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Charlie Hoehn cured his anxiety
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Pass it on
I'm reading
Charlie Hoehn cured his anxiety
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Charlie Hoehn cured his anxiety
Pass it on
Pass it on
5 August 2013

Charlie Hoehn cured his anxiety

Play allows you to stop taking your life so damn seriously, so you can start living again.

Written by Charlie Hoehn

This story originally ran in issue #36 of Dumbo Feather

Discussed in this Story

For a long time, I thought I was going crazy. I’d convinced myself that something horribly wrong was about to happen. I thought I would be stabbed, shot or arrested every time I left my apartment. I was sure that there was an impending disaster that would melt the social contract and pit my neighbours against me. I saw criminals and undercover cops everywhere I went.

Every moment was exhausting. I dreaded being around more than one person at a time. I eyed everyone like they were judging me, pitying me, or attempting to manipulate me.
 My attention was divided in every interaction: one half of me would pretend to be normal, while the other half would be trying to keep it together. I tried to behave like nothing was wrong, when all I wanted to do was lock myself in a room and curl up in a ball. If someone had tapped me on the chest, my body would have shattered. I was ashamed.

I didn’t want to be around anyone—not because I stopped liking people, but because I didn’t want them to catch my weird energy. I wearily watched my girlfriend cry when I confided that I felt dead inside, all the time, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I lay on the ground for 20 minutes one night, wondering whether I should call an ambulance. My heart was beating so hard and fast that I could actually hear it, and my left hand was going numb. My first panic attack.

My anxiety lasted for more than a year. It affected how I breathed, how I thought, how I ate, how I slept and how I talked. I was serious and tired and afraid, all the time. I wanted so badly to return to my normal, lively, carefree, confident self. But I didn’t know how to shake it. I tried everything: meditation, yoga, high-intensity workouts, long runs, therapy, books, keeping a journal, super clean diets, extended fasting, drugs, deep-breathing exercises, prayer…I even took a six-week course specifically for men who wanted to overcome anxiety. A few of these things helped, a lot of them didn’t. Some of them made things worse.

Then one day, I discovered the cure—it was free, fun, painless, and immediately effective. My epiphany came when I read Play by Dr Stuart Brown. The book talks about how play is essential to our mental and emotional health. Much like missing sleep, you can become “play deprived”, which leads to stress, depression, and anxiety. That was my “Eureka” moment. In less than one month, I was back to my old self. I have no fear that those feelings will ever return.

Dr Seuss described adults as “obsolete children”. Have you ever witnessed a little kid working out on a treadmill? Meeting up with a friend to chat over coffee? Attending a networking conference to hand out their business cards? Hell no. That stuff is boring.

Kids don’t run to get in shape; they run to feel the grass beneath their feet and the wind on their face. Kids don’t chat over coffee; they pretend and make jokes and explore the outdoors. Kids don’t network; they bond while playing. There is no ego. There is no guilt. There is no past to regret, and no future to worry about. Kids just play.

For two years, I had unknowingly prevented myself from playing. I’d find myself tethered to the internet all day, sitting in a chair for 10 hours, staring at a bright screen. Even when I was “finished”, I’d impulsively check my email several times after midnight. I was oblivious to the fact that my nerves were being frayed, and that I desperately needed face-to-face time with real human beings. What made matters worse were the idiotic rituals I’d fallen into.
 Drinking coffee all day, then drinking alcohol with friends
 on the weekend. I didn’t get outside, I didn’t move enough, 
I didn’t sleep enough. My weeks were a cycle of over-stimulation then numbness. The real problem was my 
state of mind. I’d become increasingly adept at rejecting any form of “non-productivity”. I couldn’t allow play if it didn’t contribute to earning money or doing something “meaningful”. Even when I was with friends or doing something that was supposed to be fun, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the time I was wasting. I wasn’t being productive; I was losing valuable time. I had to get back to work!

Without realising it, I became very serious. I couldn’t play because that meant I wasn’t working, and I couldn’t really work because I always felt tired and jaded. This resulted
 in me convincing myself that life was a miserable grind for adults, and that I needed to be very serious if I wanted to get through it. I approached everything this way, and treated my work as a form of self-imposed slavery. Little did I know how limiting that mindset was, and how much it was hurting the work I was doing.

I have to approach work as play, otherwise my work sucks. When I tackle a problem with a sense of play—voluntarily because I’m inherently attracted to it—my creativity
 and optimism and happiness soar. I become fascinated with the world. I fall in love with people. And whomever I’m working with helps me make the game more fun; our positive energy becomes contagious. That’s where my best work has come from.

I just finished six weeks of improvisation classes. Every session, I was thrust into situations where I was essentially guaranteed to fail and look foolish. At first, I was nervous and slightly mortified. My heart beat rapidly and I would sweat when I had to perform in front of 15 other people. But by the end of the six weeks, improvisation became a tremendous source of strength. All of us were there to play, to say “yes” to every situation we were thrown into, to cheer each other on.
We all looked foolish, but we trusted each other. That’s how it should be all the time—saying “yes” to every moment, knowing it’s another opportunity for you to embrace life. Saying “yes” cured my social anxiety.

Play is what we all love to do. Play is where our subconscious naturally guides us. Play is the state where we are truly ourselves, once we let go of our egos and the fear of
looking stupid. Play immerses us in the moment, where we effortlessly slip into flow. Play allows us to imagine, to create, to bond with and understand each other. Play is what creates our strongest social circles. And most importantly, play utterly destroys anxiety. Play allows you to stop taking your life so damn seriously, so you can start living again.

Charlie Hoehn

Charlie Hoehn is the author of Recession Proof Graduate. He’s also a marketing strategist for a number of The New York Times bestselling authors. His writing can be found at charliehoehn.com.

Feature image by Amandine Thomas

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