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No Time to Panic: Matt Gutman, Conquering a Lifetime of Panic Attacks

Updated: Jan 8

Guests of The Psychedelic Blog do not endorse, support, or otherwise advocate on behalf of any particular treatment approach for mental illnesses unless stated otherwise. The views expressed during this interview do not necessarily reflect the opinions or endorsement of The Psychedelic Blog. Readers should always consult with qualified healthcare professionals and conduct their own research before considering any treatment options. The blog and its authors are not responsible for any decisions made based on the information provided.

Photo of Matt
Matt Gutman, ABC News Correspondent and Author (Courtesy of ABC News)

"Imagine my surprise when I realized that his book was also about my life."

- Robert Benz, The Psychedelic Blog

When I first heard that Matt Gutman, the Chief National Correspondent for ABC News, had written a book about his battle with panic attacks and that psychedelic substances played a role in the story, I was anxious to learn about his life. Imagine my surprise when I realized that his book was also about my life.

I can’t recall the specific page or page numbers that made me realize that I too suffered from panic attacks. Just reading the title of Matt’s book, No Time To Panic: How I Curbed My Anxiety and Conquered a Lifetime of Panic Attacks, got me thinking about an incident from when I was in my early 40s. One night, after going to bed, I felt as though I was having a heart attack: a dull pain in the left side of my chest and shoulder area, accompanied by some shortness of breath. Thankfully, the feeling passed as quickly as it came. My neighbor, at the time, a nurse, suggested it might have been a panic attack. Although the detailed diagnosis she gave sounded valid, it didn’t align well with the image I had of myself as a no-panic guy; not a rarely-panic guy or a blue moon-panic guy, a no-panic guy. Boy, was I wrong.

I believe that the source of my panic attacks, as diagnosed by me as I read Matt’s book, can be traced back to an eighth-grade social studies class and a poorly executed oral report. I have no idea how long it lasted or what I said (if anything), but those few moments have lingered in my mind, more like nightmares than bad childhood memories. Sometime after that—it’s hard to say exactly when—my fear of public speaking manifested itself into physical symptoms. Until I saw Matt do it on a much, much larger stage, I would not have considered sharing with anyone, let alone publishing, how this disorder has affected me in the past (and likely continues to affect me).

As you might expect, during my younger days, my panic scenarios often played out in the

classroom when I was asked to come forward. After standing and taking my first few steps, I felt it coming on. It always started with both hands twisting inward toward my wrists, as if I had been gripped by powerful muscle cramps. Then my back would contort, forcing me downward, as if it, too, was seized by cramps. And finally, my facial muscles would distort and forcibly turn my head to the side. It was a kind of seizure that lasted no more than five or six seconds before disappearing entirely. In those moments of despair, however, I was utterly helpless, devoid of the ability to control my movements. Yet when it ended, I snapped out of it completely, as if nothing had happened.

To my knowledge, no one ever noticed this odd transformation, and you might wonder why, given that it always happened in front of large groups. Well, when I sensed it coming on, I would pretend to tie my shoe (even when I was wearing shoes without laces). And it’s also important to understand the setting—no one ever anticipated the presence of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inside their classrooms! This continued for decades—into college, business events, and a host of other occasions. But my panic attacks seemed to subside when I co-founded a non-profit organization in 2007. I’m guessing that, somehow, my passion for the subject matter was distraction enough during speaking engagements to enable me to address crowds as large as 5,000 people without a problem. But I’m sure it’s still there.

You are the very first to know of this—a deeply buried secret and past source of shame that only surfaced because I read a book. Let’s meet Matt Gutman!

War correspondent
Matt reporting from outside Gaza City


Matt Gutman

Matt Gutman is ABC News’ Chief National Correspondent based in Los Angeles. He reports for all ABC News broadcasts and platforms, including “World News Tonight with David Muir,” “20/20,” “Good Morning America” and “Nightline.” He has reported for ABC from 40 countries across the globe.

Gutman, a multiple award-winning correspondent, has covered the COVID-19 crisis, the protests in American streets following the death of George Floyd, the immigration crisis, and countless foreign and domestic terror attacks.

Over the past half-decade, Gutman has been one of the most frequently used correspondents on “20/20.” Gutman’s tireless reporting helped “20/20” win an Emmy® for its documentary on the 2017 Las Vegas massacre and a Christopher Award for its reporting on the Thai cave rescue. Gutman followed every step of that treacherous mission to save the 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. He subsequently authored “The Boys in the Cave,” which chronicled the heroics of a motley crew of cave diving misfits, the US Air Force, and Thai Navy Seals who spearheaded the rescue.

Previously based in Miami, he won awards for his coverage of the Trayvon Martin Shooting and the BP Oil spill.

From 2013-2018 he hosted the ABC Television Network’s Saturday morning show, “Sea Rescue,” which won the 2016 Emmy for “Outstanding Children’s Series.”

Before joining ABC News in 2008 where he started at ABC News Radio, Gutman was a Jerusalem-based reporter for seven years, covering every major conflict in the Middle East.

Gutman is married and a father of two. He is a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts.


"People who are intelligent and aware of themselves just don't know

what this one thing is."

- Matt Gutman

Robert: Welcome Matt, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me about you and your new book, No Time To Panic. To say that I liked your book would be a gross understatement. I found it to be so compelling that, for the first time in my life, I now recognize that I’ve had issues with panic attacks too. I'm guessing that a lot of people have reached out to you, since your book was published, who have said the same thing.

