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My Panic Attack At The Ballet

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Imagine you woke up in bed, looked up and saw an intruder looking down at you with a weapon.
What would your body do?

Adrenaline.


Heart racing.


Desperation to attack or run. Fight or flight or freeze, whatever you call it.


You'd scream at the top of your lungs.


Go from 0 to 1,000 miles an hour in a second because of the fear you would have for your life in that moment.


That moment. Imagine it. Imagine your body reacting like that.


That's what a panic attack is like.



I took my wife, Liz, to see the ballet in Sydney, Australia, for her birthday.


We were in the second row and everything was okay until the conductor came out right in front of us.


All of a sudden I started worrying I would get nauseous and vomit over the orchestra pit and ruin the ballet.


My breathing got faster and I started purposefully slowing my breathing.


I felt my heart speed up and tension started building in my body.


I squeezed Liz's hand and continued trying to slow down my breathing.


I furiously tried tensing my muscles and then relaxing them like I'd learned about when I'd previously felt anxious.


This was different.


Nothing was working and the feelings coursing through my body were just growing and growing and growing.


The only way I can describe the feeling of what happened over the next 10 minutes is to get you to imagine you woke up in bed, looked up and saw an intruder looking down at you with a weapon.


What would your body do?


Adrenaline. Heart racing. Desperation to attack or run. Fight or flight or freeze, whatever you call it.


You'd scream at the top of your lungs.


Go from 0 to 1,000 miles an hour in a second because of the fear you would have for your life in that moment.


That moment. Imagine it. Imagine your body reacting like that.


That's what a panic attack is like.


But there's no intruder!


Panic attacks are always about impending doom.


Impending doom that you're about to die, that something horrible is about to happen, or that you're about to cause a massive embarrassment.


For me, it was the last one. Embarrassment.


That 10 minutes was the longest 10 minutes of my life.


I just can't describe the horrific physical sensations of a panic attack in such a public place.


I managed to get through it by squeezing Liz's hand the whole time, having my eyes shut and surviving.


There wasn't a massive scene and as soon as they finished the first part after 10 minutes, I got up and walked as slowly as I could possibly make myself to get out of that room.


Then I went straight to the bathrooms, sat down and thought, "What on earth just happened?"


Panic attacks and anxiety is part of my journey in life, but also in leadership.


One of the other biggest challenges I've experienced as a leader is how on earth to deal with difficult people when I hate conflict.


I've done the wrong thing and baked the perfect 'recipe for disaster' that blew up in my face, hurt a lot of people and ended up with some people hating me.


That's where my journey began to find a better way to deal with difficult people.


You can read about the framework I created and how it's worked since then for me (so much better than the alternative!) and for leaders around the world in my book Step Up or Step Out.


Purchase Step Up or Step Out right now at the below link and you can download it and start reading it in the next few minutes:


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