cover of 10% happier by Dan Harris

If you watch ABC News you know Dan Harris. He can be found anchoring World News, ABC New tonight and Nightline. You may also know him as the anchor who in 2014, ”had a panic attack live on Good Morning America in front of an audience of 5.019 million people.”

After this incident, Harris explored the world of meditation to figure out a way to tame the negative voice in his head. This “fidgety skeptic” has taken the practice of meditation to heart and found that it has changed his life and made him, as his book describes, at least 10 percent happier. A friend passed this on to me and (after I skeptically commented, “What, don’t you think I’m happy enough?”) I went on to read the book.

Reading it is changing my life. Here’s how:

1. I feel understood.

I don’t do yoga, though I have tried it. I eat meat. I’m Italian and I cannot be calm. Basically what I’m trying to say is, I’m not your stereotypical meditation/yoga/mindfulness obsessed person. However, this book made me seriously think about the way I react to and perceive events in my life. Dan Harris is no doubt a hardworking person, but he doesn’t spend every minute working or thinking about his career. He has found some balance and though he has not achieved perfection or “enlightenment,” he is able to enjoy his family, friends and continue be successful in a very high profile field. Working all the time is not a badge of honor. Reading this book made me feel like I was listening to a friend explain a change in his life he didn’t quite understand himself. I trust him. And the way he explains how his mind works against him is frighteningly familiar. Yea. I need to shut that thinking down. Yesterday.

2. I am benefitting from daily meditation.

Harris has created an app for those of us who are new to meditation. You can choose the amount of time you want to spend on this, what you want to focus on and he has leaders in the field handling the heavy lifting, so to speak. When I feel my mind spinning, when my daughter has a bad day, when I need to calm down, I spend 10 minutes listening to the app. Just in case you were wondering, it’s OK, expected and normal to not be able to quiet your mind. Being aware of what you are thinking about and pulling your mind back to the meditation is the practice. It’s interesting to realize what pops into my head while I’m trying to calm my mind (Do we have cookies? I really need to finish weeding the yard. How are we going to afford college? And on and on and on…). Meditation helps me focus, kind of like a daily to do list. If I can’t make my mind stop thinking about it, it’s time to do something about it. And if I can’t do something about it, this practice is helping me learn to let it go.

3. I can help the children in my life.

After reading Harris’ book, I went straight to his podcast and became a subscriber. This led me to some amazing one hour interviews with the Dalai Llama, Arianna Huffington and my personal favorite, Ali Smith. Smith is a certified yoga instructor and executive director of the Holistic Life Foundation, and he teaches meditation to children.

This fall, I will be practicing meditation with a group of elementary students. Our children need this practice to help them deal with their daily stressors, too. This will be a tool they can use in the future to help them continue on the path to success and stay healthy in the process. Some students inhabit “worlds of chaos,” to quote Smith. We need to address how to help children handle the chaos.

4. My friends are benefiting.

I’m sure you can relate to this. You find a great new restaurant, a great deal at your local store, watch an amazing Netflix movie and you can’t stop talking about it. I have passed this book on to many people, and I talk about the podcast and app daily. No one has it all together. We are all struggling with something, and stress is on everyone’s mind. The message I’m getting back from others is the same. The way Harris delivers this information is great for the person coming from a somewhat skeptical point of view, but who is open to doing something to change their live in a positive way.

5. This could be the solution I’ve been looking for.

When I think about the events of the last few months, years, even decade, it can truly be scary, disheartening and worrisome. Maybe if we all had a way to calm our minds, we could handle this one life we are given in a more thoughtful, kind and positive way. We are all facing struggles. Meditation might be a way to help us all relax and learn to be empathetic toward each other.  At the very least, maybe we can be 10 percent happier.


I usually sleep well, but today I have woken at 5:15 and can’t sleep.

There is fierce, raging activity in my head that consists of a series of worries and anxiety.

1. Something happened at work last week. I am worried that, although I know I did the right thing, others may not see it like that.

2. I have to run a working party today with a range of colleagues, and I fear they won’t like me and will realize I don’t know what I am talking about.

3. When the meeting is over, I will have to write it up and produce notes and actions, but I have not put any time in my diary to do this.

4. I have training to deliver on Monday and Thursday next week, but I also haven’t planned the training yet.

5. I have entered a singing competition in three weeks and do not know any of the songs yet.

6. My daughter is still unwell after flu and has stopped eating properly.

7. My husband may have to stop working, which may leave me with sole financial responsibility. And my cleaner has left.

8. I have woken up too early and will be exhausted today. I’ve arranged to take my kids to see a live stream Shakespeare for three hours tonight, but I’m now worried I will go beyond exhaustion because of it.

