Dan Harris’ Panic Attack (and Discovery of Meditation)

, , 100 Comments


About ten years ago in front of 5.019 million
people according to the Nielsen ratings I had a panic attack on live television. I was
doing a job that I’d done many times before which was filling in as the news reader on
Good Morning America. The job basically entails coming on at the top of each hour and reading
a series of headlines to the audience, bringing them up to date on the news of the day. And
I was happy and excited to be there. I had no way to foresee what was about to happen.
As soon as the anchors tossed it over to me I was in the middle of the first story and
I was overtaken by this irresistible bolt of fear. My heart started racing, my palms
were sweating, my mouth dried up and my lungs seized up. And I was simply unable to breathe. You can see it and hear it on the tape. I’m
gasping for air. It would have gotten a lot worse, it would have become something like
the famous clip from Broadcast News where Albert Brooks breaks out in flop sweat except
for I did something halfway through my newscast I’d never done before which is I quit. I gave
up. I punted. I sent it back to the main hosts of the show. What I said was, “Back to you
Robin and Charlie.” But it was actually Diane Sawyer and Charlie who were anchoring and
in my panic I was unable to remember that. And you can see that actually in an absurd
little crescendo roll video of Harry Potter which was the next story I was supposed to
read that the control room thought I was going to read but I was unable to do so. And in the moments afterwards I realized that
I’d had a panic attack. And I was deeply, deeply embarrassed. It wasn’t until later
that I learned what caused it. I went to see a doctor who is an expert in panic and he
asked me a series of questions, one of which was do you do drugs. And I sheepishly said,
yes, I do. And he leaned back in his chair and said, “Mystery solved.” The backstory
is I got myself into trouble basically because of a desire to do great at my job which is
something I think a lot of people can relate to. You might call it ambition or just a drive
for excellence and being in love with my job. I got to ABC News when I was 28 years old.
And if you look at the pictures I look like I’m barely post pubescent. And I was working
with these giants like Diane Sawyer and Peter Jennings and Charlie Gibson and Ted Koppel
and I was keenly aware of how green I was, especially when compared to these famous people
I had been watching on television since I was a kid. And my way of coping with that was to become
a workaholic. And I threw myself into the job and after 9/11 I volunteered and spent
many years overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Middle East. And when I came home
from that I developed a depression and I self-medicated with recreational drugs which was a toweringly
stupid move on my part. And even though I wasn’t doing it when I was working and definitely
not when I was on the air, I learned from my doctor in his office after my panic attack
that the drugs I was taking, cocaine and ecstasy raised the level of adrenalin in your brain
and basically guaranteed that I had the panic attack. So that moment in the doctor’s office
when he explained to me what a moron I’d been, I knew I had to make some changes in my life.
And that set me off on a strange little unplanned journey that I talk about in my book, 10%
Happier. Coincidentally at around the same time my
boss at the time, Peter Jennings, had assigned me to cover religion for ABC News, a job I
didn’t want because I had been raised in a very secular environment. My parents were
both scientists. And I tried to tell him I didn’t want to do it and he told me, “Shut
up kid, you’re gonna do it.” So I ended up spending many years meeting people of faith
and it really changed my view of the world and it showed me the value of having a view
of the world that is larger than your own narrow self-interest. I read a book by a self-help guru by the name
of Eckhart Tolle. He has sold millions of books. I had never heard of him. A producer
recommended I read the book because she thought maybe it would be a good story. So I read
the book and at first I thought it was irredeemable garbage, nonsense. There’s a lot of grandiose
language in there and pseudoscience and over promising about how this book is gonna change
your life. But then I stumbled upon this diagnosis of the human condition that I’d never heard
before. Eckhart Tolle says we all have a voice in our head. He’s not talking about hearing
voices in the schizophrenic sense. He’s talking about our inner narrator, the thing that wakes
us up in the morning and yammers at us all day long. It’s an unpleasant stew of negative,
repetitive, ceaselessly self-referential thoughts constantly judging, wanting, not wanting,
comparing ourselves to other people, casting forward into an imagined future, remembering
an idealized past as opposed to being where you are right now. And I thought yeah, that describes me. In
fact, that voice pretty much is responsible for all the things that I’m most ashamed of
in my life including that panic attack in front of millions of people. And so I was
completely captivated by this description of the human condition and I went and met
Eckhart Tolle and I found him to be almost exactly the same in person as he is on the
page which is he’s half incredibly interesting and incisive and half deeply, deeply confusing.
So unsatisfied by that encounter I then went off and met a bunch of other self-help gurus
who also left me confused. Many of them left me mildly infuriated because they were full
of a word that starts with S and ends with T. And my wife at some point after hearing
me yammer on about Eckhart Tolle and the like for many, many weeks gave me a gift. She gave
me a book by a guy named Dr. Mark Epstein who’s a psychiatrist in New York City who
writes about the overlap between psychiatry and Buddhism. And I realized when I read this book that
all of the smartest stuff in Eckhart Tolle’s book was actually taken pretty much from the
Buddha. And unlike Eckhart Tolle the Buddhists have some actionable advice for dealing with
the voice in your head. The problem was I didn’t want to do it. Their advice is to meditate
which I always thought was uniquely ridiculous and only for people who live in yurts and
are really into aromatherapy and collect crystals, et cetera, et cetera, and wear little cymbals
on their hands. But, in fact, as I learned there’s an enormous amount of science that
says that meditation is a simple brain exercise that can have an extraordinary impact on your
brain and your body. It can lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system and literally
rewire key parts of your brain that have to do with self-awareness, compassion and stress.
So when I heard that I decided to give it a shot. So now I find myself in this funny position.
I always thought that meditation was uniquely ridiculous. Now I’m a daily meditator and,
even worse, I’m a public evangelist for meditation. What I like to say though is it’s not gonna
solve all of your problems. All those self-help gurus who tell you that you can magically
cure everything in your life through the power of positive thinking — that’s baloney. It’s
not gonna happen. It’s demonstrably untrue and possibly even a damaging message to send. However, meditation is a scientifically tested
simple thing you can do every day that will make you significantly happier. I called the
book 10% Happier for a couple of reasons. One, I wanted to counter-program against the
over-promising of the self-help gurus. But also it’s — I think we’re ready for a more
mature, realistic dialogue about happiness. And nothing’s gonna solve all of your problems
but meditation can change the relationship between you and that voice in your head which
is responsible for most of the things you’re probably most embarrassed about in your life.

