Anxiety: The Attack No One Sees Coming And 5 Ways You Can Help

I never thought it would happen to me.

To David Horning – the dude who preaches mental toughness, emotional intelligence, and leadership when others experience stress. I had my first anxiety attack earlier this week, and, for a moment, it crashed my entire worldview.

For awhile, I resisted it, throwing away everything I’ve learned and taught others about dealing with stress, overcoming adversity, and accepting reality. It shook me to my core, crumpling up my identity like a discarded joke premise and throwing it into a California wildfire, then dousing it with hundreds of gallons of water, and backing over the ashes with a big rig. After all of these years of preaching to “Accept the present moment,” “Look for the opportunity,” and “What can I you with what you know?” I became someone who was saying, “You’re a piece of shit,” “You’re not worth it,” and “Everyone should feel bad for me.”

Talk about a 180.

After a few days of reaching out to people around me – my family, my girlfriend, and my roommates – I came to the realization that this was a test to challenge the mettle of the identity I had created for myself over the years. And now, sitting in a crowded coffee shop as the aroma of chai lattes and the sounds of ambient music fill the air, I realize that now I have a chance to create a connection with those struggling to connect with others experiencing difficulties – whether they’re colleagues, friends, or family. All it took was a fresh perspective, and that’s what I hope to share with you through the 5 things you can do when someone you know is suffering from anxiety.

1. Communicate That You’re There To Support Them By Listening

This can be as simple as a comforting hand on their shoulder, eye contact, or a smile. It can be verbal reassurance that you’re willing to take the time to simply be in the room. It can be in the form of a card, a voicemail, or an invitation to lunch to just hear their side of the story without any judgment. Sometimes just offering an ear can help them verbalize what they’re going through in a way that helps them discover the light at the end of the tunnel.

2. Don’t Give Advice Unless They Ask For It

The last thing you want to do is to tell a person going through a bout with anxiety what they should do. Sure, what you’re saying may make objective sense, but someone going through anxiety’s fight-or-flight response cannot see the full picture, no matter how sensible you are. It’s not that they don’t want to feel better – they do (duh) – but if they’re not ready, you’re only going to contribute to the anxiety. Giving advice will make them resist what you’re saying through argument (fight) or simply shut off to you and turn elsewhere (flight). Or they’ll just punch you and run away (fight-AND-flight). Unless they explicitly ask for your help, simply being there is the best action you can take.

3. Share Your Experience

Be real. Share the most gut wrenching story from your life; was there a time you faced crippling anxiety? Depression? Even suicidal thoughts? The moment that began shaking me were hearing from my dad – one of my role models – share how he couldn’t sleep for days at a time, had lingering pains in his chest, and cold sweats while he struggled to raise a young family amidst unemployment and a bad economy. Then, a good friend reached out to me about how he contemplated suicide amidst the worst anxiety attack in his life. Finally, my roommate – whom I’ve known for all of two months – opened up about his bouts with anxiety. Sharing that you’ve experienced the same symptoms, but have a different story offers a fresh perspective that can shake the sufferer out of their current tunnel vision. Notice how none of this involves giving advice.

4. Offer Perspective

Whatever they’re going through, there’s someone, somewhere who has had it worse and overcome it. When someone is experiencing extreme anxiety, all they’re thinking about is how bad they have it in that moment, and it’s incredibly difficult to shake this perspective. Telling a story about someone you know, someone you’ve heard of, or even sharing a humorous anecdote can provide a jolt of, “It could be worse.” The other night, I was wandering aimlessly through the grocery store on the phone with a buddy of mine. As I tried to pick out the Holy Grail of avocados (why are they only ripe for seven minutes!?), he put the image of living in the Middle Ages through the bubonic plague in my head. As stupid as it seems, it made me feel silly for thinking my problems were so bad and shook me out of my funk for the time being. Oh, and I found the perfect avocado.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