I could actually continue with more, but eight is probably enough.

What to do? Give up? Ring the doctor? On paper, these things may seem trivial, over-dramatic, irrational. But they feel very real.

I can manage them. Because I have before. A useful exercise I discovered before Christmas is to write them down, name them as feelings/worries and then force myself to counteract them with what I know.

Here’s how I counteracted those worries:

1. Something happened at work last week. I am worried that, although I know I did the right thing, others may not see it like that.

I have lots of evidence of what really happened, and I need to hold to that.

2. I have to run a working party today with a range of colleagues, and I fear they won’t like me and will realize I don’t know what I am talking about.

It is not about them liking me. I have done huge research, and I have a plan, agenda and a clear vision.

3. When the meeting is over, I will have to write it up and produce notes and actions, but I have not put any time in my diary to do this.

I will write detailed notes in the meeting.

4. I have training to deliver on Monday and Thursday next week, but I also haven’t planned the training yet.

I have PowerPoints I can adapt with experience and ideas. It is not about me but about what my audience needs.

5. I have entered a singing competition in three weeks and do not know any of the songs yet.

I can record the songs and listen to them as I drive.

6. My daughter is still unwell after having the flu and has stopped eating properly.

I can’t control whether she is hungry, but I will help her get better however I can.

7. My husband may have to stop working, which may leave me with sole financial responsibility. And my cleaner has left.

We only to have to get through two years and things will improve. I do need a new cleaner, though.

8. I have woken up too early and will be exhausted today. I’ve arranged to take my kids to see a live stream Shakespeare for three hours tonight, but I’m now worried I will go beyond exhaustion because of it.

Remember my university days. Frequent nights with four hours of sleep. Baby days — ditto. Did I die? Nope.

Our minds can be devious, and feelings and worries play tricks. But by getting them out, ordering them and challenging them, I believe we can get through them.

I try to focus on solutions. I have within me the skills and experience to solve problems and face challenges like this.

If your worries are stealing your sleep, take time to write them down and challenge them. And maybe talk them through with someone else who can help you find solutions.

A version of this post was originally published on

Image via Thinkstock Images

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

I’ve said this line far too many times for someone who’s never even dated anyone. My anxiety makes me a revolving door friend, in your life one minute, out the next. In your eyes, you may think I’m unreliable. Before you give up on me and our friendship, there are 11 things I want you to know:

1. I haven’t given up on you.

2. I care about you. More than you know. Please, understand when I can’t be there for you, there is no one more hurt than me.

3. Sometimes I just need space. I promise when I feel OK, whether it’s two days or two years down the line, I always come back around.

4. Don’t try to fix me. Also, don’t tell me what to do. That will only push me away further. What I need to know is that you love and accept me the way I am.

5. Keep inviting me. I never cancel because I get a better deal. There are days when my anxiety is so strong, I cannot pull myself out the door. There are also days when I can. When I can, I will.

6. I’m not fine. I say I am because I don’t want to bog you down with the chaos inside my head.

7. My intention is never to hurt you. In fact, sometimes I am too scared I will like you too much. I know I’m not good with commitment. I fear getting close and disappointing you.

8. Please, be patient. Even though I may not deserve it, hold on a little longer.

9. I hope one day I can be as good of a friend as you are to me.

10. I’m here for you. Even when you think I’m not. I hope you know if you ever are in an emergency, call and I will come around.

11. I’m sorry. I’m aware it’s not fair how I treat you. I hate that my anxiety gets the best of both of us. All I can do is try again tomorrow, the next day and the next day (so long as you allow me too).

Two weeks and one day — the countdown to the start of school. I’ve been avoiding the back-to-school aisle at Target because I cannot bear to see the physical reminders that summer is almost over. In two weeks, I go back to being Mrs. Skar. (I shed that persona a few weeks ago and really don’t feel ready to put it back on.) I think many students assume teachers are excited to go back to school. Maybe some are. I am usually not. I enjoy my summers with my children: sleeping in, reading books, playing at the park, and going to the gym. So when it’s time to head back to the routine, I tend to get a little anxious.

I teach high school English, which means nine months of my life are devoted to reading novels, poems, short stories, and student essays — and grading those essays. It’s a lot of work, and I expect a lot of myself. My high expectations can cause a lot of anxiety.

However, during my 12 years of teaching, I have found some strategies to help me cope, and sometimes even avoid, school stress. This year, I plan to share them with my students.

