How I Cured My Anxiety

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UPDATE: As of July 2013, this article is the #1 search result on Google for “how to cure anxiety.” In this post, you will learn about the key breakthrough I had that freed me from my mental prison. More than anything else, this change in how I viewed the world gave me my life back. It’s helped tens of thousands of readers, and I hope it can help you as well.

If you’re interested in reading my short memoir, which includes my weekly schedule and every technique that helped cure my anxiety, click here.

Now… on with the post!

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For a long time, I thought I was going crazy. I’d convinced myself that something horribly wrong was about to happen. I thought I would be stabbed, shot, or arrested every time I left my apartment. I was sure that there was an impending disaster that would melt the social contract and pit my neighbors against me. I saw criminals and undercover cops everywhere I went. All that “world is coming to an end” talk — I bought into it.

Every moment was exhausting. I dreaded being around more than one person at a time. I eyed everyone like they were judging me, pitying me, or attempting to manipulate me. My attention was divided in every interaction: one half of me would pretend to be normal, while the other half would be trying to keep it together.

I could feel various parts of my face twitching, like I was about to crack. My hands shook constantly. It got so bad that when a friend came to visit me, I couldn’t drink a glass of water because it kept spilling just from me holding it.

I tried to behave like nothing was wrong, when all I wanted to do was lock myself in a room and curl up in a ball. If someone had tapped me in the chest, my body would have shattered. If someone had ordered me to cry, my face would have flooded. I felt fragile, weak, and hollow.

I was ashamed. I didn’t want to be around anyone – not because I stopped liking people, but because I didn’t want them to catch my weird energy. I wearily watched my girlfriend cry when I confided that I felt dead inside, all the time, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

I laid on the ground for 20 minutes one night, wondering whether I should call an ambulance. My heart was beating so hard and fast that I could actually hear it, and my left hand was going numb. My first panic attack.

My anxiety lasted for more than a year. It affected how I breathed, how I thought, how I ate, how I slept, and how I talked. I was serious and tired and afraid, all the time. I wanted so badly to return to my normal, lively, care-free, confident self. But I didn’t know how to shake it.

I tried everything to fix myself: meditation, yoga, high-intensity workouts, long runs, therapy, therapy books, keeping a journal, super clean diets, extended fasting, drugs, deep breathing exercises, prayer, etc. I even took a six-week course, made specifically for men who wanted to overcome anxiety. A few of these things helped, a lot of them didn’t. Some of them made things worse.

Then one day, I discovered the cure. When my mind processed it and recognized it was the solution, I started laughing. The answer had been so obvious all along.

In less than one month, I was back to my old self. The cure for my anxiety was free, fun, painless, and immediately effective. I have no fear that those feelings will ever return. If they do, I’ll be able to wipe them out right away.

I hope this post can help you eliminate your anxiety once and for all. It’s not nearly as hard as you think.

“Adults are just obsolete children.” – Dr. Seuss  (Tweet, Facebook)

Have you ever witnessed a little kid working out on a treadmill?

Or meeting up with a friend to chat over coffee?

Or wearing a suit and making cold-calls?

Or attending a networking conference to hand out their business cards?

HELL NO. That stuff is lame and boring. If you saw a kid doing any of those things, you would laugh and wonder what the hell was wrong with them.

Kids don’t run to get in shape; they run to feel the grass beneath their feet and the wind on their face.

Kids don’t have a chat over coffee; they pretend and make jokes and explore the outdoors.

Kids don’t go to work; they play their favorite games.

Kids don’t network; they bond with other fun kids while playing.

There is no ego. There is no guilt. There is no past to regret, and no future to worry about. They just play.

And that’s what I’d forgotten, what I’d been missing, all along.

Giving myself permission to PLAY was the cure for my anxiety. It was a subtle but powerful shift in how I viewed the world.

For two years, I had unknowingly prevented myself from playing. I am a workaholic, which can be pretty horrible when you work alone. No one tells you to stop or take a break, or that you’re burning yourself out. I’d find myself tethered to the internet all day, sitting in a chair for 10 hours and staring at a bright screen. Even when I was “finished,” I’d impulsively check email several times between midnight and 2 a.m. I know it’s dumb and unnecessary and “What could be so important?” and “You need your sleep,” but I did it anyways. I was oblivious to the fact that my nerves were being frayed for hours on end, and that I desperately needed fun face-to-face time with real human beings.

