happened was, I was dealing with the issues swiftly, but I had become trapped into dealing with even the most minute issues – which meant my entire day was consumed by problems (which weren’t actually that important, my OCD just amplified them as I attempted to achieve perfection with everything I handled).
I was also getting consumed by emails – I hated having anything in my ‘follow-ups’ folder, so I aimed to have this cleared each day where possible. Which meant I ended-up priorisiting other people’s priorities, and not my own.
Now, I let my follow-ups accumulate and only deal with them when I have a moment away from dealing with my own objectives and to-do lists, not the other way round.
I also ignore a lot more emails – which may sound a little ignorant, and I still feel bad for doing it – but I have to do it for my sanity. If the email doesn’t fit with my own priorities in the business, and isn’t important for the ongoing operation of the business, then it doesn’t go in my follow-ups.
Don’t Shy Away from Fearful Situations
It’s tempting, when you’ve experienced a panic attack or similar feeling of intense worry or fear to shy away from the activity or situation that caused its onset.
Don’t give in to this feeling.
If you do, you’ll be reinforcing the fear you first experienced, and when you do have to face that particular activity or situation again in future, then your fear will be amplified – because you’ll not only have the original fear, but you’ll have the fear of the onset of worry and feeling of intense fear – it’s a very vicious cycle.
You need to face it head-on and show your own mind that you aren’t afraid to go through the situation again. After all, that’s all you’re battling – your own mind.
So, whilst I was still trying to figure out the cause of my fear in the days that followed my original attack, I would feel the same sensation creeping up on me when I was either at the gym or on the way home – because my mind now associated this feeling with this activity, and started to develop a pattern.
But I still went to the gym the day after the initial experience, then the day after that, and the day after that. I managed to keep a further full-blown attack at bay, but I could still feel it in the background waiting to take hold.
Breathing exercises and stretching allowed me to refocus and prevent it happening again – and I took this approach until I had figured out the root cause of the issue, and addressed this head-on too.
Now my fear and worry is gone, I can see it clearly, even in my subconscious mind, like I always have in my conscious mind – I see the fear for what it is, an irrational distraction, and it can no longer affect my day-to-day life.
With my day-to-day focus and vision back on the growth of my businesses, and on its positive prospects (with higher-level negative issues being dealt with aggressively, and lower-level negative issues delegated), my subconscious mind is now much clearer.
Ultimately, fear is a 90% irrational and 10% pointless emotion.
Meaning, most of the time, fear is unjustified and based on irrational thinking, and where fear IS justified, there is still no point to it – what you are fearful of, you will have to face with the emotion of fear present or not. So it doesn’t help with your situation.
Whilst it’s impossible, unless you are a robot, to completely remove an emotion like fear from your mind, it is possible to control it, and to counter any situation where fear is present with the argument that what you are experiencing is either irrational or totally pointless.
Ultimately, life is a journey where we all end up in the same situation – dead.
Depressing way of thinking, maybe. But this is what I use to anchor my mind when fear tries to take hold.
Whatever situation you face, whether it be losing your home, your savings, or anything else, it’s just an experience. It won’t kill you.
You are therefore still able to continue your life journey. And that’s all life is, a journey – there isn’t an end goal like complete financial security or this point of euphoria where you feel you have achieved everything you want to achieve and your life is complete. If you’re seeking this feeling, you’ll end up depressed – because it never arrives.
Another thing this way of thinking does is make you more comfortable with life’s only guarantee, that your journey will one day come to an end, and you’ll die. That’s guaranteed.
This makes the emotion of fear and worry even more pointless – it hinders your life journey and experience, but with the experience of fear or not, you’ll reach the same ending – so why ruin your journey? You’re heading in the same direction regardless.
So, thank you panic attacks, for making me an even more fearless, strong-minded entrepreneur, and for making me appreciate life’s journey even more.
I hope this post helps give some clarity to your emotions too, and please do share your own story in the comments below – I’d love to hear about it.