ABC News anchor Dan Harris recounts having a panic attack live on Good Morning America. Harris went on to encounter a number of snake-oil-selling self-help gurus before he finally discovered the effectiveness of traditional Buddhist meditation. Harris is the author of 10% Happier.
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Transcript -- 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.
Tagged under: Big Think,BigThink,BigThink.,Education,Educational,Lifelong Learning,EDU,Dan Harris (Person),10% Happier,Panic Attack (Symptom),News,ABC News (TV Network),Good Morning America (TV Program),Diane Sawyer (Hall Of Fame Inductee),Charles Gibson (TV Personality),Anxiety (Disease Or Medical Condition),Meditation,Eckhart Tolle
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