Mentally Strong Person of the Week: Dan Harris

How He Overcame Anxiety After Having a Panic Attack on Live TV

Dan Harris teaches meditation.

Verywell / Julie Bang 

In the “Mentally Strong Person of the Week” series, I’ll share wisdom from some of my favorite guests on my podcast, “Mentally Strong People.” I’ll explain the strategies they use to stay mentally strong and then give you my take (as a therapist) on how you can apply these strategies to your own life.

Dan Harris is a well-known journalist and news anchor for ABC news and Good Morning America. A few years ago, he had a panic attack while reading the news live on the air. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. And as a result, he wasn’t able to finish the segment. 

That incident inspired him to get help for his anxiety and depression. One of the many things that improved his mental health was meditation.

He acknowledges he’s an unlikely meditator. Yet despite his skepticism, he found it surprisingly helpful. His anxiety decreased, an his happiness increased. Dan now uses his platform to teach others what he has learned about mental health and meditation. He’s written books, launched a podcast, and created an app to encourage others to take care of their mental health. 

Dan Harris

The mind is trainable. We’re not stuck with the characteristics and qualities we don’t like about ourselves.

— Dan Harris

Dan shared many valuable tips for managing anxiety and starting a meditation practice on the Mentally Strong People podcast. Here are three of my favorite mental strength strategies that he shared—and my advice on how you can apply them to your own life.

Start with one minute. 

When he’s tempted to skip meditating for the day, Dan reminds himself that practicing meditation for even just one minute can help. This reminder motivates him to meditate when he’s busy or when he just doesn’t feel like doing it. 

"One of my little mantras is that one minute counts. If you meditate for one minute, it sounds doable," Dan says.

My Take

Doing something for a minute is better than not doing it at all. And sometimes you can accomplish more than you think in 60 seconds. One minute of exercising, clearing clutter, or relaxing might be good for you. 

But there’s also a chance that once you get started on something for one minute, you’ll choose to keep going. Often, getting started is the hardest part, but it seems much more doable when you only commit for one minute.

Separate who you are from what you think and feel.

Dan talked a lot about separating himself from his angry thoughts and anxious feelings. Rather than saying, “I’m an anxious person,” he’s more likely to say, “I’m feeling anxiety right now.” 

He doesn’t judge himself for having irrational thoughts or intense emotions. Instead, he just tries to notice what he’s experiencing. "If we broadcast what’s going on in our heads out loud, we’d be locked up. Just seeing this non-negotiable fact of human existence, which is that your inner conversation is out of control, is incredibly liberating," he says.

My Take

Knowing how to distance yourself a bit from your thoughts and feelings is a helpful psychological skill. After all, depression is what you experience, it’s not who you are. Your emotional state greatly impacts the way you think. Anxious feelings can lead to anxious thoughts. Depressed feelings lead to sad thoughts. 

Sometime our judgments about those thoughts and emotions make us feel worse. So instead of thinking, “I’m a bad person for thinking that way,” accept that it’s okay to have irrational, unhelpful, and downright bizarre thoughts sometimes. 

Get professional help.

Dan experienced depression and anxiety—and ultimately a panic attack on national TV. He acknowledged he’d been self-medicating with cocaine in an attempt to regulate his mood. Fortunately, the panic attack was a wake-up call that inspired him to get professional help.

He saw a psychiatrist who prescribed him medication that helped him manage his symptoms. The psychiatrist also recommended meditation. 

Dan Harris

You can use stress and turn it into something empowering, rather than what I’ve done, which is use it as something to make me feel ashamed.

— Dan Harris

My Take

If you’re struggling with something in your life and don’t know what to do to feel better, or you’ve been attempting to make yourself feel better by using drugs or alcohol, it’s going to be hard to stop on your own. You’re likely to get caught in a vicious spiral that is hard to break.

Talk to a mental health professional who can help you break the unhealthy cycle. A doctor or mental health professional may recommend therapy, medication, or a combination of both. But the sooner you seek the help the sooner you can start getting your life back on track so you can feel better.

You also might find it helps to share your mental health experiences with others. You might feel empowered when your story inspires others to seek help or when it comforts them to learn that they aren’t alone in their struggles.

To hear more of Dan’s mental strength suggestions, listen to the full episode on my Mentally Strong People podcast. Each week, I’ll share another Mentally Strong Person and explain how their strategies can help you think, feel, and do your best in life.

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