 

100 Responses

  1. Lazer-Moon Centaur

    April 27, 2014 4:49 am

    Wow, this is exactly what happened to me at work a few months ago. Presenting some routine data at a meeting, something I've been doing for 20+ years when I was completely overwhelmed with fear for no reason and totally lost my shit… good to know that it can happen to anyone.

    Reply
  2. Joanna Pedder

    April 28, 2014 12:54 am

    This is a very thoughtful and insightful video. It's great in that it also highlights the relationship between MDMA ( and other stimulants) with panic attacks. It's unpleasant but seems like he's found a pretty decent way to recover, will investigate further.

    Reply
  3. GeFlixes

    April 28, 2014 8:47 am

    The things I am most embarressed of in my life… Many of which happend when the 'inner voice' din't kick in; I do really psycho things when I'm not self aware or self concious. That's why I don't take drugs like alcohol and the like.
    I had to calm this voice many times as a hobby musican, so that's not the problem. It's just about letting things happen and about overcoming inner obstacles.

    Reply
  4. Stephen Nielsen

    April 28, 2014 12:34 pm

    Gotta tell you, I don't know if I buy the whole "I was a workaholic and wanted to be great at my job so I was using cocaine and ecstasy" argument. Sounds like massive rationalization, even self delusion to me.

    Reply
  5. Francisco Sousa

    April 28, 2014 12:38 pm

    That "higher level of consciousness"/"ultimate metaphysical dimension" kind of discourse is what held me from trying meditation until now. I bet hundreds of other people think meditation wouldn't work for them because of that. I almost skipped this video, I'm glad I didn't. Exactly what I needed to hear to give meditation a try.

    Reply
  6. TheShells

    May 1, 2014 8:02 pm

    goes like this with respect to panic and anxiety … "if I could meditate — I would not need to meditate" …. some people can … and some people can't …  great advice if you are a person who "can" – useless advice for those of us who can't …   

    Reply
  7. Jake Miller

    May 2, 2014 5:08 am

    rather self-righteous and ignorant judgment of Tolle. Because this guy doesn't understand something he says the teacher is full of shit. Kind of weak.