When they ask for your help, it may seem natural to simply tell them what to do next, but that’s not what they really want. They just want to know how to break out of their funk, but doing it in a way specific to them, and the best way to point them in that direction is to ask them open-ended questions that will help them find their own answers (no closed-ended questions that lead to yes or no answers). The goal is to help them discover answers that make them feel better about themselves, reframing the situation so they can find a path up, and asking them what actions they can take to get there. In doing this, I was able to see that the anxiety I was feeling was all self-inflicted, that I’ve overcome every roadblock ever put in front of me, and that I have growth opportunities all around me. Now, I have an action plan in place to grow myself, discover new things, and use this experience to help others. That’s why I’m posting this now – I was in the middle of reaching out to secure new speaking gigs when inspiration struck from a question my dad asked me: “What are some things you can do now?” If I can leverage my experience to offer ideas to people who are dealing with others with anxiety (or dealing with anxiety themselves), I have to take the opportunity to do so.

Without others lending a hug, empathy, perspective, and asking perspective-expanding questions, I’d be in a much worse place right now. If you know someone going through anxiety, reach out, and at the very least, let them know you’re there and just listen.

Who knows? You may be saving a life.

How a Workplace Taboo Can Increase Employee Engagement and Productivity

“This is not the time nor the place to laugh.” “Why are you laughing when you should be working?” “Work is work. You’ll have time to play when you’re done.”

These should sound familiar to many of us, especially coming from the mouths of our managers and executives as a hearty guffaw is stifled before it can breathe life into the otherwise routine, stressful, and mundane workday.

Comedy and productivity are two things you probably don’t associate with one another, but believe it or not, the evidence is overwhelming:

Comedy (humor, to be more precise) in the workplace increases productivity, counteracts stress, builds trust, strengthens relationships, improves performance, builds leadership skills, engages employees, reduces sick days, enhances learning and memory, provides needed perspective in the face of failure, opens lines of communication, attracts great people, drives creativity, strengthens confidence, and transforms workplace culture into one centered around the well-being of others, making work meaningful, and a breeding ground for happiness.

So sure, make your work environment “humor free,” but eliminating light-heartedness from work is no laughing matter.

We have been entrenched in a culture of work focused on appeasing shareholders, reaching quotas, and meeting deadlines for as long as the humans on this planet have been alive – and even longer than that – so the “work-is-work” mentality is ingrained in our DNA. It’s no wonder a majority of workplaces don’t place very high value on the power of laughter – they have no idea of the benefits. It’s not like we learn about the numerous benefits of humor in the workplace, in college, or even at work trainings, so what I’m writing here might be news to you.

And that’s okay… but now, it’s time to do something.

Now, we’re entering an age where information is readily available at the click of a button, and study after study, poll after poll, and case after case show that positive laughter in the workplace is transformative. Now, we can find companies who have instituted humor programs, see the positive results, and figure out what works for our company. Now, we can finally feel great about letting loose and laughing a little, because even though our bosses don’t seem to value humor at work… well actually… they do:

  • A survey of 730 CEOs by Hodge Cronin and Associates found that 98% would rather hire someone with a good sense of humor than someone with a more serious demeanor.
  • 91% of executives in a Robert Hath International survey agreed that humor is important for career advancement, while 84% believe that people with a good sense of humor do a better job than their counterparts.

There are far too many positive side effects to continue to list, so I’ll let the following articles, books, and studies do the talking.

https://hbr.org/2018/11/the-benefits-of-laughing-in-the-office

https://hbr.org/2014/05/leading-with-humor

https://wol.iza.org/articles/are-happy-workers-more-productive/long

http://mentalfloss.com/article/564511/laughter-at-work-can-boost-productivity

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/laughing-at-work-can-actually-make-people-take-your-career-more-seriously-2018-11-20

http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/Bitterly%20Brooks%20Schweitzer%20JPSP%202016_54efbab5-2561-4408-b008-38d958e0ad50.pdf

http://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/11933/1143/Play_at_Work_Increasing_Communication_and_Producti#.XKG6dutKjOS

Improv:http://time.com/4357241/improv-lessons-success/

TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iFCm5ZokBI

Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why – Scott Weems

The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way To the Bank – Michael Kerr

Work Rules!: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead – Laszlo Bock

What are some ways you can infuse humor into your work?

