On January 1st, 2006, after a wild New Year’s Eve and enough Red Bull to kill a … well, a bull… I woke up at 11 a.m. and had my first “heart attack”.
Over the next five months I went to the emergency room twice and hit the lowest point of my life.
But most importantly, for you, I turned over every rock on my quest to overcome panic attacks, stress, and what I call “High Performance Anxiety” that almost every entrepreneur, executive, and busy parent deals with at some turbulent point in their life.
(This “High Performance Anxiety” is not to be confused with “performance anxiety” that, ahem, many an inexperienced young man might deal with in other areas of life.)
Today, I’m anxiety free, and I’ve helped thousands of men and women from over 100 countries to get freedom from overwhelming work-related stress so they can live happier and more successful lives.
If you’re struggling with stress right now, if you’ve ever woken up at 2 a.m. with a crushing feeling in your chest because your bills are mounting and not sure if you can keep the doors open in your business, or if you’re mentally and physically exhausted from taking care of your stressed-out teenage kids AND your aging parents, this might be the most important article you ever read.
Heck, if you’re too stressed to even make time for the full article, let me tell you right now the most important you need to know. These are the same five words that “saved my life” back in 2006 after my second trip to the ER:
“There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Let me add to that:
Everything is going to be okay.
Just do whatever you can to read everything below. Print it out. Carry it with you to your kid’s practices, read it in the bathroom stall at work, or if you commute on public transport. Don’t save this for later and never get to it… because this message will save your sanity.
After more than a decade of coaching successful business owners and executives, I’m convinced that every one of them struggles with some form of High-Performance Anxiety.
Sometimes it stems from our genetics, sometimes from long-lasting remnants of an abusive childhood, and some-times, like it was for me, all of the above combined with poor lifestyle choices.
As business owners and high-performers, we don’t show up for work and wait to be told what to do. We’re responsible for our own schedules and our own incomes. If we have employees, we’re responsible for the very livelihoods of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of other people.
There’s a lot at stake and that leads to a lot of pressure, internal and external.
You are a very driven individual. You strive for ever-increasing success, want to do everything yourself, and worse—you believe that you can.
You set extremely high standards for yourself and work hard to achieve your goals, but this drive combined with the pressures and responsibilities of running a business are also the perfect storm for anxiety.
This is kind of ironic, since so many of us entrepreneurs are driven to be super-healthy and super-productive, yet the dedication to our businesses can produce the opposite results and a take a major toll on our lives.
Many high-performers are aware of the problem but do not prioritize it or believe they have time to deal with it. While we’re extremely assertive, even aggressive, at tackling the non-stop issues we face in business, we often ignore the warning signs of anxiety and let it build up to a boiling point until it explodes into our lives.
To make matters worse, there’s a stigma attached to mental health challenges when compared to physical problems. If someone is diagnosed with cancer, we get it. Born with Type-1 diabetes? Sorry to hear that.
But when you suffer from anxiety, ignorant people say things like, “Oh, it’s all in your head. Shake it off. Quit complaining and get back to work.”
The stigma surrounding mental health is part of the vicious cycle that makes anxiety worse and harder to overcome.
But it doesn’t need to be this way, and it’s my life’s mission to make this message known. Over forty million Americans are going through this, and this number is growing. There are likely millions more who also suffer from anxiety and haven’t yet identified it or sought help for it—simply because they can’t understand what it is, or they are scared of being shamed for it.
You are not alone. You will overcome this. You will be okay.
And this is guide is the first step to heal your anxiety, overcome your overwhelm, and create sustainable and long-lasting systems to ensure a life of success and happiness.
Let’s dive in…
Lesson #1: When Anxiety Attacks, Get Outside
I can still remember my first anxiety attack like it was yesterday.
On New Year’s Day in 2006, I woke up at the tail end of a three-day bender. Hungover and exhausted, I crawled out of bed around noon, stumbled to the bathroom, and took a shower, hoping it would ease my pain.
That’s when the real trouble started.
As I stood under the water, it became hard to catch my breath. My chest tightened. My heart started racing. “Oh my God, I’m having a heart attack,” I thought.
