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38 Comments

I had an anxiety attack for the first time in my life 😐

I had an anxiety attack yesterday.

It was intense, shocking and the first time I had this experience. Suddenly during a call I couldn't focus or speak clearly and started feeling panicked.

1 hour later, once I started feeling better I documented what happened...

As you may have already seen, I recently started vlogging my weeks, to show how solo entrepreneurship truly is behind the scenes. I believe video is the best way to capture moments and emotions but I wasn't sure if I wanted to share this at first.

Most of us in the community (including me) is mainly talking about what goes well. How much revenue we make, what new success we had and so on.

There are so many things going on behind the scenes that are not fun. But we don't talk about them.

I believe we need more content that makes us vulnerable. Content that is original and honest.

So here I am, taking the first step and starting to share these moments.

Hope it will help you take more care of yourself and learn from my mistakes 🤞

Watch on YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UITotVkPhRY


If you are new to my journey, on June 2020 I quit my job with a year of savings (32.000€) to chase my dream of becoming a full-time IndieHacker. I had no specific plans or project ideas to work on. Only a goal, some savings and my skills. Since then I share every week what happens behind the scenes.

Feel free to join me on my journey, and to check all the updates I 've published so far!

  1. 3

    Hey man — great video, fair play! I’ve had a few panic attacks. I actually collapsed once — thought I was a goner tbh.

    I’ve also dealt with my fair share professionally (non-medial, music industry) and there’s a fairly easy hack to prevent them called square breathing a.k.a box breathing.

    Square breathing is used by elite athletes and armed forces to calm and remained focused under extreme pressure.

    It’s also medically proven to prevent anxiety and panic attacks. Once your BPM goes north of 115 you start to enter fight or flight mode. Your heart rate would have probably been way above that. That’s why your heart feels like it's going to burst through your rib cage.

    Practice square breathing daily as well as employing it when you are feeling stressed.

    Here’s a short article on it. If you need any more info let me know ✌️

    https://creativehackers.substack.com/p/how-to-hack-fear-and-anxiety

    1. 1

      I second the square breathing technique. Proper breathing technique saves lives. The crazy thing is that once you master it becomes like riding a bicycle: you know you will always be able to hop on a bike & just ride whenever you need one.

      1. 2

        Beautiful tip I 'll give it a try for sure - thanks so much for sharing them and also for sharing your story as well 🙏

      2. 1

        Good analogy. I like it.

  2. 3

    Wow, that's bad man! Take care! Take a few days off, you've certainly earned it!

    I kinda' know how it feels - I haven't had a panic attack yet, but I think I've come close to it a few times.

    1. 3

      Thanks man! And yes it is I can confirm it sucks 😅 I'll definitely do and will switch to 4days per week work to take it easy in the next months!

      1. 1

        Yup, sounds like a plan!
        I should start doing that myself, at some point :D

  3. 2

    Take care of yourself, Jim. It's important for us to share what's happening for us, but sometimes we also need the space to heal/self-care without sharing what's happening in real-time. So I'm basically saying, make sure you put yourself first :)

    As another commenter wrote below, I feel these things which happen in our body/mind are invitations/indicators for us to make a change.

    Sharing these raw, emotional parts of the journey is good for everyone, I feel. I saw another indiehacker talk about his burnout recently - this is another big topic which I don't see enough of "out there", but I know many of us have experienced.

    1. 2

      Thanks a lot Jas! I totally agree with you on this and I'll actually make this a regular topic of the weekly content I put online. Embracing vulnerability and helping each other learn from our stories can only have good results.

      Also for the invitation to change I agree 100% - I already starting applying radical changes to me weekly routine (scale down projects, work less days).

      All the best and good luck with everything!

  4. 2

    Jim I regularly talk to Founders who go through this and so few people talk about it. When I was 37, after running HARD for 18 years, my heart stopped. I was in the ICU after just weeks of having my daughter, staring at the ceiling, wondering if this was the end.

    I had simply run my body into the ground.

    When I spoke to other Founders (I know thousands given what I do) they ALL said they had the same problem. This is one of the most important topics that gets zero discussion.

    1. 1

      Damn Wil that's intense 😬 Really happy you are back on track and more relaxed now!

      Indeed these topics don't get much attention, that's why I decided to start vlogging my indiehacking journey and talk about these more and more.

      Even if we all want to build a successful product and make some money, in the end of the day what we are really chasing is a happy life with people who love around us. And what I've realized is that all the content is focused on the products and growth and not so much on how to use these as the tools to experience a better calmer life :)

      For example I decided to scale down to only 3 projects (my YouTube vlog, my saas and my freelance client) and work 4 days per week since it's smth I can support financially. I am really excited to have a medium to share all these new upcoming experiences and help other founders as well.