Work isn’t the time or place to laugh, eh? Knowing what we know now, that’s damn funny.

Let Loss Propel You Forward

In our lives, we experience love and loss – it’s inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is the growth that can come from even the worst of times. It isn’t about suppressing our emotions when something unexpected happens, it’s about leaning into those emotions and using the momentum to find ways to learn and grow from the loss. I’ve recently experienced loss, and I thought I would share what I’ve had to go through to become a better person because of it.

My JBL Bluetooth speaker is gone.
It wasn’t by my choice, although I suppose my choices led up to the moment it was taken from me.
And now I can’t get over this feeling of loss…
Of despair…
Of regret…
Sure, I could’ve left it locked away in the trunk of my car, but a speaker with that depth of sound quality deserves to be free, to experience the world as it was meant to be experienced.
It deserved to left on top of my car to experience the feeling of wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the rain.
Something that beautiful should never be locked away.
You were small, but your sound… your sound was enough to fill a room.
And you played it all without question… because music was your life.
I want to hear you sing again.
To tell jokes again.
Hell, I want you to turn off on your own when I need you during a presentation again – you had a real habit of doing that.
But you can’t.
I just… I just want to feel your cylindrical  shape in my hand again.
I want to be in one end of my house with you in the other, singing away, making it feel like you’re right beside me.
I want to see “JBL Flip 2” appear on my list of Bluetooth options and know that my Macbook will connect to you since you’re within range.
You were unlike any Bluetooth speaker I had ever owned, because I had never owned another Bluetooth speaker.
You were the one – it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But you were taken.
Stolen.
Who knows where you are now, or if you’ll even get this, but I miss you.
I stopped listening to music altogether.
When I hear other speakers, they just make me think about what we had, and I weep.
Dad says I’ll be okay.
He says you were “just a speaker.”
To some, sure.
But to me, you were more than “just a speaker.”
You were a part of my life.
And you know you never forget your first.
It’ll take time.
I’m not ready to get out there and try other speakers, so I just ordered a cheap Chinese replacement.
My mail order speaker should be arriving soon, but it won’t be the same.
I hope I’ll learn to listen again – and soon.
Listen, I know I’m better because of you and I should focus on that.
What you taught me in all of those audiobooks and podcasts… you’ve made me grow.
I learned so goddamn much from you, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
You’ll live on through me.
And together, with my new Chinese partner, our story will be told, and the world will be better because you were in it.

I’ll make sure of it.

What’s Your Work Experience?

When you’re filling out a job application or updating your resumé, this is a question you have to consider. Your response is probably a list of previous jobs and brief descriptions that you think make you sound way better than how you would describe those jobs to a friend. Great. Now your prospective employer knows the version of your story you want them to know:

  • Provided quality customer service to customers
  • Accurately calculated ROIs for new company initiatives
  • Efficiently mopped

Looking back, however, what’s more important is your real work experience, or your experience of work. Think of the last job you had, what was your experience? Was it focused on making money to provide for yourself and your family? Was it centered around meeting and working with cool people? Were you there to give back to the community or fulfill a passion? Was it a positive, negative, or just “eh” experience? Was it filled with stress, dealing with impossibly difficult people, and a lack of motivation? Or was it enjoyable, filled with supportive people, and an inspiring, engaging environment? When we think of an experience, we think of something that happens to us or around us, when in reality, our experience is something we create for ourselves based on our perspective. If you work for an accounting firm because of the benefits, you’re going to have a different work experience than you would if you were there because you cared about your coworkers. Ask yourself, “What experience did I create for myself and others at work?” Then ask “How can I improve my current work experience, not only for myself, but for those around me too?”

One of my first days working at a restaurant in Cleveland, one of the people training me told me, “This place is bullshit. Get out while you can.” He was fired not too long after this and, according to him, the reason he was fired was, unsurprisingly, “some bullshit.” I have now worked there for over two years, but I know that if I were to spend it looking for “bullshit,” I’d find it and not enjoy the job like I have. Instead, I focus on providing guests and coworkers a fun, memorable experience by making my positive experience contagious. Though it isn’t my dream job, I have enjoyed every minute of it, all because of my conscious choice to mold my experience to make me and those around me better.