    Reply
  8. IanSucks

    May 2, 2014 11:29 pm

    Doesnt meditation LEAD to positive thinking overall?

    If so, why would he say "positive thinking is BS"?

    Reply
  9. CletusPodunk

    May 3, 2014 5:47 am

    How bout of u don't use drugs but have almost constant uncontrollable anxiety attacks

    Reply
  10. Desmondo

    May 11, 2014 11:06 am

    I haven't done E or coke in years, I've experienced 2 panic attacks after smoking lots of weed and only when I'm around people I don't know well, and one panic attack whilst on a large dose of LSD that caused me to hallucinate like the world was a beautiful collideoscope of bubbly colours, like my social anxiety collapsed on itself until I was in a state of euphoria (lol acid). I don't think the drugs were to blame, I think that being conscious of my altered state whilst around people you don't know well can cause you to feel extremely insecure for whatever reason and fall into a panic spiral.
    He did not mention whether or not he was abusing his 'rec drugs' as well, dosage is extremely important in the case he's trying to make, without context he's simply stigmatizing drugs.
    As for meditation, it seems like an arbitrary method of finding self security and non-ignorant optimism. I certainly won't adopt it without feeling pretentious, I have my owns ways of finding inner peace and I also certainly wouldn't like to label them.

    Reply
  11. Guka Ismylova

    May 12, 2014 11:32 pm

    I've read The Power of Now. I really liked it, but it seemed like too much work… Too much work to keep telling yourself to shut the voice in your head up, "ego" he calls it in a book… 

    Reply
  12. Jd Ck

    May 21, 2014 1:18 pm

    Just read his brand new book. Never heard of him before (I'm not an American).
    Its his personal journey to mindfulness, including some insights into other gurus. His views echoed my suspicions. His book is excellent, highly recommended. Finished my copy yesterday and have booked a retreat today after dithering for years.

    Reply
  13. Jonathan Wenkert

    May 22, 2014 6:40 pm

    Hahaha, you did chemical drugs. And then you realized the voice of all things. Not bad.

    Reply
  14. Scott Walla

    June 3, 2014 9:48 pm

    I found this interview quite fascinating as I've experienced this myself. I've dabbled in meditation a little but not with any consistency.  The Dr. Mark Epstein book that Dan talks about is a good read.

    Reply
  15. musenheddo

    July 3, 2014 3:28 pm

    So the only possible explanation for his panic attack was his use of drugs? His doctor sounds like a tool.

    Reply
  16. Xamy Baco

    August 12, 2014 8:46 am

    The excellent news here! You could cure your panic disorder easily by using natural method, eliminate real cause of your situation

    Reply
  17. Gimi Laby

    August 19, 2014 3:40 am

    The good news here! It's possible to heal your panic attack quickly by using natural method, get rid of the root cause of your condition

    Reply
  18. joseph jamman

    August 30, 2014 3:01 am

    I suffered from chronic anxiety and panic attacks for over 15 years – And now I don't have them any more!

    Reply
  19. Carol M. Roos

    September 9, 2014 7:15 am

    The excellent news here! You are able to get rid of your panic disorder effectively using natural method, eliminate the real cause of your situation

    Reply
  20. Giacomo Piccinini

    September 18, 2014 9:54 pm

    So after hearing this, I find compelled to ask anyone who's interested in answering; what is you opinion on Eckhart Tolle's book?
    I'm reading The Power of the Now at the moment, but while promising greatly, all it's managed to deliver so far is a sense of overall confusion that I'm afraid is overlapping during my meditation sessions.

    Reply
  21. /

    September 19, 2014 3:02 am

    i've experienced extreme social anxiety for about 8 years now, 5 of which–the last 5 years in fact–i've barely left the house. i'm still uncertain as to what exactly has caused it, but i'd wager money that it is largely due to the fact that i, too, abused substances (mainly cocaine and ecstasy, with spurts of crack, heroin, and prescription drugs) from the age of 14 to 25. it took me 11 or so years, but i've finally cleaned up my act. the anxiety has in many ways become more manageable, but it's still a cause of great disorder in my life. i just wanted to share this in case there are any kids out there who are, like i used to be, currently experimenting with drugs or, after discovering that drugs can be a source of immense pleasure, are subsequently abusing them. you might not notice any negative effects for years, even if you heavily abuse them, but i can guarantee you that if you continue abusing them sooner or later you will experience some very troubling ailments. my best friend, too, one of the kids with whom i did all of the drugs over the years, ended up suffering from chemical psychosis and was diagnosed clinically insane. he's also recovering, yet it has taken years and years upon years… be careful kids! think twice.

