If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, you know the overwhelming feeling that can seem to hit you out of nowhere. The panic. The fear. The struggle to think logically. It’s all too real. I hear it often from my clients, and of course I’ve learned about it in my education. But I’ve also experienced it in my own life.
My earliest experience with anxiety was back in 2008. I was running at a pretty fast pace while living in Silicon Valley. Working as a new manager who had quickly been promoted a couple of times, I felt a lot of pressure to perform well and do my best work. And, I was a first-time dad trying to raise a young son who was born with some health issues that we spent years addressing. It was a stressful time.
One day I found myself sitting on a plane waiting for take-off after I’d been in a rush to make the flight. I’d never been afraid of flying or afraid of heights. It should have been a breeze. But as I sat there, I felt myself get nervous. As I tried to relax, my nerves just continued to build up. Eventually, I reached the point of a full-blown panic attack.
I remember closing my eyes at one point to try to block everything out. But when I reopened them, I literally could not see. Anything! I thought maybe my eyelids were stuck shut and I tried to peel them open, but they already were open. Looking back, this sounds a little crazy even to me, but it’s true. While it lasted only a minute or two, it was enough for me to know that I was having a serious health issue connected to my anxiety.
I started to panic about what was going on with me.
And when anxiety kicks in, our thoughts can tend to run wild. Thoughts started to run through my head and I panicked that:
- The plane would take off and I’d have to hit the alarm button for them to stop it.
- Everyone would stare at me if I had to be helped off the plane after the doors had already been shut.
- I didn’t want to be the person experiencing my situation at that moment.
- If I chose to stay in my seat my symptoms would get worse as the altitude increased.
For better or worse, I stayed quietly in my seat. I closed my eyes again and just tried to get through the flight. Fortunately, I survived. So, as a healthy, well-adjusted person and counseling professional, what did I decide to do about it? Nothing!
I decided right then and there that I’d never tell anyone about my panic attack.
That will help my problem go away, right? Doesn’t ignoring problems usually help?
As a therapist, I should have known better, but I thought it was a fluke. I honestly believed it was no big deal and I was going to be fine.
I was fine … for years.
But then one day in early 2019, I found myself in another stressful time of life. I was teaching grad students at the University of Southern California. I was in the middle of closing on a real estate investment deal. And, I was running a consulting business on the side while working off of little sleep.
I had just finished teaching a class and completing some morning commitments. While driving on the interstate (in the fast lane, of course!) and rushing to get to an appointment, I turned my head quickly in order to switch lanes and started to feel a little dizzy.
That’s when I panicked again.
Then, I panicked because of the panic. Then, I panicked because I was driving fast on the interstate and I just knew that if I hit a full-blown panic attack, I was going to crash my car and die and nobody would know for hours.
I gripped the wheel. I slowed down and pulled into the slower lanes until I could eventually get off the interstate. When I made it to the sideroads, I started to do some deep breathing to help regain control of myself.
When I got home, I talked to my wife who is a nurse practitioner. She told me to lay down and get some sleep. While this was really sound medical advice, I still didn’t feel ok for the rest of the day. To make matters worse, I was supposed to be getting on a plane in a few weeks to travel internationally for a speaking engagement. I was worried about losing control again on the flight, so I contacted my primary care doctor.
Long story short, he gave me some anti-anxiety medicine. He explained that many people don’t even need to take the medicine. Simply knowing that they have it if they need it is often enough to help them stay calm. And it worked. Just having that bottle with me enabled me to get through my travels safely without further incident. I’ve continued to fine-tune my approach to living – and even thriving – with anxiety.
Fast forward to this moment we’re both in right now. I continue engaging in a few simple practices that support me staying mentally strong. I discovered a simple framework to keep everything straight in my head, and it’s working. I’m going to keep learning new things about how to thrive (even with my anxiety), and I’m going to keep sharing what I learned with others.
That’s how I’m going to live the rest of my life.
Look, this stuff is hard even for me.
I spent six years in college and grad school studying all this. I’m a licensed counselor. If I didn’t figure this out without a whole team of people around me, how are you supposed to figure it out?
Step #1 in recovery is admitting to yourself that you have a problem. Look, it took me years to get there. You’re allowed to take some time with this too.
Step #2 Figure out who you trust to help you. For me, that included a doctor, a nurse, and another trusted colleague who I can consult with about this stuff.
Step #3 and beyond involve a process of learning a few new skills, putting them into action to the point where they become habits, and then reaping the benefits that inevitably come.
Would you like to know more about those habits, and learn a really powerful framework I use to deal with my anxiety?
Would you be even more interested if I told you this framework was developed by one of the top neuroscientists alive in the world today? One who’s been featured by Oprah and regularly commands top dollar to speak all over the world?
If you’re interested, you’ll learn how to use the same exact framework I use to understand what’s going on in my body in those moments when panic sets in. You’ll learn from the same expert who taught me, and you’ll be able to use those lessons to operate at your best. You’ll become even better at what you do, and operate in a peak mental space at the times you need it most.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this post to learn more!