How can two people work at the same place and have two completely different experiences?

Imagine you’re a camera operator at a basketball game. You’re positioned along the baseline under the basket. On the opposite end of the court, a foul is called, resulting in boos from the home crowd and protests from the players. The TV broadcast then cuts to an instant replay from your camera’s angle to see what exactly happened, but because of where you were positioned, you didn’t get a clear shot of the incidental contact between players. However when the broadcast switches to another camera angle closer to the action, the foul becomes evident. Both cameras witnessed the same play, but each captured a different story.

The work experience you create is determined by what you choose to see. If you choose to see the “bullshit,” then it’s going to be tough to create a positive experience for yourself and the people you work with. If your focus is on creating a positive, rewarding experience, the “bullshit” will be harder to come by. What work experience did you create at your past jobs? What work experience are you creating for yourself at your current job? What kind of experience do you want to have? What can you do to change your experience into one that is enjoyable and fulfilling, but also supportive of those around you? Your call to action today is to assess your perspective of work, decide what type of experience you’d like to have, and take one step toward creating that experience for yourself.

Your experience depends on your camera angle, which determines your subsequent action, creating your result. I can’t imagine you wanting to be surrounded by “bullshit,” so create your work experience the way you want. The better your experience, the better the experience for those around you, and the better you perform.

Stop Stressing: 6 Ways to Eliminate Stress

“I’m so stressed out right now.”
“Do you like being stressed out?
“No.”
“Then don’t be.”

If only it were that simple…

But guess what? It is.

I know you’re thinking, “He doesn’t know what I’m thinking.” You’re probably also thinking: “What does he mean, ‘It’s simple to not be stressed out??’ I call bullish!t.” I thought the same thing until I put techniques into practice that I learned by studying spiritual teachers, psychologists, and neurologists who have mastered inner-peace. Right now, I am working on all facets of launching my own business while working a second job. The to-do list is constantly growing, no matter how hard I work, so it should be easy to slip into some serious stress. But I don’t because I like having fun, and being stressed out isn’t fun. My guess is you like having fun too. Have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling stressed, your heart rate quickens, you break out into cold sweats, your vision blurs, you can’t think straight, your breath shortens, your head starts pounding, you’re constantly on the brink of tears, and you’re tempted to punch the next person who says, “You don’t look so good”? These are some of the instantaneous effects of cortisol, the chemical our brains release when we get stressed, and these are the furthest things from fun. Some of the long term effects of the continual release of cortisol include heartburn, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, random aches and pains, lethargy, acne, ulcers, depression, an underachieving immune system, heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes, memory loss, infertility, irregular periods, commas, and semicolons, and most importantly, erectile dysfunction. Yeesh! This blog is a call to action. Nobody wants to have a mental meltdown, heart attack, or erectile dysfunction (unless you’re on stage wearing sweatpants), so what can you do about stress? These are the six steps I take on a daily basis to catch stress before it has a chance to affect my penis. (Note: there are many techniques that are out there, just waiting for you to discover them. What works for one person, may not work for everyone.) You can turn your life around by kicking stress in the mouth and then replacing it with joy, inner-peace, and mental freedom. Here’s how:

1. Change the way you talk to yourself

If you have read any of my previous writings, attended any of my presentations, or engaged in a deep conversation about life with me, this is always my first step. Why? Because we’re driven by our programming, and we become programmed by what we tell ourselves over and over and over and… You get the picture. If we tell ourselves “This thing is really stressing me out!” a ton of times, our brain acts on this command. The more we tell ourselves we’re stressed out in certain situations, the easier it is for our brains to oblige. The more our brains oblige, the thought becomes lodged in our subconscious, and before we know it, we become stressed without even having the time to say, “This situation is stressing me out.” It’s like typing ‘f’ in your internet browser’s search bar and being taken to Facebook without having to press more than 2 keys. When we start to hear the toxic words or feel the negative emotions, all we have to do is listen to the words we’re saying to ourselves, question them (Is it really true that this thing is the worst ever? Is this thought helping me or hurting me? What’s are the best-case, worst-case, and realistic scenarios here? Etc.), and replace them with thoughts that don’t stress us out.