What made matters worse were the idiotic rituals I’d fallen into. Drinking coffee all day, then drinking alcohol with friends on the weekend. I didn’t get outside, I didn’t move enough, I didn’t sleep enough. My weeks were a cycle of over-stimulation and numbing.

I read Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the SoulThe message of the book hit me like a brick wall – it explained what I’d been doing wrong this whole time. I had completely deprived myself of play for nearly two years! Even when I had been “playing” (doing fun activities with friends), I would still feel guilty or self-conscious. My mind was elsewhere: what I’d done wrong in the past, how I was compromising my future, and how I was wasting the present. I was so critical of how I was living my life that I couldn’t be in the moment.

Getting out of that mentality saved me. I remembered how happy I’d been growing up, even just years before, and I knew why I’d been that way: I’d always allowed myself to play.

“A lack of play should be treated like malnutrition: it’s a health risk to your body and mind.” – Stuart Brown  (Tweet, Facebook)

The real problem had been my state of mind. I’d become increasingly adept at rejecting any form of “non-productivity.” I couldn’t allow any form of play if it didn’t contribute to earning money or doing something “meaningful.” Even when I was with friends or doing something that was supposed to be fun, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the time I was wasting. I wasn’t being productive; I was losing valuable time. I had to get back to work!

What would the world do without me and my important work?!

Without realizing it, I became very serious, even though I’d never been serious in my entire life. I couldn’t play because that meant I wasn’t working, and I couldn’t really work because I always felt tired and jaded (because I never let myself play!) This resulted in me convincing myself that life was a miserable grind for adults, and that I needed to be very serious if I wanted to get through it. I approached everything this way, and treated my work as a form of self-imposed slavery.

Little did I know how limiting that mindset was, and how much it was hurting the work I was doing.

Play is what has driven and shaped every beautiful part of our culture. Music, concerts, books, cooking, sports, movies, television, fashion, art, video games… We pay for these things so we can experience the fruits of another person’s PLAY. And the most virtuous form of work, according to some of our most revered and accomplished minds, belongs in the realm of play:

“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” – Thomas Edison

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs

“Without work, all life goes rotten, but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies.” – Albert Camus

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.” – François-René de Chateaubriand

I know a lot of really, really accomplished people. Some of them approach their work in this way — they play. Others are very methodical, rigid, and systematic. It doesn’t look like play – it is unquestionably work. And it took me a long time to finally realize… I do not function well in the latter group.

I HAVE to approach work as play, otherwise my work sucks. When I tackle a problem with a sense of play – voluntarily because I’m inherently attracted to it – my creativity and optimism and happiness soars. I become fascinated with the world. I fall in love with people. And whoever I’m working with helps me make the game more fun, and our positive energy becomes contagious.

I realized that nearly every important career decision I’d made had been rooted in play. All the cool jobs I got – and the very concept of FREE WORK – ultimately came from me viewing the work as a form of play. They were activities I didn’t need to be rewarded or paid for (even though I was), because they were fun. It didn’t feel like hard work because I got to “play” with cool people, I got to be challenged and learn a ton, and most of the time, it felt like it was just a game I’d made up. And that’s where my best work came from: the belief that I was creating and playing my own game.

Once I saw that I’d forgotten to treat my work as play, I knew what I had to do in order to fix it. It was simply a choice.

When I moved down to Austin, a friend introduced me to his buddy David via email, and suggested we should meet. David replied to me with the usual request: he asked if I wanted to grab coffee. I paused a moment, then wrote back:

“Hey David, good to meet you. This is an irregular request, but you want to meet up at a park and play catch? Haven’t done that in awhile and it’s a lot more stimulating than sitting around and drinking coffee.”

His response:

“SURE THING. Playing catch sounds like a f*ing blast! I’ll ping you in a bit and if we can’t do it today, let’s play ball tomorrow!”

And it was a blast. It removed the pressure of us having to talk and impress each other, so we could just focus on the game.

I used to feel a bit nervous on first dates. I had to be “on” for hours at a time. The last date I went on was great — the energy wasn’t uptight at all because we played around the whole time. We ordered whisky Shirley Temples, shot cherry stems through our straws at random people, and cracked jokes about the karaoke singers. There were no attempts to be cool or charming, or thoughts about where this date might take us — it was all about making the moment fun.

That’s how I’m approaching my meetings and dates from now on: what games can we play together?

