This ABC News Correspondent Says Having an On-Air Panic Attack Improved His Life

ABC’s Good Morning America has its share of familiar faces at the news desk. Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos have co-anchored the program for over a decade, and the morning news show also features fan favorites such as Amy Robach, Michael Strahan, Ginger Zee, and Lara Spencer.

One ABC News correspondent who frequently appeared on the morning program has openly shared his battle with anxiety and addiction, revealing that once having a panic attack while at the GMA news desk turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"Good Morning America's" Dan Harris, Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, and Lara Spencer
“Good Morning America’s” Dan Harris, Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, and Lara Spencer | Fred Lee/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

A life-changing segment

Journalist Dan Harris began reporting for ABC News in 2000, according to Variety. The ABC News correspondent has covered national and global events, including the war in Afghanistan, the U.S.-Mexican border crisis, and the 2004 presidential election. “To use the cameras and the megaphone that we have to improve people’s lives, especially the lives of children, that to me gets me really fired up. That’s when I think I do my best work,” he said of being a journalist, according to GMA.

Harris has been transparent about his struggle with anxiety and substance abuse. What brought his issues to the forefront was a certain segment during a GMA broadcast in the spring of 2004.

“I was filling in on Good Morning America, anchoring the news updates at the top of each hour,” Harris writes in his book, “10% Happier.” “I had done this job plenty of times before, so I had no reason to foresee what would happen shortly after the co-hosts, Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson, tossed it over to me for my brief newscast: I was overtaken by a massive, irresistible blast of fear.”

Harris went on to describe the physical manifestations of the attack while he was supposed to be delivering the news to millions of viewers. “It felt like the world was ending. My heart was thumping. I was gasping for air,” he described. “I had pretty much lost the ability to speak. And all of it was compounded by the knowledge that my freak-out was being broadcast live on national television.”

At one point, Harris revealed that he had to go off script and cut his report short. “Halfway through the six stories I was supposed to read, I simply bailed, squeaking out a ‘Back to you,’” he admitted.

Getting help

In his book, Harris shared that he sought therapy after the on-air panic attack and discovered some life-changing truths about himself, such as admitting he had a serious drug problem.

“In 2003, after spending several years covering the wars in Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine and Iraq, I became depressed. In an act of towering stupidity, I began to self-medicate, dabbling with cocaine and ecstasy,” Harris revealed. “My intake was sporadic, and mostly restricted to weekends… In hindsight, it was an attempt, at least partly, to recreate some of the thrill of the war zone.”

Harris learned that the repercussions of his drug use included experiencing panic attacks. “A side-effect of all of this, as my doctor explained to me, was that the drugs had increased the level of adrenaline in my brain, dramatically boosting the odds of a panic attack,” Harris shared. “It didn’t matter that I hadn’t gotten high in the days or weeks leading up to my on-air Waterloo; those side-effects lingered.”

The power of meditation

Through an assignment on covering the aspects of faith, Harris began studying and practicing meditation, which proved to have an incredibly positive impact on his life.

“Meditation is a tool for taming the voice in your head… meditation is often effective kryptonite against the kind of epic mindlessness that produced my televised panic attack,” Harris explained. “When friends and colleagues ask (usually with barely hidden skepticism) why I meditate, I often say, ‘It makes me 10% happier.’”

Harris recently stepped down as anchor of ABC’s Nightline, which he has headed since 2013, to pursue business opportunities that stemmed from the meditation practices he outlines in his book, including hosting a podcast of the same name.

The ABC News correspondent is hoping to reach skeptics who may think meditation is just the ‘power of positive thinking.’ In “10% Happier,” he describes the practice as “a doable, realistic, scientifically researched way to get significantly happier, calmer, and nicer. If meditation could be stripped of the syrupy, saccharine language with which it’s too often presented, it might be appealing to millions of smart, skeptical people who may never otherwise consider it.”

“10% Happier” is on sale now.