1. Show up. This is one of the most important life lessons you will learn from school. Show up. If you’re one of those students who’s always late or pretends to be sick, this is the one thing I want you to take away from this list. I know you because, for a time, I was you.  I was nervous about what was in store for me. I was anxious because I didn’t feel prepared for the day. I was scared to face the consequences. So I’d miss school. Guess what? All of the things I was scared of were still there the next day, but there were more added. Sometimes just showing up is the hardest part, but it’s also the most important part. Show up.

2. Prioritize. Use a planner to make a list of what needs to get done, when it needs to be done, and how long it will take. Not only will this help you plan ahead, but it will also take away the burden of remembering everything you have to do. Realize not every assignment will take hours to complete; some may take only a few minutes. I like to start with one, easy-to-complete task before I start a more difficult one.  I treat it like a warm-up for my brain so by the time I’m done, my brain is ready to work on that next difficult task. If you’re one of those “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” people, this will be life-changing for you.

3. Listen to your teachers. They kind of know what they’re talking about. Whether it’s a life lesson or a homework reminder, there’s so much you can garner from these people who have seen it all before you have (remember, they were once teenagers). For instance, if your teacher tells you not to wait until Sunday night to do the reading, I’d suggest taking her advice. There’s probably a reason.

4. Get to know your teachers. Did you know teachers were once students? Did you know teachers are actual people who go home after work? Did you know they have lives outside of school? Your teachers are not the enemy. Most of us became teachers because we enjoy working with students. (Seriously, I love working with high schoolers because they remind me what it was like to be young and they are hilarious.) Getting to know your teachers will help you feel more comfortable asking for help when you need it. Will there be some teachers you get along with better than others?  Yes, but that’s life. You still need to be respectful to the teachers you don’t like.

5. Ask for help when you need it. The critical thinking process is important,
so while it’s good to ask for help, you need to make an honest effort first.

6. Find your learning style. Your teachers are not responsible for your learning — you are.  You need to find what works best for you. Whether it’s listening, visualizing, or experiencing, figure it out and play to your strengths.

7. Don’t demand perfection of yourself. No one is perfect, so don’t try to be.

8. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes is a vital part of the learning process. Learning isn’t supposed to be easy. It can even be a bit painful at times, but you often learn more from the mistakes you make. Some of my students are so afraid of failure that it freezes them. They will sit and stare at an empty computer screen for 50 minutes in fear that their first sentence won’t be perfect. It probably won’t be. My advice to them is to write whatever comes to mind and don’t worry about grammar, spelling, etc. You can always go back and make changes, but only if you write something.

9. Don’t stress about grades. Easier said than done, I know. Grades are important, but they are not the most important thing. The most important things you’ll learn in high school do not come from a textbook. You should learn how to think for yourself, how to form an opinion, and how to be a decent person. If you do not learn these things, you are wasting your time.

10. Take time to be a kid. Many of my students are involved in so many activities that they run from one thing to another, then go home, eat, do homework, and sleep. They have no time to be kids. Being in activities is great, but you need to limit yourself. It’s OK to cut one activity. Instead, make some time to read a good book, go to a movie, go on a picnic with your friends, or go for a run.

The school year will be starting soon. I’m already having some anxiety thinking about it, but going through my strategies helps. It reminds me of what’s important and why I went into teaching in the first place. Every school year is a chance to start new. Take that chance.

Image via Thinkstock.

Before you can understand what it’s like to date someone with anxiety, first you must understand anxiety itself. Anxiety is not a pretty disease. It’s not a beautiful and terrified damsel in distress or your friend who doesn’t want to ride a roller coaster because she’s scared of heights. Anxiety is uncontrollable shaking, constant hypersensitivity to your surroundings, and a complete lack of comfort in your own skin. It’s holding onto an apple core at lunch, watching and waiting for someone else to throw away their trash first so you know it’s OK. It’s suddenly becoming acutely aware you have no control over your unpredictable surroundings, and it’s the paralyzing terror of being around new people because you have no idea what to expect from them.

When it comes to dating someone with anxiety, you have to be willing to accept and accommodate these struggles. If a person with anxiety has opened up enough to date you, you must be important to them. As the relationship progresses and you grow closer to each other, you will become a vital part of their support system. If you continue to date, please understand first and foremost that anxiety is a very real illness and is caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals – it is not a reflection on that person’s courage or willpower. That being said, here are four things to keep in mind when dating someone with anxiety:

1. Be patient.  As people who struggle with anxiety, we are often not confident in ourselves and tend to second guess everything. If someone with anxiety asks you something akin to “Are you mad at me?” or “Do you hate me?” or they apologize multiple times even after you have accepted it, please understand this insecurity is caused by mental illness. Even if you’re not mad, our brains like to pick up on the smallest of details and make mountains out of molehills. As we get to know you better, we will most likely become more comfortable and confident around you, but patience is vital in the beginning.

