Your brain’s function is to keep you safe and alive so it isn’t surprising if your inner voice tries to stop you from doing anything that could possibly put you at risk.

But probably for you (and certainly for my clients) the risks taken aren’t really life threatening, it’s just that your brain doesn’t necessarily know that!

For example, you are waiting at the side of a stage about to make a presentation. You start to feel butterflies in your stomach, you get short of breath, your heart beats faster and your hands become clammy. Your sympathetic nervous system is kicking into gear to get your body ready to fight or flee. Your inner voice starts telling you to get out of there.

Now imagine you are in a dark room, the lights have gone out and you hear a gunshot from outside. The same feelings, same inner voice telling you to get out of there. In both instances the same reaction, both to try to save you.

But at the side of the stage you don’t need to fight or flee, your life isn’t really in danger - but your inner voice doesn’t know that!

So, what can you do when you aren’t in danger but you are beginning to panic?

My top tip is to close your eyes if you can and just concentrate on breathing in for seven and out for eleven. Do this three or four times and you will start to feel calmer.

When your sympathetic nervous system kicks in you are getting ready to fight or flee so your heartbeat accelerates to pump blood and your body readies itself to run or move quickly. Your parasympathetic nervous system works to calm you down and allow you to rest. Both of these are subconscious responses and by breathing to seven-eleven you trigger the ‘calming down’ response.

At its simplest, if you were in danger you wouldn’t breathe deeply; consequently, if you are breathing deeply you can’t be in danger and your body will react accordingly.

Do you have a technique that works for you? Let me know at

  • Sally Hindmarch is a communication skills specialist and runs Partners With You, a company that helps people improve the way they come across at work