Life is funny. Back in college, I used to read Tucker Max’s site and think, “What a fun guy.” I’d go out with my friends and drink, and we’d try to create our own crazy stories. Now, Tucker is a close friend. We play homerun derby together every weekend. We come up with fun pranks we can pull. We make inappropriate jokes until we’re doubled-over laughing.

I just finished six weeks of improv classes — three hours every Monday. Every session, I was thrust into situations where I was essentially guaranteed to fail and look foolish. At first, I was nervous and slightly mortified. My heart beat rapidly and I would sweat when I had to perform in front of 15 other people. But by the end of the six weeks, improv became a tremendous source of strength. All of us were there to play, to go with the flow and say “YES” to every possible situation we were thrown into, to cheer each other on and have fun together. We all looked foolish, but we all trusted each other. And that’s how it should be all the time — saying “YES” to every moment, knowing it’s another opportunity for you to embrace life and have fun (Improv, by the way, was the most effective remedy to curing social anxiety that I could have possibly conjured).

I’m signing up for more improv classes. I’m scheduling travel. I’m having fun because I’m making play a priority. And you know what? I feel 1000 times better than I ever thought I would. I’m back to my normal self. I love life again.

Play is what we all LOVE to do. Play is where our subconscious naturally guides us. Play is the state where we are truly ourselves, once we let go of our egos and fear of looking stupid. Play immerses us in the moment, where we effortlessly slip into flow. Play allows us to imagine, to create, to bond with and understand each other. Play is what creates our strongest social circles.

And most importantly, play utterly destroys anxiety. Play gets you around other humans, face-to-face, and allows you to form a real connection with them. Play allows you to stop taking your life so damn seriously, so you can start living again.

Life was never supposed to feel so serious or scary in the first place! The people who try to convince you that it has to be that way just aren’t very good at playing. They’ve forgotten what it’s like. So have a laugh, remind them, then go find better playmates. Everyone is looking for someone to have fun with. Go out, create your own games, then get others to join in. Just play.

If you’re struggling with anxiety… Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I allowing myself to have regular guilt-free play with friends?
  2. Am I sitting and staring at a screen for most of the day?
  3. Am I consuming information that’s feeding my anxiety? (e.g. conspiracy websites, fear-mongering news)
  4. Am I moving enough each day to break a sweat and physically exhaust myself? (i.e. lifting heavy weights, playing sports, sprinting)
  5. Am I outside getting natural sunlight and fresh air each day? (I couldn’t get enough sun at the time, so I did 30-days of Vitamin-D + fish oil, along with Vitamin-B. Both helped me ease up and feel better)
  6. Am I sleeping eight hours per night?
  7. Am I consuming too many stimulants (caffeine, sugar, grain carbs) and depressants (alcohol, drugs) throughout the week?

Those are the areas that will help your anxiety tremendously, once you’ve taken steps to fix them.

And if — like me — you realize you haven’t been allowing yourself to play, then go through your “Play History.” Write down all the activities that repeatedly brought you joy from your childhood, then start incorporating them back into your life. For me, it was: baseball (catch and homerun derby), pranks and practical jokes, learning and developing skills, travel, performing for an audience, film, building/creating things, and improv comedy.

You don’t need money to play. You don’t need more free time. You can always do it. Play is a state of mind – it is a way to approach the world.

It’s only a choice: Anxiety or Play. Take your pick.

“Man is God’s plaything, and that is the best part of him. Therefore every man and woman should live life accordingly, and play the noblest games… What, then, is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play…” – Plato  (Tweet, Facebook)

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Want to learn more on how I cured my anxiety? I’m thinking of making a short memoir that includes all of the techniques that worked for me. If you’re interested in reading this memoir, please click here!

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with any friends of yours that you think it could help.

Also, you can check out this 90-minute podcast I recently did with BlogCastFM, where I went in-depth on pretty much all of my career decisions over the past few years (plus there’s a surprise announcement in the episode…)

Finally, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter, where I’ll send you exclusive advice on how to inject more play into your career.

Thanks for reading!

Announcing: My first e-book

If you’re coming from Ramit’s site, welcome.  Here are a few posts that I think you will particularly enjoy:

And if you really like reading advice on careers and entrepreneurship, you’ll want to subscribe to this blog.  I write about those topics pretty frequently.

