When I first felt the wave of tension sweep over my body, I thought I was coming down with something, but this was different from the typical common cold symptoms. It was eerie. My body was unsteady, and I broke out in a light mist of sweat, which was strange because I felt cold and needed a jacket. My stomach was in knots too. It was so tight that I had difficulty breathing. I couldn't inhale deeply, no matter how hard I tried, which only made it worse. It wasn't until a week later when the ailments settled down that I realized I wasn't getting sick at all. (Well, not in the conventional way I was used to, anyway.) I'd suffered from a mild anxiety attack. And I'm not alone.
Anxiety has become the number one mental health issue in North America, affecting about a third of the population here. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, that's a whopping 40 million adults between the age of 18 and 54. In a recent survey, 41% of employees from a range of industries reported high levels of anxiety in the workplace. Since my anxiety is mild, I knew I could control it with some alternative therapy. Exercise and sleep also really help. But the most successful treatment I discovered came to me completely by accident.
I love to listen to educational podcasts on my commute to work, and on this day, in particular, I was drawn to the Tony Robbins interview on The Tim Ferriss Show. I'm not a crazy TR fan, and to be clear, I've never watched one of his shows or attended any of his seminars, but a friend had recommended I give this a listen, so I hit play. While there were definitely parts of the interview that didn't feel relatable to me, one section moved me to tears and quashed all my anxiety in an instant: the portion on the 90-second rule. This exercise is incredibly powerful, and I urge anyone with anxiety or stress to try it out. Read on to find out more and learn how to do it yourself.
WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT
The 90-second rule is great for those of you who (like me) have tried meditation but can't quite make it work. In a nutshell, this simple exercise is about aligning the heart and the head. "When your mind and your heart are in alignment, human beings are able to resolve internal conflicts," Robbins told Ferriss. "I always tell people, You get in your head, you're dead. Your mind is great for strategy, but it will never make you enjoy your life. It'll never let you enjoy the taste of an apple because it will go Is it organic? Where did it come from? versus your heart, which can bring the juice of anything back to you."
Robbins believes there are two states you can live in: a beautiful state or a suffering state. And we all know life is way too short to suffer. So when he feels pain, stress, anxiety, or tension, he stops and applies the 90-second rule. "Feel it for 90 seconds, figure it out, and let it go," he said. "We live in a world where most of us are looking for what's wrong, and what's wrong is always available, but so is what's right. If you don't take control of your focus, everything in your life will disappear. … Kill the monster while it's a baby; don't wait until it's Godzilla eating the city."
HOW TO DO IT
This is such a powerful tool that I decided to transcribe a portion of the 90-second rule exercise Robbins described on The Tim Ferriss Show. In the below script, Robbins takes listeners through the process step by step. We recommend some music while you do this too.
First off, before you begin, he invites you to think of a situation where you have some unfinished business. Then rate it on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being totally stressed out and zero being not at all. Robbins asks listeners to pick a situation that's a least a seven or more for the purpose of this exercise "just so you know it really works," he says. Then he begins:
Put both of your hands on your heart, and physically breathe deep into your heart. And as you're breathing deep in your heart, feel the strength of your heart. Feel the power of your heart. Feel the beauty of your heart. What are you proud or grateful that your heart has guided you to do or to give or to feel or to enjoy?
Feel the strength of your heart. Breathe into it. Feel the blood flow, the oxygen, and feel grateful for your heart first. Think about it. You didn't have to earn this heart. It was given to you. You didn't have to prove your value or your worth; you didn't have to accomplish anything. Something loved you enough to give you the gift of life. As long as this heart is beating, you have that gift and you live.
So as you breathe in your heart, feeling your powerful heart. We're going to think of one event in your life, one experience, one moment that you could feel so grateful for if you wanted to. A magic moment. A sacred moment. A sexy moment. A beautiful moment. A loving moment. Any moment that really you could feel grateful for if you wanted to right now.
Then step into that memory for a minute. Step in your body as if you were there. See what you would have seen then as if you were there or hear what you'd hear back then. Breathe the way you were breathing back then. If you filled up with that sense of gratitude for that moment, how do you smile when you're so grateful or so thankful? What's the look in your eyes? How do you breathe? What's the look in your face when you feel really, really grateful?
Just fill it up; fill it up with gratitude. …
Now as you breathe in your heart (keep breathing, keep feeling it, feeling grateful), let's use this state to solve the problem state. The easy way to do that is to keep breathing into your heart. Stay out of your head in your heart, and think of that situation that's unfinished business that's stressed you out in the past, but keep breathing this beautiful state, and ask yourself this question: All I need to focus on in that situation, all I need to remember is—what? Your heart knows. Your heart knows the answer. You know what to do; what's next.
WHEN YOU SHOULD DO IT
You never know when anxiety will strike—sometimes it's in the car, at your desk, or in the shopping center, so it's hard to take a moment to stop and hold your heart for the 90-second rule. So what do you do? If you can't physically hold your heart, do it mentally instead. In this instance, I close my eyes momentarily and breathe into my heart, thinking about something that makes me feel truly grateful. If you're at the office, take yourself to a quiet corner and sit quietly to conduct the exercise. It works every time—I promise.
The trick, as Robbins explains, is to avoid stressing out about the things you can't control and to find the beauty in things instead, but that isn't always as easy as it sounds. Right? It's tough sometimes. If you really want to overcome anxiety and stress, go one step further and take Robbins's 10-day challenge.
Are you ready to quash anxiety in its tracks? Pick up some of our favorite reads on the topic and then visit The Tim Ferriss Show to listen to the entire interview.
This post was originally published on September 13, 2016, and has since been updated.