Published on
Posted under
Better Living

The 6 Steps to Silencing Anxiety


I walked out of the meeting feeling eight feet tall. For the previous two and a half years I’d been fighting to turn my side-gig into my main job and the freshly-inked contract in my backpack signified all the hard work had been worth it.

However, that indescribable feeling of having your dreams turn into reality was short-lived.

Later that night, while eating celebratory pizza and ice cream with my wife and our two kids, out of the blue my heart began to race and my palms began to gush with sweat. Realizing something was obviously wrong, I excused myself from the table and stepped out on our terrace to get some air. Then I pulled up a chair, picked out a black spot on a red brick, and for five minutes I focused on breathing as slowly as I possibly could while reminding myself that I wasn’t having a heart attack.

After the anxiety attack had passed, and I got my breathing down to a manageable state, an odd sense of pride washed over me. For the first time in my life, instead of allowing my anxiety to get the best of me, I caught it before it got out of hand and I did what I could to control it.

However, later that night a realization hit me: in the dozen or so panic attacks I’d had in my life, there had always been an obvious trigger as to why it had taken place. In my twenties and thirties, social anxiety and alcohol abuse was the root cause. However, this attack, the first one I’d had in my forties, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why it had happened and this thought paralyzed me just as much as the attack itself.

On paper my life was perfect. My two young children were both healthy and happy and a beautiful woman loved me. Not only that, but after years of fighting my career was exactly where I wanted it to be.

Regardless of how well I thought I was doing, something was obviously wrong. It took me an hour or so to determine what it was, but I finally put my finger on my anxiety trigger: I had taken the relationship I have with myself for granted.

For the weeks leading up to my big meeting, I had slowly begun to cheat on myself. Instead of prioritizing my own personal well-being — the very thing that led me to gain positive momentum in the first place — I put my career first and gunned my body and mind towards my professional goals.

In short, I didn’t have an anxiety attack because of one big thing. I had an anxiety attack because I didn’t give the little things the respect they deserved.

To get back on track, over the last months, I’ve been doing a self-audit to better identify the things I can’t afford to ignore.

When reading the remainder of this article, please do not make the same mistake as me and think some of the things I list sounds basic. This is because when it comes to our own well-being and mental health, the basics aren’t the basics — the basics are the thing.

Quick but important aside: I’m not a doctor and I’m not trying to play one on the internet. The text below, as well as seeking professional help, are simply the steps I’ve chosen to take in an attempt to better control my anxiety so it doesn’t continue to control me.

1. Reach for my family first thing in the morning instead of technology

As soon as success was within striking distance, instead of sticking to my rule of taking my mornings slowly, I immediately attacked the day. As soon as I woke up I grabbed my phone to check my email instead of spending time with my wife. I hurried my kids to school, instead of enjoying breakfast together and playing for a few minutes in the park in front of our house. I made calls on the way to work, instead of taking time to breathe in the fresh air.

Kicking off the day by throwing yourself into your work may work for some people. But it doesn’t work for me. I need to wake up slowly. I need to breathe. I need to take the time to remind myself that what I have is better than what I think I want.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to slow mornings with a beautiful woman and two cool little dudes.

2. Leave my running shoes by the front door

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

Without a doubt, for me personally, exercise is my keystone habit — particularly running. The days I run, no matter how much I don’t want to, I’m both more creative and kinder to both myself and the people around me. After all, it’s hard to get frustrated with your kids after spending 30 minutes hitting the pavement.

For the weeks preceding my anxiety attack, I chose to neglect this. As a result, I not only put my work in jeopardy but also the relationships I have with the people that mean the most to me as well as my life.

I may not want to exercise every day, but it’s no longer a choice.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

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

3. Take breaks throughout the day even when I think I don’t need them

Every single day when speaking with my coaching clients I remind them to proactively carve out time each day to disconnect. This applies to not only when things are going poorly, but also when things are going well.

After my panic attack, it became clear that I needed to heed my own advice. I worked straight through lunch. I ignored my 3 PM phone reminder to go outside to get some sun. Worst of all, 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.

4. Beat my kids to the playground

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 allow the occasional one to be broken over my head.

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 wasn’t there for them mentally or emotionally.

My friend Rafael Sarandeses got it dead right — “Our time is not our greatest asset, our presence is.”

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to going down the slide in our local park at warp speed.

5. Snuggle up with my wife on the sofa after putting the kids to bed

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 or relaxing out on our terrace, I choose to close myself in my office.

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.

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 stunning woman.

6. Set my alarm for when I need to go to bed

There’s a good reason most parenting books recommend setting a nighttime routine for kids. If they don’t have structure, they turn into little drunk gremlins — laughing and jumping one minute, crying and floundering the next.

As an adult, I’m really not all that different. Staying up late to work one night may not turn me into a monster. But if I allow myself to do it for two or three nights in a row my actions begin to resemble that of my scary 11 PM kids.

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.

For the longest time, I cursed my anxiety. Today, however, I see it as my greatest teacher. It lets me know when I’m leaning too hard in the wrong 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.

Big problems arise when we take the basics for granted.

I forgot that.

But I won’t again.

Here’s to prioritizing myself over a paycheck.