To my current readers… Several of you have emailed me, saying, “I noticed you tag a lot of articles as ‘rpgrad’ in Delicious.  What does that mean?”  Well, here’s your answer: I’ve written an e-book called “Recession-Proof Graduate.” What started as a guest post turned into a 30-page tirade on how poorly most people approach their careers. The book is currently posted on Ramit’s site, but you can read it here.

You can also download it: Recession-Proof Graduate (right-click + ‘Save As’)

All the articles I’ve been tagging ‘rpgrad’ will be used in some way or another when I start writing the real book sometime next year.  The book will contain: case studies, interviews with some incredibly accomplished people, guest chapters, more in-depth explanations of the principles, email scripts, etc.  I’m going to work my ass off to make it really good.

So why did I release an incomplete precursor to the actual book?  A few reasons.

First off, it’s been depressing to see how many smart, ambitious, and capable graduates are basically lost right now.  A lot of them could be doing great things, but because they’re using conventional job-hunting methods, they’ve severely limited their options.  The recession only magnifies how outdated these methods are, and its forcing kids into terrible jobs or extended unemployment.  I wanted to present an alternative approach in a brief, palatable format.  And a single blog post just didn’t give me enough room to cover everything I wanted to talk about.

Second, as far as I know, there hasn’t been anyone who has explicitly addressed how graduates can get good jobs with a full book.  The only authors I know who have come close lack credibility in some way or another — they’re either way too old and thus far removed from what it’s like as a recent graduate in this climate, or they’re a weirdo who’s obsessed with Gen Y and social media.  Or, even worse, they lack credentials altogether and are spouting advice based on theory, not firsthand experience.

Finally, I wanted to gauge the demand for a book on this topic.  I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of it, based on the volume of stuff on blogs and in the news discussing this very issue, as well as a bunch of emails I’ve received from college students asking for advice.

Over the next several months, I’ll be looking for case studies to include in the book.  I’m looking for anyone who (1) was able to get a really cool job they wanted, and (2) doesn’t hate their life.  I don’t care how they did it, they just had to have done it.  If you know someone who fits the bill, email me.  I know a bunch of other people who meet those requirements, and have intentionally left them out of this version of the e-book.  This is because I want to give them a bigger role in the real thing, whatever that entails.

Anyways, this e-book is just one of several cool things I’ll be announcing over the next few months.  Keep your eyes peeled, there’s more to come.

Two more things.  First, I have to give a huge thanks to Susan Su, who designed the e-book.  In less than 24 hours, she turned a plain Word document into something that looks pretty damn sharp.  Thanks Susan, you are awesome.

Second, Alex recently did a great interview with PhilaLawyer that I highly recommend.  It covers many of the same topics I addressed in the e-book.

“Buy low, sell high” career advice

This is the universal mantra for buying stocks, but it also needs to be your mantra when looking at potential employers.  You’ll be investing your time and energy into a company, so you need to choose wisely.

In theory, people pick stocks because they’re undervalued and there’s a lot of room for growth.  And, in theory, people should pick companies to work with for the same reasons.  But during a recession, people flip out and forget the value of having a long term strategy.  They sell their stocks at a loss, and they latch onto any company that’s willing to offer them the illusion of job security.  The latter, in particular, is an enormous problem for young people, because your career path can be unknowingly cemented in the formative years after you’ve graduated.

I don’t think there’s much to be gained by working for a company that’s fundamentally done growing.  And I’m not talking about margins or even the number of employees — I’m talking about the company’s goals.  If their goals consist of ‘Protect our assets’ and ‘Business as usual,’ then PASS.  You need to look at this as an investment for yourself, and these are the best years of your life to expose yourself to some risk.  You’re not investing in bonds and CD’s right now, are you?  You shouldn’t be, because they’re for old people who want to play it safe.  Similarly, corporate jobs are not for young people because they’re “safe” bets that won’t help you grow.  Don’t invest yourself into companies with zero-growth potential.

“But times are tough.  You need to take what you can get.”  I’ve heard this phrase ad nauseum for a year, and I don’t buy it.  Yes, times are tough, but you can still get a job you want if you learn valued skills, get some interesting experiences under your belt, and have a sound understanding of the psychology of hiring.

Once you get those areas taken care of, you need to actively seek out companies that align with your passions and ideals.  This is important, because it will lead to work that is both emotionally and spiritually sustainable.  And of course, you must also factor in how well this company will help you achieve your financial goals.

Big corporate jobs can be extremely tempting (think of the paycheck!), but it’s the equivalent of buying stock in Coca-Cola.  Yea, it’s a safe investment, but don’t expect a significant return (even over the course of 10 to 20 years).  Their growth phase is largely over.