Up until that point in my life, I was indestructible: a hard-charging, thirty-year-old, know-it-all entrepreneur. “Nothing can stop me,” I would brag to my friends after another twelve-hour workday and six-drink minimum at the bar.
Even as I stood there in the shower with that crushing sensation in my chest, part of me shrugged it off and I thought—just like my throbbing headache—that it was temporary, like all my other hangovers in the past.
There was no cause for alarm. I just needed a nap and some Gatorade, and everything would get back to normal in time for Monday morning.
Except it didn’t.
Instead, things got worse. Lying down made the beating of my heart stronger. Sitting made me realize how difficult it was to breathe. Ten minutes passed, then an hour. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or concentrate. I spent the next several hours pacing back and forth across my tiny, downtown Toronto apartment, my feeling of invincibility giving way to fear and helplessness.
Finally, after hours of pacing and fearing the worst, I gave up.
At 11 p.m. I tapped out and decided to go to the emergency room. This was my point of no return. I walked down the eight flights of stairs in my apartment building (to avoid the awkwardness of dying in an elevator with strangers) and headed outside.
It was a Sunday night, New Year’s Day, and the cold, snowy streets of Toronto were empty and depressing, but somehow, I immediately began to feel better in the fresh air.
And therein is the first lesson to help you win the battle against anxiety.
When anxiety strikes, get outside. Staying inside by yourself only makes it worse.
In the secluded box of your home or apartment, you are disconnected from the outside world. You are alone–and you what’s worse is that you feel alone.
And even though it’s likely the last thing that you want to do when in the grips of a (literally) chest crushing anxiety attack, stepping outside and into the world is often the best way to halt the attack in its tracks.
Whether it’s a long walk through a local park, half an hour of reading your favorite book in a sunny patch of grass, or simply walking to a local gas station to buy a bottle of water, get out of your head and into the world.
Sunlight, fresh air, nature, and the mere presence of other humans is a potent combination that is often sufficient to temporarily alleviate your anxious symptoms and help you regain control of your mind.
Even if it doesn’t “cure” your anxiety, it’s a powerful first step that will help you escape the prison of your racing brain (or your apartment) and get back on even keel.
Lesson #2: When Anxiety Attacks, Get Out of Your Head
After stepping outside, I waved down the first cab that went by.
“Can you take me to the hospital, please?” I asked the driver.
Just saying those few words to a total stranger eased my anxiety even further.
The irony is that, during this time in my life, I was incredibly socially anxious.
However, because of the much more serious anxiety attack with which I was faced, being around and connecting with another person actually helped my anxiety instead of worsening it.
But it wasn’t just the act of connecting that helped alleviate my anxiety (although that’s important and we’ll talk about that more in a minute), it was the fact that hailing a cab and starting a conversation forced me out of my head.
The problem with anxiety–and the most frustrating thing that someone suffering from anxiety can be told–is that it really is all in our heads. This doesn’t make anxiety any less significant or difficult to handle but it does give us some ammunition with which to combat it.
If anxiety is all in our heads than one of the first keys to fighting anxiety is to escape our minds and redirect our focus.
This is why I’ve coined the saying that, “Work beats worry, action beats anxiety, and motion beats meditation.”
To liberate yourself from anxiety you must shift your focus to something outside of yourself. Whether it’s a work project, a personal hobby, or another person you must get out of your head to get out of the vicious cycle of anxiety.
As difficult as it might be, do something, anything that forces you to stop focusing on your anxiety and think about something else.
Lesson #3: When Anxiety Attacks, Get Connected
The cabbie dropped me off in front of the emergency room of Toronto General Hospital. Lucky for me, the ER was empty.
As I walked in, the receptionist, a young man around my age, looked up from his paperwork and stared at me with a mixture of surprise and contempt as if to say, “What do you want, buddy?”
“I think I’m having a heart attack,” I said.
Instantly, his demeanor changed. His jaw dropped, as if I had guessed some password that let me into a secret society where the doctors and nurses gave you immediate attention.
“Come back here,” he said, escorting me to a stretcher. I lied down, and a nurse appeared. The next half-hour was a haze of tests and interrogation punctuated with awe at my New Year’s debauchery.
“You drank HOW MANY Red Bulls last night?” she asked. “Seven,” I repeated.