      Btw I followed you on Twitter, I saw you the other day as well and you are working on pretty cool things :-) Keep it up and all the best!

  5. 2

    I resonate with you, Jim - sending you support! I know it's hard to take a break, but I am trying to start doing that every day, something for myself for an hour or so. not researching how to grow, not writing ideas, not on Twitter or social media... Just something entertaining like watching a movie or just space out. I think there is a concept called the art of doing nothing... maybe we all need to do that a bit more. Please take care!

    1. 2

      Thanks so much Hua! I wish you all the best as well :)

      Indeed the art of doing nothing is a big thing we should "master". From my experience the activities that help me disconnect me is skateboarding, surfing and biking. They force me to get into the flow and focus on the activity and stop thinking about anything work related. They also allow me to workout which is great for the mind and body.

      Especially skateboarding is very therapeutic for me, if you haven't give it a try I totally recommend it!

  6. 2

    Sorry to hear about the attack.

    Not only can I relate, but I'm currently sitting in an Airbnb writing this comment while working on vacation. I've negotiated a vacation schedule with my girlfriend where we head outdoors and do activities for half of the day and then head back inside while I work for half of the day. Not ideal.

    But I'm an engineer and an entrepreneur. So I'm optimistic. Nerdy as it will sound, I see this is an engineering problem that I can build systems to fix. It will just take a lot of trial and error. I haven't traveled much while working on Indie Hackers, but that will change soon, and on each trip I'll try out different approaches to stepping away from work and delegating to my team and communicating to our partners (including you @jimzarkadas!).

    Eventually I'm sure I'll strike the right balance between risk (lost money/productivity) and reward (fun experiences, recharged batteries, creative distance, etc.).

    1. 2

      Man I totally agree on what you said - it's 100% a system related challenge I love this perspective. On top of this it's a bit of getting used to allow people to takeover (and accept that they will make mistakes in order to learn as well).

      Also for the traveling + working, I tried it as well but never really worked for me :-( There was no way for me to fully disconnect and refresh my mind.

      I am actually going to Greece in 2 weeks from now to visit my family and before the anxiety attack I had planned to spend 4 days together and then work from home and just enjoy the weekends. But I realized I am doing the same mistake there and decided to take all the days off and accept I ll just make less money that month with freelancing.

      Finally one thing I discussed with my therapist is that I see a holiday period as a period of lost money instead of gained creativity and mindfulness. That's why I am working on changing my perspective now and focusing on what truly matters :)

  7. 2

    Super authentic video. I‘m really impressed by how you’re facing your struggles, Jim!

  8. 1

    i suffered REALLY bad with them when i was stuck in my dead end retail job.... constant hopelessness and mystery took me to a dark place.

    One thing that worked for me (as i didn't want to take med's) was a focusing trick the Doctor told me.

    i was collapsing about 3 times a week at my worst and then with this information from my doctor mixed with "belly breathing" it all helped.

    the 5-4-3-2-1 Method was the one that got me on the straight and narrow and able to function correctly.

    when you sense one coming on go and sit somewhere your comfortable.... mine was the corner of my living room.

    • Five things, look for 5 things... can be anything... Computer, kids Teddy, TV Remote or a rug... literally anything.... And for each one just think about them for a few moments...
    • Four sounds - listen for 4 sounds, figure out where they are coming from, why they are happening
    • Touch Three Objects - where i sat in the corner of my living room i had a massive bean bag that was a neoprene material so it was smooth, soft and stretchy, a Rug which was very coarse and should have been thrown out (lol) and my leather couch....
    • Smell two things - Where you are sat can you smell 2 different smells? mine was usually what drink i had in my hand and some lavender .
    • Can you taste one thing? - if your anything like me and drink a copious amount of coffee (i really shouldn't) you can usually still taste it.

    This method can be difficult but worth it... i got it on my second try and by the time id got to the final stage id calmed down, a little bit of the belly breathing after this and i was good to go again....

    The final piece of my puzzle was to pick a sport that was a good workout, Fun and had purpose for me.... mine was Brazilian JiuJitsu.... i'm quite happy to say I've not had an attack in 2 years.

    If you ever want to talk let me know... we don't know each other but I've been where you are and sometimes just talking can help a lot. mike@raspada-blog.co.uk

    1. 1

      Thanks so much for sharing your story and tips Mike - really appreciate it 🙏

      I ll keep them for sure in mind :) Also regarding the sport it's interesting how powerful it is for our brains. My sport is skateboarding but in the Netherlands it's rainy which makes it hard to skate outside and the indoor park was closed with the lock-down :(

      But now it's open again and went 2 times since I had the anxiety attack and I already feel much better! I feel it helps me refocus on what matters in life and what happiness truly means 😅

  9. 1

    Been there once when I was still a full time freelancer working with customers on site. Don't need that again ever.

