If you think you’re having a bad day, you might want to consider the case of Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News, anchor for Nightline, and co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America. Ten years ago Harris had a panic attack during a routine live TV newscast – in front of millions of people. Here is a video of Dan with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer talking about his public breakdown:
Dan’s anxiety was partly caused by feeling he was lost in his job and partly from self-medicating with cocaine and ecstasy. His anxiety manifested itself with an incessant voice in his head:
The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. […] If we don’t pay close attention —which very few of us are taught how to do— it can be a malevolent puppeteer.
The voice in your head is what keeps you from concentrating on what’s happening to you at that moment.
Harris writes about his journey from crisis to calm in a book titled “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story”. Amusingly, he originally wanted to call the book “The Voice in My Head Is an Asshole” but his publisher talked him out of it.
For Dan, the antidote to his anxiety – and the voices – was meditation. Harris initially had severe misgivings about meditation:
I thought of meditation as the exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music.
But the more he learned about meditation, the more he understood that popular wisdom was wrong. Meditation can be used by anyone and it works. In Harris’ words:
If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. To be clear, it’s not a miracle cure. It won’t make you taller or better-looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus promising immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That’s an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment.
That’s a fantastic way to describe the benefits of meditation. My employer rolled out mindfulness classes last year but many people were skeptical of taking them. Too touchy-feely. Maybe we should have just said we were giving classes on how to be 10% happier.
If we had done that, I’m sure the classes would have been standing room only.