How to Breathe Through the Scary Stuff

California Fires Update

Hi everybody. I’m happy to be here, but I’m also a little distracted right now. If any of you were looking forward to my training this morning on breaking through the fear cycle, then you already know I am in Northern California. There is a lot of smoke happening around my house, my friends, my family, and a lot of crazy fires.

I haven’t been working, I’ve been in family mode. I’ve been just doing what I needed to do to make sure that I was taking care of everybody in my house. My animals, my kid, because schools are closed, and yeah, this fire thing, it’s something you want to be on guard for.

But I decided last minute that I was going through with my weekly Facebook Live because I’ve had a couple of experiences in the last week that have given me a message to share. This is going to just be from my heart today. I know it’s always off the top of my head, but this is really going to be from my heart. The topic is dealing with scary stuff. So, here we are, I’m like hearing the planes circling, I’ve been hearing sirens heading North all day. Through my little town, up to the big fires in Santa Rosa, and I’ve been just thinking about how does one handle this?

How does One Keep their Cool During Times of Crisis?

I did a lot of studying on actually how people maintain their cool when they’re defusing bombs, and I know a lot about staying cool under pressure. I had this magical, magical is the best way I can put it. This magical moment on Friday, last week, where I ended up cracking a molar. I went into the dentist. Of course, I was just like, “Oh, well that can’t be good. Okay, get myself in, the dentist will check it out. If there’s anything they need to do, they’ll probably schedule me an appointment in a couple weeks and they’ll fix it.” That was what I had thought was going to happen.

And I go, I arrive at the dentist, I have a client scheduled an hour later. I was like, “I’m just going to run in there, they’re going to check it out, they’re going to tell me what’s up.” He goes, “Okay, well it looks like we’ve got to do a bunch of stuff to this tooth.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” He’s getting out the big shots and getting out the drills, and I was going, “Okay. All right, this is happening.”

Now, for anybody who doesn’t know about my history with dentists, you’re like, “Yeah, that happens and then they do the thing and then you go home and your mouth is a little numb and then you’re fine.” But I have this history of absolute hysterics with dentists. When I was a kid, they would have to put me under to do any kind of work.

All the way through high school and young adulthood. I couldn’t handle it. I would get so afraid, like paralyzingly terrified, shaking, “I am not okay” afraid, about needles and about the dentist.

breatheTaking a Deep Breath

I was able, this last week, to literally apply this training I’ve been doing with kids in the Perform Happy community, this mental toughness bootcamp. That is the thing I’m so stoked about, that what I do is get the opportunity to practice what I preach so often. There I was, sitting there, he starts filling my mouth full of these giant shots. I’m sure they were small, but they felt like these giant shots, and my initial reaction was to breathe.

That was it. It wasn’t to think or to worry. It was to breathe. I’ve noticed that that’s become my knee jerk reaction. The more that I continue down this path of specialization around fear and anxiety with young athletes, the more I’m presented with it, and the more I get to walk the talk, and the more that I’m breathing. As my first reaction to stress or fear or feelings or discomfort or anxiety. I breathe out. Through my mouth, a full deep breath. That’s what I did.

I sat in that chair, I breathed out, and in went the shot. He’s doing the shot, and I noticed, I was completely in my body. I was totally present. I was not afraid, and I was not suffering. That was like, I want to say miraculous. You guys are probably like, “Okay, it’s the dentist, it’s not that big of a deal” but this to me was this really amazing moment of I’ve been also encouraging my athletes to meditate, and practice being present with your breath, with whatever experience comes through.

Being Aware of the Situation

If it’s fear, you sit with it. Anxiety, you sit with it. Anger, you sit with it. Boredom, you sit with it. If it’s anything, you just sit with it, and go, “Oh hello anger, boredom” whatever it was, “Hello there. I see you.” Then off it drifts, like clouds in the sky. It just comes and goes, so I’ve been working on that, with my kids, because I can’t make you guys do it and then not do it myself, right?

I’m sitting there, going through the process, and there was a moment where the dentist asked me to close my eyes. There was going to be some water coming in or something. I closed my eyes and then I started getting nervous, which was shocking to me, because before I would have been like, “I have to close my eyes, put on the music, take whatever pills they’ll give me and all the gas and all the stuff,” but I was like, “Oh, I actually wanted to have my eyes open” because it was helping me to really ground myself in the sense of sight.