    1. 2

      Yeap freelancing can be tough sometimes 😅

  10. 1

    Hey Jim, Sorry to hear you went though this. The more I speak to other founders about it, sadly the more believe it is the normal in some form or another.

    I've gone through similar experiences juggling startups, family and keeping an income coming in via my app dev agency but this stress manifests in each of us differently. Reading comments here I know that as entrepreneurs and engineers we have a tough persona and a 'hero to save the day'... there is no problem we cannot solve or overcome. But my case was insidious as it could up with me eventually with a number of auto immune issues. I wrote about my story here https://thedayninja.com/2021/04/05/get-into-the-flow-state/

    Your case resinates with me as it people like you I want to reach out to and help. I figured out a lot of stuff over the last couple of years and know changes that can make all the difference. That is what I am doing with my coaching BOT I am building here on IH, but I have setup a landing page and some blog posts to help.

    Some quick tips:
    1/ Exercise daily!
    2/ Get plenty of sleep
    3/ Don't open your inbox until after 11am (get your most important task done first up)
    4/ No social media, news or any other distractions until then
    5/ Strive to get into flow state, but also come up for air to break up the day
    6/ Be sure to celebrate a win each week.

    Try these and sign up for the bot, I'll start dropping more material over the coming weeks as I build it out.

    Take care,
    -Nathan

    1. 1

      Thanks a lot for the help Nathan! Totally agree with your tips and started working on most of them as well :-)

      Also flow-state is a must - still working on my focus skills hehe

      Thanks again and keep it up!

  11. 1

    I'm sorry to hear you experienced this. These things are a wake up call for sure that something has to change. It's nice to see in the video how proactive you are about addressing it. The changes you have decided on worked for me in the past - specifically bringing music, exercise and time away from work.

    There are moments where we get busy, and you're right that doing projects can get stressful. You're also very right to point out that the opposite - not having enough work or income - can be stressful too.

    A couple of books that I found helpful in the past for you or anyone else that might need it to help reconnect with themselves, others, or with your creativity, and to work smarter - not just harder. It sounds like you've done this work already :)

    • Make Time by Jake Knapp
    • Lost Connections by Johann Hari
    • Atomic Habits by James Clear
    • The war of art by Steven Pressfield
    • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
    • One person, Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher
    • Any of the many good books on sleep
    • Show your work by Austin Kleon

    I highly recommend talk therapy as a longer-term support. Vlogging is partly helping you in a similar way I think. But it's been surprisingly useful to me, to actually have someone actively listen and provide strategies over time. Family and friends are great, but this is different.

    Best of luck, I hope you get to rest, surf, skate and relax a bit more

    1. 1

      Thanks so much for the recommendations! I ll take a look on these books for sure :)

      Also for the therapy I 100% agree with you - it's smth I've been doing for 2 years now and don't want to stop in any case. Having an expert to support you on this whole thing is one of the best investments for sure!

      Thanks again for the help and wish you all the best as well <3

  12. 1

    Hi Jim! I loved your video. Thank you for sharing. I hope you don't experience that again, I have before as well. The dizziness. I think I might have been dehydrated or forgot to snack.
    Founder life is wild. You do deserve all the vacations of course! Good for you to switching to a four-day work week again! I think your high energy and drive is normal, you seem inspired in your video!

    1. 2

      Hey! Thanks a lot for sharing these :) And yes founder life is wild for sure haha - sometimes too much maybe, but it's fun in the end and keeps me motivated so everything is fine.

      Thanks again and wish you all the best!

  13. 1

    Hi Jim,

    the good news in this, is that you have power over this situation and/or feeling ! You are learning about yourself in the process and it brings you to change some things in your life to feel better... that's an awesome gift. But in the moment, it doesn't feel so much like a gift! I cross this road often! And I think that's why I am compelled to give my 2 cents on the matter. I see this in 2 fold:

    • When I have these kind of attacks, I have this recurring idea in my head that loops on and on with no end in sight. It might be a feeling that I will miss money for something, it might be something I am procrastinating about, anything that brings fear or discomfort. And then, I will hammer myself in my head about this thing I'm procrastinating about because I'm not doing it... The concept here is the repetition of a negative message that will finish to be amplified by the closed loop. At some point, your body becomes your mind and it cannot do otherwise that give you these physical messages driven by the cortisol and the fight or flight mechanism. I try to develop the habit to identifying the first signs that my body gives me in these situations , or to identify looping negative thoughts. The instant I act on it, I already feel better. I also try to have more compassion for myself and be less hard on me. So the gift might not always be the one we are looking for, but this understanding is one for me ;-)

    • There is a concept where you brain works in different phases depending if you are active on a task or if you are roaming and doing nothing in particular. I don't remember the name of the study, but it is shown that you would have better or faster results and improve your creativity if you'd let your brain switch between the 2 states. It is a misconception I believe that success comes because you work hard. Because we believe in this concept, we feel bad when we take some time off.