    Reply
  22. Russell Hund

    October 14, 2014 3:32 am

    The excellent news here! You are able to treat your panic attack easily by using organic method, eliminate the real cause of your condition

    Reply
  23. Feste Lear

    October 31, 2014 4:28 am

    "If I could meditate..I wouldn't need to?!" What utter garbage. Paying attention to your breathing, becoming mindful, silencing the ceaseless interior monologue is a practice that eventually becomes a habit, a good habit that drives out bad ones. First one has to realize that one has certain bad habits–like being defensive, for example, or inattentive to one's spouse–that are screwing things up. Just as Dan Harris did, when this panic experience woke him up to a large amount of crap in his life.

    Reply
  24. Jan Bidwell

    November 4, 2014 2:59 am

    Dan, thanks for your honesty.  I know more and more people are going to experience the vast benefits.  I've been teaching meditation for 30 years and I am delighted to see how many people are now sitting still and breathing.  It's so incredibly simple and yet not easy.

    Reply
  25. Barbara D. Kennedy

    November 18, 2014 3:34 am

    Believe or not, you will find a all natural medication can possibly help you to get rid of panic attack

    Reply
  26. Eddie Hayes

    December 15, 2014 4:41 pm

    Cocaine and Ecstasy,Dan Harris did not have a panic attack.The drugs he was taking are stimulants.The very thing that will cause anxiety problems. 

    Reply
  27. Noe Berengena

    February 14, 2015 3:02 am

    It's great to see how someone who thinks he is in charge (and has no respect for anything transcendent) is humbled and realizes there is something bigger than he is.   

    Reply
  28. Hector Aguilar

    February 22, 2015 7:39 am

    Idiot if you do, Coke and Ecstasy fuck's with your brain moods wise guy. plus your ptsd from being a overseas reporter.

    Reply
  29. Liam Murphy

    January 5, 2016 6:35 pm

    The goal of all spirituality and furthermore meditation is to create thoughtless space in your consciousness budhhism provides the actionable thought friendly step by step advice for people who don't understand that what there trying to achieve can not be understood, Its similar to feeding a toddler vegetables, its good for them but they wont eat it unless its in a special format. I'm not saying he is a toddler, but to have written a best selling book about happiness im afraid his advice might be short sighted.

    Reply
  30. Liam Murphy

    January 5, 2016 6:35 pm

    The goal of all spirituality and furthermore meditation is to create thoughtless space in your consciousness budhhism provides the actionable thought friendly step by step advice for people who don't understand that what there trying to achieve can not be understood, Its similar to feeding a toddler vegetables, its good for them but they wont eat it unless its in a special format. I'm not saying he is a toddler, but to have written a best selling book about happiness im afraid his advice might be short sighted.

    Reply
  31. OpenSource Citizen

    January 10, 2016 2:25 am

    Correction. Your workaholism(& probably the fact that you were working for satan(MSM)) is what caused your panic attack. Cocaine is essentially adderall we're giving kindergartners. Ecstacy is curing the vets, who are blowing their heads off at a rate of 22 a day, better then any other treatment out there. Public school, capitalism and government causes drug addiction and abuse, has little to do with drugs. This is the new science of addiction. Good thing government hijacked education and made an empire-industrial-prison-complex that puts people in cages for profit. The US has 1/4 of the worlds prison population. But i do I love your new message and purpose. keep it up. Utube it. visit the website Reset . me

    Reply
  32. Coltyn Seifert

    January 18, 2016 5:58 pm

    Embrace the panic, I think you learn how to control it or shift the energy onto some other behavior or technique!