In my experience, most of these corporations are just too boring to work for in the first place.  Companies that have an insane amount of money tend to move painfully slow, and they usually have a fleeting interest in any of your ideas to speed them up.  Their strategy will be ‘Steady as she goes’ until they coast to a stop many, many years later.  The reality is that their business model, no matter how antiquated it might seem today, made them into what they are.  In other words, they’re rightfully conviced that they know what they’re talking about.  So why should they listen to all of your strange, half-baked ideas when they have such a great track record?  Answer: They shouldn’t, and they won’t.

Now, you might think it’d be more fulfilling to work with entrepreneurs, and you’d be right… to an extent.  You have to know what you’re getting into first.  If you want to help a brand new start up and none of the people have any experience in running a business, that’s like investing in a $0.20 stock with “HUGE POTENTIAL” that you read about on Yahoo Stocks.  Statistically speaking, they’re probably going to fail, so invest sparingly.

These poor entrepreneurs who have debt up to their eyes can be just as frustrating to work with as the corporations, because they truly cannot pay you.  They have more important things to allocate their money towards, like actually selling their product and getting their business on its feet.  You might love the work, but you better have another job on the side.

That being said, I consistently find myself getting excited whenever I’m working with any start up.  While most of them aren’t big winners (in terms of me getting paid), they are still a lot of fun.  Anything you contribute has the potential to make a substantial impact on the company.  You’re not a pawn, like you would be in the corporate world; you’re a major player.

But the sweet spot is when you find an entrepreneur who has built up just enough traction, and now they’re looking to take things to the next level.  They have a successful track record, but in their minds, the successes they’ve had are relatively minor to what they really want to accomplish.  These people are not only fun to work with, but they actually listen and care about your well-being.  They were in your position not so long ago, so they understand where you’re coming from and are willing to help you grow and learn in exchange for helping them.  And most importantly, these people are more likely to succeed quickly.  If they did it once, then they can almost certainly do it again… but even faster this time around.  It’s called momentum.

Those are the types of people you need to seek out.  They are the best of all of your career investment options, because no matter what they’ve achieved thus far, they’re still on the upswing.

By Charlie Hoehn Tagged

“What you’ll wish you’d known”

My buddy Jeff Widman sent me this article the other day.  It’s a rejected high school graduation speech that Paul Graham wrote.  While a few of his points are overly simplistic (even for a graduation speech), it’s definitely worth reading.  But if you don’t have time to read it (it’s about 10-pages long printed out), here are some notable excerpts:

  • I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they’d seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends. Which is an uncomfortable thought. If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that’s one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy.
  • You decide where you want to be in twenty years, and then ask: what should I do now to get there? I propose instead that you don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward… Suppose you’re a college freshman deciding whether to major in math or economics. Well, math will give you more options: you can go into almost any field from math. If you major in math it will be easy to get into grad school in economics, but if you major in economics it will be hard to get into grad school in math.
  • It’s not so important what you work on, so long as you’re not wasting your time. Work on things that interest you and increase your options, and worry later about which you’ll take.
  • The best protection is always to be working on hard problems… If you’re not worrying that something you’re making will come out badly, or that you won’t be able to understand something you’re studying, then it isn’t hard enough. There has to be suspense.
  • [People who do great things] know they’ll feel bad if they don’t work, and they have enough discipline to get themselves to their desks to start working. But once they get started, interest takes over, and discipline is no longer necessary.
  • Don’t disregard unseemly motivations. One of the most powerful is the desire to be better than other people at something… Another powerful motivator is the desire to do, or know, things you’re not supposed to. Closely related is the desire to do something audacious. Sixteen year olds aren’t supposed to write novels. So if you try, anything you achieve is on the plus side of the ledger; if you fail utterly, you’re doing no worse than expectations.
  • The important thing is to get out there and do stuff. Instead of waiting to be taught, go out and learn. Your life doesn’t have to be shaped by admissions officers. It could be shaped by your own curiosity. It is for all ambitious adults. And you don’t have to wait to start. In fact, you don’t have to wait to be an adult. There’s no switch inside you that magically flips when you turn a certain age or graduate from some institution. You start being an adult when you decide to take responsibility for your life. You can do that at any age.

Again, I recommend you read this.  I left out some of the best parts because he gradually builds up to them throughout the article.