Problems arise when we ignore the basics

I walked out of the meeting feeling on top of the world. For the previous two years I had been fighting to turn my side-hustle into my full-time job. The freshly inked contract I had just signed signified that the dream I had been working towards, was now my new reality.

Later that evening, while my family and I were eating celebratory pizza, out of the blue, my heart began to race and my hands began to shake. Noticing that something was obviously wrong, I stepped outside onto our terrace to get some air. Then I pulled up a chair, sat down, picked out a black stain on a red brick, and for five minutes breathed in and out as slowly as I could in an attempt to keep my heart from jumping out of my chest.

After the anxiety attack passed, a strange sense of pride washed over me. For once, instead of allowing it to control me, I caught it before it got out of hand, and did what I could to control it.

However, a few minutes later, a realization hit me: in the half dozen anxiety attacks I’ve had in my life, there was always an obvious trigger. In my twenties they were due to drugs and alcohol. In my thirties, the two attacks I had were thanks to claustrophobia. However, this time, my first panic attack in my forties, I could not immediately determine the cause, and this thought petrified me.

Why would I have an anxiety attack now? After all, on paper my life was great. My career was exactly where I wanted it to be. My personal and professional relationships had never been stronger. My kids were happy and a beautiful woman loved me.

But behind the scenes, something was obviously wrong. It took me a few hours to identify what that “something” was, but finally, I put my finger on the trigger: I had made the mistake of taking the relationship I have with myself for granted.

At some point during the weeks leading up to the attack, I had slowly begun to cheat on myself. Instead of doubling down on my own well-being, the very thing that led to this positive momentum in the first place, I put my career above all else, and gunned my body and mind towards my objectives.

In short, I didn’t have an anxiety attack because of one big thing. I had an anxiety attack because I neglected to prioritise a bunch of little things.

Over the last few weeks, to get back on track, I‘ve been doing a self-audit to better identify the little things I can’t afford to ignore. While reading this, please don’t make the same mistake as me and think some of the things I list sound basic. This is because when it comes to our mental health and well-being, the basics aren’t the basics, the basics are the thing.

Quick aside: I’m not a doctor and I’m not trying to play one on Medium. What lies below, in addition to seeking professional help, are simply the steps I’ve chosen to take in an attempt to better contain my anxiety.

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1. Wake up slow:

As soon as I got a whiff of success, instead of sticking to my rule of taking the morning slow, I immediately attacked it. I grabbed my phone first thing to check my notifications, instead of spending time with my wife. I hurried my kids to school, instead of sticking to our morning routine of laughing and dancing to “I’m Sexy and I Know It.” I made calls on the way to work, instead of taking time to breathe in the spring air.

Jumping out of bed excited to start working, may work for some, but it doesn’t work for me. I need to wake up slow in the morning. I need to remind myself that what I have, is better than what I think I want. I need to take long showers just because they feel good. I need to walk my kids to school just because I can.

These things aren’t stealing precious time away from being more productive. They are the very things that allow me to be productive in the first place.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to slow mornings with two cool little dancing dudes.

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2. Take breaks throughout the day (especially when I think I don’t need them):

Not a day goes by where I do not tell the clients I coach to carve out time during the day to disconnect. This applies to not only when things are going bad, but also when things are going well.

Evidently, I need to listen to my own advice, because for the month leading up to my anxiety attack, I blatantly disregarded it. I worked through lunch. I worked through my 3pm alarm reminding me to go outside to get some sun. I worked through the first three times my wife called me to dinner.

Our ideas need time to breathe. Our minds need time to breathe. Our bodies need time to breathe. We need time to breathe.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to slow lunches and lazy mid-afternoon walks.

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3. Exercise daily no matter what:

In the book, “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg coined the term “Keystone habits.” In short, a keystone habit is a habit that has the power to spark “chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.

For me, without a doubt, my keystone habit is exercise, particularly running. When I run, I am not only more creative, more importantly, I am kinder to myself and the people around me. This is for the simple fact that it’s hard to scream at your kid after you just went for a run.

For the month leading up to my anxiety attack, I chose to neglect this. I thought that in order to finish the race I had created in my mind, I had to work overtime. As a result, I not only put my work in jeopardy, but also my life.

I may not want to exercise everyday, but if I want to be my best self, I have to.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to a future of long and boring daily runs.

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4. Play every chance I get:

I pride myself on not just being a good dad, but a very involved one. I’m proud that I don’t just give my kids a bath, but I get in the tub with them. I’m proud that I don’t just go to the park, but I race my kids to the swing. I’m proud that I don’t just fill up water balloons, but I break them over my kids heads.

However, for the month leading up to my anxiety attack, I’m not proud of the fact that I didn’t do any of these things. I may have been physically present when spending time with my kids, but I sure wasn’t mentally.

My friend Rafael Sarandeses got it dead right, “Our time is not our greatest asset, our presence is.” So if you ever catch me texting when I should be playing, you officially have the green light to square up and knock my round one’s down.

My job is not to work. My job is to play.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to scooter races around an old Catalan town.

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5. Spend time with my wife after putting the kids to bed:

As I sit here writing this, I am truly embarrassed. My wife and I have two little boys and we don’t exactly have a lot of time to be alone together. However, prior to my anxiety attack, instead of spending the hour or two at the end of the day cuddled up with her on the sofa, I choose to go into my office to work.

I had promised myself that no matter what happened in life, my wife would always be my number one priority. For the weeks leading up to my last anxiety attack, I broke that promise and chose work over her.

Sometimes I get so caught up in what I want, I fail to truly appreciate what I already have. I already have my dream wife. I already have my dream family. I already have my dream friends.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to lazy evenings with a pretty girl.

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6. Go to bed every night at the same time:

I have two little kids, and you know what it is like when we throw off their bed time schedule? Straight up chaos. As soon as we stretch their bedtime, or eat late one night, they literally turn into little drunk gremlins. Laughing and jumping one minutes, crying and floundering the next.

As an “adult” (and I use this term loosely) I’m really not that different. Staying up late to work one night doesn’t throw me into monster mode. But much like chasing a hangover with another drink, come night two and three, the chinks in my already dented armour begin to come out.

As I sit here writing this I think about how careless I was. I know that in order to not only do my best work, but more importantly, be the best parent, husband and friend I can be, I need to rest. I also know that with two young kids who wake up at least three times a night, I need to be strict with the time I go to bed and ensure I am at least lying down for 8 hours each night.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to calm evenings and long dreams.

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All my life I have cursed my anxiety. However, today I see it as my greatest teacher.

It lets me know when I am leaning too hard in one direction.

Most of all, it reminds me that I have a life, not a career, and if I plan on living a long one, I better start giving my body and mind the respect they deserve.

Problems arise when we ignore the basics.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to embracing the basics.

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