She looked at me in disbelief. After mentally filing that away for another “crazy story from the ER” to tell her friends, she took my blood pressure, measured my heart rate, and placed her hand on mine.
As soon as she did that simple act of human touch gave me the sense of peace I’d been searching for all day.
When anxiety strikes, our first inclination is typically to shut ourselves off from the other people in our lives. We lock the doors, bar the windows, and block out the world in hopes that solitude will somehow improve our symptoms.
But more often than not (read: always), this act of increasing our isolation serves only to worsen our anxiety instead of improving it.
Human touch and conversation can go a long way in easing your fears and calming you down. Between her touch and the doctor’s diagnosis that I was not, in fact, having a heart attack, my anxiety seemed to almost disappear in mere minutes.
Lesson #4: When Anxiety Attacks, Just Breathe
Throughout the course of my struggle with and subsequent recovery from anxiety, I tried everything that I could find to help relieve my symptoms and try to feel human again.
In my desperation, I gave yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, and meditation another shot. But I hated all of them and wasn’t convinced they were making any difference. I was wrong. Again.
Even though I eventually gave up on qigong and the other classes, these techniques delivered a big breakthrough.
They taught me to breathe properly.
Here I was, thirty years old, with three decades of experience in the art of breathing… and yet, I’d been doing all wrong.
Done properly, breathing can have an immediate calming effect on your body and your mind.
I learned these lessons the hard way so that you don’t have to. Today, they are invaluable tools that keep me anxiety free through even the busiest, most stressful times (like hitting the deadlines for my new book Unstoppable).
The next time that you find yourself held hostage in the clutches of anxiety, I want you to try something.
First, I want you to get outside (weather permitting) and into the sunshine and fresh air. Then, with your shoulders back and your chest up, you’re going to breathe in for a count of seven.
Make sure that you’re breathing into your diaphragm not your chest–your belly should expand as you breathe.
Then hold for a count of five. Then breathe out for a count eight. Repeat this until your anxiety begins to melt away.
Lesson #5: There’s Nothing Wrong With You
While sitting at home a few weeks later–after yet another trip to the ER–I continued seeking out solutions to my anxiety, and a Google search brought me to the website of an e-book called Panic Away.
Buying it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life – even though I never read past the first five words of Chapter Two.
It was there, in the very first sentence, that I found the exact words I needed to set me free. Simple, yet powerful, this line would “cure” me of my anxiety:
There’s nothing wrong with you.
As soon as I read that sentence, it hit me: “There IS nothing wrong with me.” The timing was perfect. The doctor’s tests had proven it. These words had confirmed it. That was the moment that it felt like someone had unlocked a prison door and let me out.
And then I said something to myself that every entrepreneur, executive, and parent can relate to: “I’m too busy for this anxiety anyway.” While I recognize the irony in being too busy for anxiety, you know what I mean.
You and I both have so much going on, so many projects to tackle, so many people to help, and so much to do that we have no time to let anxiety attacks consume our lives.
As an entrepreneur, you’ll always have stress. The pressure is always going to be on, and the best things we can do are recognize it, prepare for it, and control it.
When we are armed with the tools to fight off these feelings, we have what I call the “cure” for anxiety. That means having the simple strategies in place to prevent anxiety from ever wreaking havoc in your life again.
While doctors might disagree on whether we can completely cure someone of anxiety, I know they’ll agree that the methods I’ll share with you in my new book are some of the best ways to control it and allow you to become Unstoppable, so you can get back to dominating in business and in life.
Make no mistake about it, dealing with and suffering from anxiety is no joke. It can cripple your decision-making, and practically paralyze you when trying to live a normal life.
But again, it can be overcome. I’m living proof and here to serve as your guide on your hero’s journey as you do the same.
This has become my mission in life, to help high performers like you overcome the terrible toll it can take.
That’s why I wrote my latest book, Unstoppable: How to Get Through Hell, Overcome Anxiety, and Dominate in Business and in Life
And as my gift to you, we’ve made it available for just 99 cents on Amazon for Kindle.
This isn’t a sales page… there are no other offers.
It’s just 99 cents for my life’s work in helping you get freedom from High Performance Anxiety.
There are already 33 five-star reviews for this book about how this book changed my reader’s lives … and it’ll change yours for the better too.