“I’m getting this done in time and my audience is going to love it.”
“Every step I take is bringing me closer and closer to my goal.”
“If this situation were to turn out in my favor, what would it look like?”
“What step can I take right now to get from where I am to where I want to be?”

Since I’ve trained my brain to think these thoughts to replace the stressful ones, they always bring about an inner calm and a sense of excitement – definitely better than breaking out into a cold sweat, especially if I have to shake someone’s hand.

2. Look at the situation from a different perspective

You’ve been hit by the stress bus (ouch), but there’s still a chance to save yourself! Quick, change the camera angle through which you see the situation! There are two ways to do this:

A.) Realize it’s not the situation, but your thoughts about the
situation that are causing you stress.
B.) See the stress as an opportunity to grow.

A.) Realize it’s not the situation
I recently had a projector malfunction on the morning of a presentation. The first thoughts that went through my head included, “This is bullsh*t! How could this happen to me!?” “I’m going to have to wing it, it’s going to be terrible, and I’m never going to get to speak again!” “I’m going to be so late – they’re going to hate me!” Once we have thoughts like these, our actions follow. In this case, I proceeded to barrel through the house, knocking things over, forgetting the whiteboard I was going to use in place of the slideshow, and cussing my way down the highway at 90 miles an hour (even though I had plenty of time to get there). My heart was pounding, I had an abnormal amount of pit sweat, and I almost got into a car accident. That’s when I saw an overturned semi truck on the side of the road and I was finally able to catch one of these illogical, toxic thoughts. I immediately re-framed the situation and started to laugh when I got to the, “Are my thoughts helping or hurting me?” question. The answer was obvious, but because I was stuck on the idea of the situation being more powerful than my thoughts about it, I couldn’t reframe until I mentally took myself out of the situation and was able to adjust my perspective. That’s when I:

B.) Saw the stress as an opportunity to grow
Feelings are our subconscious’ way of telling us if we’re on or off track. Once we realize it’s not the situation, but our thoughts about it that are eliciting the feelings, it becomes easier to see that we’re off track. That is the silver lining of stress: it’s a sign that things aren’t going great, but if we succumb to the stress, we miss out on an awesome opportunity to change our behavior through new thoughts. When we feel stress, it’s an opportune time for us to say, “Hey, that’s a feeling I don’t like. I should do something about it!” instead of saying, “I’m so stressed out and I hate it. Work is stressing me out, my partner is stressing me out, the way the birds seem to be waking me up earlier and earlier is f*cking stressing me out.” Use stress as a launching point to find a solution, but don’t focus on the stress for too long.

3. Breathe in the moment

That sounds a whole lot like “smoke weed, dude.” Even though drugs, cigarettes, junk food, sex, or alcohol provide a temporary respite, we can’t solve an internal problem externally. Real change comes from within, which is where our breath – the thing which gives us life – comes from. If you’re feeling stressed, sometimes the best thing to do is:
> Close your eyes
> Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose while simultaneously
pushing out your belly (this is called diaphragmatic breathing)
> Exhale slowly out of your mouth. Do this a few times while focusing on
the air flowing in and out of your body. In fact, notice your body and
feel gratitude that you can feel your feet, legs, torso, hands, arms,
shoulders, neck, and head. You exist and that’s kind of a miracle
considering the vast infinity of the universe.
> Replace any thought that may try to pop up, thank your brain for trying
to think, and remind it to focus on how awesome just being and breathing
is.
This technique introduces more oxygen into the brain and gets the blood flowing, as well as bringing you a sense of calm. When we get stressed and start to shorten our breath, it limits the flow of oxygen to the brain and cells. When this happens you start to think, “I’m going to die,” which makes no sense if your stress is being caused by a significant other’s lack of responses to your texts. This method takes a little bit more practice, but I promise, it can become one of the most cathartic and exciting parts of your day.