    Reply
  33. silentum excubitor

    March 29, 2016 2:22 pm

    YO!, Dan Harris, why do you say that you're "*ashamed*" of having done so-called "recreational drugs"? And, about those "drugs" – cocaine & "ecstasy"….. Do you know what the cocaine was cut with? Do you know for SURE that the "ecstasy" was MDMA, and not, oh, MDA, or one of the many ANALOGUES of ecstasy? And, why are you ASHAMED? Isn't "embarrassed" better than to be ashamed? Shame can be healthy, but more often, it's TOXIC shame, and TOXIC guilt. Wish I could recall the author, but there's a book called "Healing the Shame That Binds You", and I think you will get a lot of understanding out of reading it. And, thanks for validating meditation, and mindfulness.
    (c)2016, Tom Clancy, Jr., *NON-fiction

    Reply
  34. Mihir Marolia

    June 10, 2016 7:55 am

    Experience the beauty of the heart with Heartfulness Meditation….it's really a game changer!!! #heartfulness #knowbyheart #meditation

    Reply
  35. Some Person

    October 21, 2016 10:12 pm

    THANK YOU FOR THIS. WELL DONE. I NEEDED THIS so bad. God, it's so frustrating when you blind yourself while stressing for answers and progress. Things like this help me stop and go "OH. Oh yeah, that's right." lol geezus

    Reply
  36. Ted L

    May 29, 2017 9:09 pm

    Dan doesn't mention that he also concluded the news story by saying "But it's too early to prescribe statins SLOWLY for cancer PRODUCTION" instead of "solely for cancer prevention." That's another absurd moment, and shows how completely his mind shut down under the stress of the unexpected panic attack!

    Reply
  37. tuley bee

    June 2, 2017 11:49 am

    Emotional freedom technique , tapping helped me lots . I was disabled by my panic attacks for years

    Reply
  38. Dmt Disco

    July 14, 2017 2:18 pm

    Yes, but you gotta meditate like all of the time(in time spare from singing, exersise, do you intellectual work etc) , or brain falls into default a lot.
    I can see improvements, like automatically noticing all voice colours of people I talk to, sudden reaction, like catching things, which fell from my hand, navigating dreams. But still shitty default is pressing heavy. Have to meditate more and raise quallity of it..

    Reply
  39. Paul ANTONESCU

    August 31, 2017 5:16 am

    I am an over average inteligent person with a pretty classic weird childhood. I feel like it makes sense to somehow try to understand what's going on in your brain and calm yourself down without any substances. The problem is that I don't have patience.

    Reply
  40. silent Jay

    November 26, 2017 4:18 pm

    I think e really fucks you up because how happy it makes you so when you come back down to the real world you realize how bad life sucks

    Reply
  41. britt chesler

    January 25, 2018 10:24 pm

    Uh I’ve read the power of now three times as well as other books of his. While I’ve never met Eckart Tolle I can guarantee that his book speaks about meditation over and over again. That was a complete lie.

    Reply
  42. Lee Lesemann

    March 1, 2018 9:02 am

    great honesty. my full respect for his courage to tell his personal journey including the dark spots.

    Reply
  43. Tom Hadler

    March 21, 2018 1:00 am

    Do you do drugs? yes. Mystery solved. wow. what a sh!t doctor. So to have a panic attack you must've done drugs?

    Reply
  44. feuriger Stern

    May 19, 2018 3:40 pm

    Thank you so very much Dan Harris for bringing this awareness of panic attacks to others. I have had panic attacks due to PTSD, but are now well controlled with mindful meditation and centering prayer.

    Reply
  45. Z

    May 27, 2018 8:38 pm

    He developed this condition from drugs cocaine/ecstasy. I was born with this condition and have never had any drugs. Imagine how terrible my whole life has been since childhood. How do I stop something that is genetic?

    Reply
  46. Bart Tare

    August 4, 2018 9:39 pm

    I am wondering if Harris's panic is in part or in full related to a need to please what he perceives to be his high-powered Harvard physician parents' expectations of him. I am wondering, before he discovered other ways of dealing, if he self-medicated with Ecstasy and cocaine to deal with those unpleasant emotions .

    Reply
  47. Ananda Teertha

    August 18, 2018 8:37 am

    Excellent video..Especially the point on modern so called gurus over promising things is very true..

    Reply
  48. John Paul

    March 2, 2019 12:05 pm

    These people on our screens are so special!!! We have so much to learn from them!!! No matter that they are, most of them, grossly overpaid liars!!! We must always know more about them!!! More and more and more and more!!! They're so special!!! They lead such interesting lives!!! We must always know more about them!!! Tell us more!!! Every little detail!!! Never stop telling us more about you!!!

    Reply

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