Jersey Magazine

How ABC News’ Matt Gutman Faced His Fear of Panic Attacks Head On

Matt Gutman is a long-time reporter and currently serves as the Chief National Correspondent for ABC News. Over the course of his career, he has covered stories all over the world, in some incredibly dangerous situations. An on-air gaffe, in the middle of a full-blown panic attack while reporting the Kobe Bryant tragedy, led to Matt tackling his panic attacks, anxiety, and depression head-on. His new book is called No Time To Panic - How I Curbed My Anxiety and Conquered A Lifetime of Panic Attacks. JIM MONAGHAN - He is a longtime reporter and currently the chief national correspondent for ABC News. It's a pleasure to welcome Matt Gutman here to WDHA on the Jersey magazine. Good morning. MATT GUTMAN - Hey. Good morning, Jim. Good to be with you. JM - The new book, No Time to Panic - How I Curbed My Anxiety and Conquered a Lifetime of Panic Attacks. There's a quote in the book, Matt, with regard to the brain- "We still don't know how much we don't know." So let me ask you, from your experience, what do we know about panic attacks and anxiety? MG - First of all, ladies and gentlemen listening, I want you to know that Jim actually read the book, so that doesn't actually happen, so to speak, with someone who does his homework like this is amazing. So, yeah, there's a lot we don't know about the brain. It is so little understood, which is why we don't know why things like antidepressants work for some people, but not all of the people, why they work for depression and not for panic and people like me, or why they work for panic for other people. So this is a world which is still opening up. Here's what we do know about the human brain. And it was sort of the starting point for my investigation into why I felt like I was broken, and that is that humans evolved to be anxious. It was actually an evolutionary advantage. Like, you got scared sooner, you could avoid the lion and didn't have to run away when it was chasing you. And humans developed anxiety into an art. Like, we learned how to be anxious and afraid of something that was abstract, which is why I basically have panic attacks. Right? And so there were two major buckets of fear that humans experience for tens of thousands of generations. One, you're going to be on the savannah, and the lion is going to come eat you. Two, we evolved to cooperate with other fellow humans, and we gave up size and speed for it. So the second is the social fear. If we got kicked out of our group by doing something dumb, we would be wandering the savannah, whereupon a lion would come and eat us. So we learned to associate the social fear of doing something dumb that would get us kicked out of our group as being as threatening as being eaten by a lion, which is why people like me have panic attacks when we go on air. I am afraid that I'm going to get kicked out of my group of the people I so deeply respect at ABC. David Muir, George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts, all those people, if I run afoul of them, it's game over for me. In my head. That's what I used to think. JM - How did you hide it for so long? MG - Aren't we all good at hiding stuff? We're all ducks. Above the water, we're kind of coasting very calmly and gracefully. Underwater, we're paddling furiously. So, I mean, that's what I did. And I don't know, your brain carries you through, and a panic attack is debilitating, but also not fully debilitating, otherwise it wouldn't still be in the human genome because we'd be dead, right? So we still function through the panic attack, except one time in January 2020 when I made the, it was the only time I ever made an on-air mistake while having a panic attack. We were covering Kobe Bryant's helicopter crash. It was right near my home. He was in Calabasas, where it crashed. And I made a terrible mistake, a catastrophic reporting error on air. I separated two pieces of information. One was reportable, the other was not, and I was suspended. Now, there's a lot of stuff that goes through our brains, right? Like, how many lanes of traffic can a brain navigate at once? My dad was killed in a plane crash when I was twelve, basically the same age as Gianna, Kobe's daughter. And my dad was the same age pretty much as Kobe. And so maybe that, I assume that that was one of the things that was swirling in my head, but that was the launch of this exploration that I went on for three and a half years, figuring out A, why I was broken, what was happening in my brain, and B, how to fix it. And it just turned out that I learned eventually that sharing is really good medicine and that statistically I knew that about a third to half of people suffer panic. But I didn't realize it until I started talking to people how much it's affected them. And then I realized I had a constituency of more than one here, and maybe I could help people. JM - We talk about mental health a lot here on this program at WDHA, Matt. And we're speaking with Matt Gutman this morning at 105.5 WDHA. There's definitely a stigma. There's no question about it. I think it's been reduced a little bit over the past few years. How much of a dent do you think you can make with this book and that stigma? MG - I don't know. I hope it's a dent. I should have known what a panic attack was. I watched The Sopranos, I've seen Tony Soprano have that panic attack when the ducks flew away. I grew up in New Jersey. But I didn't. And so the fact that for 15 years I carried around panic and I didn't even know that I had panic tells you something about how well people hide it and how much shame and stigma surrounds it. I even hid it from myself for years, keeping cryptic notes about my panic attacks. So when the book came out and we announced that we're publishing it, and now, since publication, I have been deluged in a way that I had not expected, Jim, with people sharing their stories, on-air personalities like you, celebrities who you would never, ever think ever suffered anxiety, hundreds and thousands of people on social media, and I tried to get back to everyone. I'm struggling right now, but I hope it does make a difference, at least normalizing it and chipping away at that concrete thousand block of shame that surrounds panic and severe anxiety. And I hope it makes a difference. I'm certainly trying. JM - One of the other points that you make in the book, Matt, is the weirdness of outliving your father. You had that at 42.I had it a little older, 53. My dad died young. But it is a weird feeling. MG - It's a weird feeling, Jim. You really read the book. It's something that there are two things that are unnatural, more unnatural to lose your child while you're still alive, that is the grief and the trauma that I think we can never get over. But outliving your father by a lot, especially when you still feel like a kid inside, is pretty weird. And I was going through that. I was exactly 42. I just outlived my father when the Kobe Bryant thing happened. So I assume that was also swirling around in my brain. All of us carry around these traumas. And one of the things I learned in reporting the book is that I was more of a man if I learned how to cry about it, if I learned how to release some of that stuff that was keeping me down because I thought I had to stay in control the whole time, because that's what we guys do. And I learned through the psychedelics and a lot of the other stuff that enabled me to cry, to touch base with that grief, that I needed to let it go. And it taught me how to let it go without actually having to use psychedelic medicine to do so. A long answer to your very good question. JM - No Time To Panic - How I Curbed My Anxiety and Conquered A Lifetime of Panic Attacks, the new book from Matt Gutman. Matt, thanks for your time this morning here on WDHA. It's a fascinating conversation with you. MG - Thanks so much, Jim. Really appreciate it.

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