4. Do one thing at a time

One of my self-talk replacement questions from number one is, “What step can I take right now to get from where I am to where I want to be?” The most important part of that sentence is “What step can I take right now?” When we get stressed out, our thoughts quickly tend to snowball into irrationality because we’re taking ourselves out of the moment and thinking about everything that needs done or could happen in the future. This doesn’t make sense. Why? You only have one brain. Even though it’s a powerful brain, by creating all of these negative, potential future situations, it can’t focus on what needs to be done right now in order to avoid those situations. “What can I do right now?” There’s always only one thing to do at a time. Take a deep breath and get to work on that one thing, when that’s done, get to work on the next one thing, and so on. When our negative thoughts snowball, we get overwhelmed and slip into a self-induced paralysis, thus bringing our imagined horror-filled future into the present. When you feel your thoughts slipping into the future and bringing you stress, simply ask, “What can I do right now?” and do that thing.

5. Reach out

My philosophy is that life is a people business. I look at everyone I meet as a family member, friend, client, customer, etc. – no matter how rude (they’re probably just dealing with stress). The cool thing about other people is that no two human beings share the same perspective. Sometimes, when we’re in a stressful situation, it becomes difficult to objectively view the scenario. So reach out to someone, even if it’s the person whom you believe is causing you stress, tell them what you’re trying to achieve, the obstacle that’s stopping you, and what you’ve done so far. Don’t complain, argue, blame, or make excuses, otherwise you’ll push the other person away or they’ll simply tell you what you want to hear. Open up, be honest, give them those three bits of information, and just listen. Don’t think or interrupt – just listen. Many times, we already know the answer deep down, we just need an alternate perspective to confirm it. Then be willing and excited for the time when someone comes to you in a pinch. Human interaction is really a fascinating medium, and, at it’s highest potential, can be used to boost ourselves while simultaneously boosting others. That’s a pretty sweet concept. Take advantage of it.

6. Realize that it’s not that serious

Think about how many times you’ve been stressed out and remember that you’re still here, in one piece. You’ve overcome every single obstacle and roadblock that you’ve faced and you made it here today. These stepping stones make us who we are, and sometimes we may slip and fall, but we’d never learn to swim if we didn’t get in the water. That’s all stress is: an opportunity to learn, grow, and take your life where you’ve never taken it before. We’re all on our own journey, but think about how boring Lord of the Rings would be if they just walked right into Mordor, said hi, plopped the ring into the volcano, and went home. Things would go from a quest to an errand in a second. Sometimes the situations we find ourselves in seem so serious, when in reality, they’re just situations and we have the choice to make them serious, or enjoy the journey of learning how to overcome. If it’s a big deal, it isn’t. If it’s super stressful, it’s super not. Just learn to see whatever it is in a way that makes you laugh. Why? Laughter releases endorphins – chemicals that have the opposite effects of cortisol – from your brain. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts your energy, diminishes pain, relieves tension, increases blood flow, relaxes your muscles, eases fear, expands perspective, strengthens relationships, maximizes creativity, and so much more. I’m pretty sure it results in a healthier sex drive too.

“I feel so good right now.”
“Do you like feeling good?”
“Yeah.”
“So then keep doing it.”

It’s that simple.

PS.) Remind me not to wear sweat pants on stage.

Sources:

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

Amen, D. (2000). Change your brain, change your life: The breakthrough program for conquering anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, anger, and impulsiveness. New York, NY: Times Books.

Katie, B., & Mitchell, S. (2002). Loving what is: Four questions that can change your life. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

Pietrangelo, A. (2014, August 25). The Effects of Stress on the Body. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body

Shimoff, M., & Kline, C. (n.d.). Happy for no reason: 7 steps to being happy from the inside out.

Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2015, August 1). Laughter is the Best Medicine. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm

Tolle, E. (1999). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. Novato, CA: New World Library.