    Here are some suggestions:

    • Maybe you could pre-plan vacations in the year. At least 1 week-end out of town every 3 months.
    • Instead of shrinking your work week and squeeze more in less (which might give you more stress), maybe could you extend your work week but fill your days with more and longer breaks for family time, reading, sport?
    • Mindfulness exercises might help for the anxiety. I also found that some nootropics helped me to diminish my anxiety when needed.

    I hope this will help you to feel better and that you'll find some insight :-)
    May the force be with you!

  14. 1

    Wow! I can definitely relate with a couple of the things you talked about in your video. The part of managing different projects is hard, for me it's really easy to lose focus and jump from on thing to another, and after the day is over you realize you made like 10% progress on the things you were working on, but you could've improved more if you were to focus in a specific thing at the time.

    This week, I've been trying to alocate each day or at least half to a specific project this week, still got a bit distracted every once in a while, but definitely was able to enjoy more and actually knew what the progress was each day, rather than having to sort it all out from the different things done in that day.

    Not feeling bad about taking a break is something that most of us probably struggle with, but it is definitely something to practice and and try to enjoy.

    Cheers, I hope that you enjoy your days off.

    1. 2

      Totally agree and relate to what you mentioned! I am trying to work with time blocks in my calendar as well and somedays it works and some other days it doesn't haha - it really depends on the mood I ll be in when I wake up

      Thanks a lot and keep it up! We'll make it work in the end :D

  15. 1

    Hey mate, just watch your channel and I think you have something promising going on there. Helping other indie hackers with UX videos is definitely welcome coz all I've been doing is just watching static insta and dribble pages and it definitely not moving my skill lever a single bit. Subscribe done!

    1. 1

      Yo! Thanks a lot for sharing that man :) I've actually started uploading daily vlogs and is super fun so far, I am really curious how it will turn out in the next months.

      Also for insta and dribbble I had the same issue they are really conceptual/useless - I made this tweet yesterday that could maybe be helpful for you https://twitter.com/JimZarkadas/status/1399768704469061640

  16. 1

    Hey man. I posted a comment about the 4 day plan. Was going to suggest against it based on what you wrote about quitting your job and being under pressure to make things work (in that case not working at least 5 or even 6 days to get things moving could be an extra stress by itself). But didn’t realize you’re now profitable and your whole goal was to have time for yourself so in that case sounds like your decision will only make you less stressed because you’ll be living out your dreams.

    The only thing I’d add to the anxiety hacks others have posted is to watch out for too much caffeine if you are a coffee drinker. More than one dose a day can definitely trigger what you described especially when coupled with other stressors. Hope it all works out!

    1. 1

      Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts man! Indeed for the 4 days of work, at this point I can afford them and they won't create more stress. I tried in the past when I had no revenue and I ended up getting stressed so you are 100% right on this :-D

      For the coffee fortunately I am drinking only 1 filter coffee per day in average and take it really easy cause I've seen it can be a source of anxiety and lack of focus as well.

      Thanks again for the help and keep it up!

  17. 1

    I would suggest adding a daily walk to clear your head and some more breaks. Also, know this - if it doesn't go according to plan, if you go broke, if it fizzles, if it's not enough or not soon enough, your credit gets bashed, etc. all of that can be recovered from ALL OF IT. You can even, believe it or not, flameout more than once! You had a job, you could get another - the story isn't finished being written even if it ends up being - I didn't get there, I had to get a job, reload, took 2 years, kept building, lessons learned, etc. then it started to happen, etc., etc. It doesn't matter. You aren't even at that point yet. I would also suggest making sure you are rested and hydrated - go get a medical checkup as well.

    1. 1

      Thanks a lot for the tips! And I had a medical checkup as well and fortunately
      everything is good from that side :-)

      I totally agree on the daily routine of morning walk - this is something I want to introduce now that the weather is also better here in the Netherlands and the lockdown is relaxed.

      Keep it up and thanks a lot for the help, really appreciate it :)

  18. 1

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