Looking at the ceiling, feeling my breath, I closed my eyes and was like, “Okay, now I really need to depend on my breath because I no longer have the sense of sight.” Through that entire experience, I looked at him after and I was like, “That was very enjoyable.” He was like, “Okay. Right on. That’s great. Good news.” I skipped out of there with my numb face like, “Okay, this is cool.” Then today, I woke up at 4 a.m. to the smell of smoke. I just was like, “Okay.” I took a breath. I checked Facebook, I checked the internet, I saw that my little zone was all right.

Are you Prepared?

I checked that everything that I needed to handle was in place, and I went back to sleep. I’ve been continuously checking it, and that’s basically what the instructions are. When you’re dealing with scary stuff, what you do is you acknowledge, are you prepared? Are you prepared for this? If the answer is yes, then that’s it. The worry and the anxiety and the suffering are basically additional sensations that don’t actually need to be there in order for you to handle it in the best way.

Choosing Whether to Worry or Breathe

I think that’s a really common misconception that people think they need to be really intense for stuff to be handled right, but you don’t. Because that experience of just surrendering to, “All right, this is what’s on my plate right now. This dentist is in my mouth right now” or, “This fire is burning around me. This is what’s happening. This is what’s the reality of the situation,” so I can either suffer and get tense and run around and think and think and think and worry and worry and, “Oh, my gosh, what if this? What if that?”

Or, I can breathe. I can double check that I have enough information, I can reach out for information, and then I can get myself prepared. We’ve got our little bags of important things by the door, we’ve got our water filled, we’ve got our plan, and I sit here feeling okay. So, that’s something that I work with a lot of people on around competition, so I’ll of course touch on that, because that’s really why you guys are probably here.

Tune Into Your Body

I work with a lot of figure skaters who are these high strung perfectionist. They really, really melt down and get anxious at competition, because there’s so much perfectionism required in that sport. I would even say more than gymnastics, and what I help these girls do is when they feel that sensation ramping up of that doom and gloom, and fear, and that this, “It’s so terrifying and I could really do the wrong thing here, and there’s a lot at stake, and what if I let people down?”

What I have them do is tune in. Tune into the body.

  1. The first thing is breathe.
  2. Then, the next thing is to check-in with yourself. Get your brain involved.

What happens when you get really scared is that you go into fight or flight, and when you’re in fight or flight mode, your brain, it switches into the direction of like, “Let’s stay alive.” What your brain wants you to do is to be physically taken care of. It wants you to have enough to breathe, it wants your heart to maintain the same, it wants everything to stay the same, but then it gets really tunnel vision on, “Escape, get out” and there are times when you don’t actually need to escape.

It’s Safe No Matter What Your Brain Says

The dentist is safe, the ice rink is safe, the gym is safe. It all is safe. But our brains have these moments that they go, “This is not safe. This is not okay.” That breath is the first indicator that everything’s okay. The second thing is you want to get your brain, the part of your brain that’s actually going to be helpful in your situation, you want that to get fired back in. Your logic brain that turns off when you’re in fight or flight, and the way to do that, the way I love to have people do that is have somebody who knows you well ask you what your nervous number is, on a scale of 1 to 10.

1 is you are cool as a cucumber, 10 is you are freaking out, not okay. Breathe, right? So, the second thing is you have somebody ask you, “What is your number?” If you are at a 10, you say it, if you’re not sure, you stick with it, until you can locate a number in your brain. What that does is it requires your logic brain to turn back on, which helps your fight or flight brain to turn down the volume a little bit.

Check Your Number

That, if I can even go, “I’m at an eight. No, actually, maybe it’s a seven, or a six” and that process of finding your number actually serves to drop it. So, breathing and checking out your number, being in your body, feeling where you feel it. When that little notification came up on my screen just now, I felt it right here in my chest, right here in my throat.

My job is to just hang out with it and go, “Hello anxiety, I feel you.” The more that I can get used to just letting feelings be and not reacting to them, the more they can run their course and then go up and out, and I can be done with it.

It can have served its purpose of alerting me to something that needs my attention, but then not putting me in a position where I can’t actually help my family, or be productive on the ice, or whatever it is. That is my little spiel for today. Anytime you guys are up against something scary, get in the habit of breathing out. That let’s the relaxation response enter your body. My favorite thing for kids, if you have little kids, is have them smell the flowers, and blow out the candles. We can do it, too.

My Prayers to You

All right, everybody. I am sending prayers and so many good thoughts to everybody in Northern California, and of course, everybody who has been affected by any scary Earth situations recently. There’s a lot going on. Everybody go forth and breathe, sending good thoughts, and I am here if you need me. Send questions to See ya.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.