I was watching the ending of the British Open Golf Tournament the other day. It was a tight competition and Phil Mickelson who has had a number of late tournament meltdowns, was putting together the finish of a lifetime. As I watched Phil come up to the 18th hole, the announcers kept panning to his face and they kept saying “ Wow! Look at that deliberate breathing, He’s really learning to control his breath in a way I haven’t seen in his career”. Phil closed out the 18th with a magnificent birdie after a sequence of purposeful breaths.
I’ve read a lot about high performing athletes. Many great athletes get an endurance advantage because of their learned ability to reduce their heartbeat and deal with anxiety during competition. They are able to get into maximum concentration for the moments of intensity and then during the breaks in action, immediately go into a conservation process to combat the depleting effects of prolonged anxiety.
Anxiety is no stranger to any of us, particularly those of us in the entrepreneurial world. We are constantly on the go dealing with the ramifications of this connected universe. Social media and our smart phones have gripped us in this fear of missing something important on a constant basis. Encountering and being required to respond to a crisis situation is just one thumb swipe away at every waking moment.
This grip of anxiety seems to be building, as I have never had as many discussions about it as I have recently. I’ve been to a number of CEO dinners and constantly hear comments like “ I just can’t sleep anymore”, “ My mind is racing and I am worried to death a bad email is going to come in and I am going to lose everything”, or “ I wake up every morning feeling that the world is going to fall apart and then I rush to check my phone to see if it did”.
Ever hold your breath reading an email you received? Or read an article and worry that your business or one of you businesses are in danger? Ever been exhausted but worried that you didn’t check all the Facebook updates and have to keep scrolling till you finish? The fact is we are having ever increasing bouts of anxiety caused by high velocity events coming to us through emails, tweets, Facebook updates and text messages.
So what is the best way to deal with these anxious moments and become corporate athletes who can regulate their heart rate and build stamina?
How to deal with anxiety is a very deep and complicated subject. Why anxiety exists and the root causes for all of us personally are beyond the intention of this post. However, I wanted to suggest a technique that has worked for me personally and may be helpful to you as you encounter anxiety on a routine basis in your high performance entrepreneurial lives.
My suggestion is to learn to breathe better. Sounds simple but in my experience it’s actual quite difficult.
Full disclosure is that I am not even close to an expert in breath work. However, I have had some experience in a few different athletic realms, as I am sure many of you have.
I practiced martial arts for many years and also have some boxing experience. It’s very important, as you could imagine regulating your breath to control your anxiety while in the ring with someone trying to hit you. I remember when I was training early in my practice that there was a sheer obsession with breathing that my instructors made sure I understood. We even had to practice breathing out load in a very pronounced and loud way synchronized with every punch and kick. This training exaggerated the full release of your air and then the appropriate corresponding inhales.
Many of us also practice yoga and are familiar with the concerted “ujjayi” breathing to fully oxygenate the body during the course of an intense physical session. You can hear the breath become almost a rhythmic beat for experienced yogis and yoginis as they move through a powerful workout. It looks like they are completely effortless following their breath through their practice.
Surfers also learn to calm themselves when they are in very rough conditions by taking deep slow breaths. Panic can equal a very bad situation in a lot of cases. How you control your breath right up to the impact of a heavy wave can mean the difference between life and death.
So how might better breathing apply to our daily working lives?
Well basically intensity/fear/anxiety are with us at different intensities during the course of the day. When we encounter tense moments, do we all have a breathing technique to calm us down? Seems like a silly question but do we use our full abdominal capacity to fill ourselves up with a great deep relaxing breath of air? Do we pay attention to our breath during tense moments and avoid shallow breathing for long periods of time? If we feel our blood pressure rising, what routine do we kick into to get our heartbeat back down?
The beauty of becoming a great breather is that we all can do it and it is a very sound way to regulate your heartbeat and to reduce your anxiety.
One thing I do sometimes before a tense meeting or before I read or respond to a lively email is take a few minutes and stare at something peaceful in my office or home and take 5 - 10 deep full breathes. In through my nose and out through my mouth in a very slow and deliberate fashion. I fill up my entire lungs and abdomen and then slowly breathe it all out to a rhythm that I try and establish. I am sure a number of you have your own techniques that work well but I believe we can all become better at our craft of heartbeat regulation. Knowing when we need to take a breathing time out and then how to kick into a routine that gets our head clear again is an important skill for everyone.
I have witnessed a few breath work instructors and it was incredible to see how much breathing control can create calmness and change people’s lives. There are many great schools, athletic practices and articles on how to become a great breather but I believe that just bringing awareness to your body and your own breath on a daily basis is a great start.
I submit that fear, anxiety and tension are tough nuts to crack, but why not commit to a life of better breathing awareness? It could just be the thing you need to bring more stamina and fulfillment to your life on a daily basis.