2. Be understanding. We are almost never comfortable in our surroundings, especially in crowded places or around people we don’t know. This can make the beginning of a relationship difficult. Understand we may not want to stay in a public place or be around unfamiliar people long (or perhaps at all) due to anxiety and may back out on a date or social gathering for that reason. Please try to respect that.

3. Ask. Ask. Ask. Often we don’t voice our opinions because we fear being rejected or angering you. Let us know early on you won’t be angered or put off by us speaking up. Ask us our opinions; it is rare we will tell you our thoughts outright until we know you really well. This will make communication easier and much less stressful for us and will strengthen the relationship.

4. Know that we appreciate you. Sometimes we get a little too caught up in our concern for everything going on in our lives and we forget to tell you how much we appreciate you. That is not your fault. We appreciate everything you do for us, and we love you for it. We are difficult people to deal with – trust us, we know. It’s the little things you do to put our minds at ease that mean the most. We thank you for all that you do to support us in the uphill battle that is anxiety.

“You’re crazy!” he shouted at me. “You’re freaking out and nobody knows what you’re talking about.”

My stomach lurched, and my heart dropped. Pain welled in my throat, and the tears that now flowed like an uncontrollable fire hydrant washed down my face. My voice was so choked I couldn’t even muster a response. This is how the conversation went the first time my loved one witnessed one of my meltdowns — an all out uninhibited anxiety attack.

Ask anyone who struggles with anxiety and I think they will agree, those words — “you’re crazy” — hurt more than anyone could understand. What we already feel in the midst of an anxiety attack is a loss of control of our emotions, our thoughts, our being. Every word that wants to come out cyclones into a monstrous torrent of incoherent thoughts. Only a few words ring clear through that garbled mess, and for me, they’re not pretty. Dramatic, stupid, monster, b*itch. Those are the only words I can make out when an attack comes on me. Because those are the words I have been called.

Now add “crazy” to that list. It is not an understatement for me to say in those moments when my mind shuts down and my emotions break loose that I genuinely feel like I’d rather die than for the person on the receiving end of this meltdown to see me like this. If it is scary for me, I can only imagine what someone watching it must think. “God, she’s a mess,” you might would say.

Or would you?

The other element to my panic is imagining situations that aren’t real. I mean, that is usually what causes the outburst in the first place, am I right fellow anxious friends? For me it is an imagined situation where I have disappointed someone again, and I am getting ready to receive an onslaught of hateful speech from a loved one for how insignificant I am and how I just can’t get anything right. They don’t love me anymore so what the heck, just leave already.

But the thing is, this usually is not the case at all. Ironic, isn’t it? That what I fear someone else will do is what I end up doing, and by doing so, I elicit the feared response from that other someone? Right. Not crazy? Perhaps that is what you are thinking while reading this lovely story of mine. But I am not crazy. Neither is that person is your life who struggles with anxiety. Because the truth is, we did not ask to feel this way. I did not wake up asking the universe to flip on its axis and catapult an ocean of emotions down my throat. I too am trying to figure out how to understand what is happening. While you are watching this go down I am trying to think, “How did I get here? Why do I feel this way? Where did that come from?” I don’t know about anyone else, but my anxiety attacks usually happen at the end of a good day. I could be successful in all I have attempted that day, gotten compliments from friends or strangers, but by the time I have come home to the one I love, I break.

So what do you say to your loved one with anxiety when they scream, “I can’t take this anymore!” A hug. The best thing you can do is hold them in a tight embrace and say, “Everything is going to be OK. I am here for you. We will get through this.” Because really, the reason all of this is happening is because your loved one is feeling immense pressure to measure up. Whether it be your standards or ones they have placed upon themselves (usually the latter), all they need to hear from you is that they do measure up, there is nothing to worry about, and things are going to be just fine.

If I have scared you with this post, I apologize. But chances are you have someone in your life who struggles with anxiety, perfectionism, depression, or any type of self-loathing temperament that makes them feel less than worthy. Remind them they are worthy, they are loved. Because for people like me, all it takes is an understanding word and genuine concern to ease fear. Unfortunately my loved one has learned this the hard way. But now when I start to freak out about my responsibilities or unforeseen plans or whatever else is stressing me, he smiles and says, “It’s all going to be OK. We’re in this together.” There are still things I have to deal with inside of me, but knowing he is standing beside me makes that job a little less painful.

Follow this journey on More Than Sparrows.

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