Matt: Yes, it’s so interesting. People don’t believe me about the surveys on panic attacks. The

latest was a Harvard meta-survey conducted in 2006, I think, saying that 28% of Americans are likely to experience a panic attack at least once in their lifetime ( Kessler et al., 2006 ). But, I say this all the time, if you had surveyed me in 2006 or even in 2013, I would not have known that the nerves I went through were panic attacks. So, I would have honestly, but incorrectly,

answered the survey. I imagine there have got to be vast numbers of Americans that would do the same. People who are intelligent and aware of themselves just don’t know what this one thing is.

Robert: Your book actually helped me survey myself. Can I tell you what I discovered? [I went on to tell Matt basically what I’ve written in the introduction of this article.]

Matt: Wow! Thank you for sharing this with me. By the way, your first assumption about panic attacks was also correct. Lots of people have panic attacks at night while lying in bed. They wake up in terror. Super, super common, especially with men.

Robert: Our conversation, the one between Matt and me, was taking place from our cars: he was in Los Angeles, and I was parked close to the US-Canada border near Niagara Falls, on my way to Toronto. It was 4:30 a.m. his time, and he was between live hits* for the television shows Good Morning America (GMA) and ABC News Live.

*A live hit is when a show like GMA cuts, in real time, to a correspondent in the field. In this

case, Matt was reporting from Hollywood, California. Here’s how it works: A film crew

consisting of a camera operator, a sound person, and a field producer arrives about one hour before the live hit. They set up the shot and link up a live signal to the control room of the show from ABC’s World Headquarters in New York City. The show then has two-way

communications with the correspondent and the field producer. The live signal is transmitted

through a tiny device known as an IFB. This is Matt’s only connection to New York, where the

show producers talk to him through an earpiece. He already knows exactly what he’ll say, and he must do it flawlessly each time, even when the information changes at the last minute. Matt is also able to hear the GMA show live through his earpiece, and he’s told ahead of time which host will introduce him. A countdown begins: “one minute,” “thirty seconds,” “five, four, three...” He’s live! Matt then delivers his remarks to the camera, where, after a one-second delay, the audience can see his work through the show. GMA is the most viewed morning show in the United States, with nearly three million people watching at any time. Matt has to be energetic, stay cool under sometimes-chaotic circumstances, and always stay on point. He’s one of the best there is.

So, Matt, let’s talk about your panic attacks. Was there a moment, a first time, when you thought, “Wait a minute, I don’t think these feelings are what other people experience”?

"It felt like I was poisoned."

- Matt Gutman

Matt in Gaza City

Matt: I would say the first time, when I knew without a doubt, or now I know there was no doubt... I mean, it may have happened in high school. I was a high achiever. I was school council president, and sometimes, when I would deliver the morning address, I would get really, really nervous and feel those symptoms. But the full-on suite of somatic and physical manifestations came on my senior year in college.

I was defending my college thesis, and basically, what you described is exactly what happened to me. It felt like the floor was falling out. I don’t remember what I said. I felt like I was molting into a werewolf. I don’t know. It felt like I was poisoned, I guess. Now, when you describe it, I remember it, and I think about carbon dioxide treatments where you do challenges that would simulate a panic attack (described in the book). It’s the sensation of almost being poisoned inside the body. The irony, of course, is that I had already completed the thesis. It was graded. I didn’t need to even speak in front of my esteemed colleagues. I didn’t need to be there at all. It was truly voluntary, and I still felt so much overwhelming pressure. And, I’m sure, I messed it up.

Robert: So when you realized this was happening frequently, was your first response to go see a specialist, or did you start investigating on your own?

Matt: I started investigating on my own because it’s so private, you know. At first, I just started looking it up. For years, I actually tried to dismiss it, even when I knew what it was. It wasn’t until that reckoning—that Kobe Bryant thing—that I fully decided to deal with it head-on. Before that, it was sort of this ancillary thing in my life that I tried to suppress and not think

about. Then it became a primary focus, and once it became a primary, my first stop was just to educate myself as much as possible.

Robert: Blog readers who haven’t read the book yet are not likely to know what “the Kobe Bryant thing” is. As much as I wanted this to be a totally open and honest interview, I was hesitant to ask Matt to talk about it. I mean, I was grateful to be speaking with him, and I knew it was still a somewhat sensitive issue. I went ahead and asked if it still bothers him to discuss it.

Man and his son
Matt with his father, Paul (Photo courtesy of Matt)

Matt: Not really. I’ve talked about it so much over the years that I’ve sort of defanged it. In our first report on the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash, I was one of the first people to get anywhere near there. I had a panic attack while reporting on it. And you talk about how many lanes of traffic a human brain can navigate at once. I think my inner turmoil subconsciously was based on the fact that my father was killed (in the crash of a Cessna airplane) when he was virtually the same age as Kobe and I was the same age as Gianna (Kobe’s daughter, also killed in the accident). That was probably going on in my brain while this was happening. Because of my panic—it limits your long-term memory, which is anything longer than 30 seconds—I couldn’t separate what was reportable and wasn’t reportable. That was the genesis of the problem. I just said something that I didn’t even know was wrong. We didn’t know it was wrong at the moment. We just knew it wasn’t reportable. Then it was wrong, and then we issued a correction and an apology.

Robert: Damn. Even without a mistake like that, someone who has panic attacks feels a certain sense of shame, not to mention fear and confusion. I have experienced both. I read your research about the evolutionary side of panic attacks. Can you share more about how our brains process fear in unique and perhaps advantageous ways?

Matt: After educating myself a bit, I reached out to the experts. The first major stop was the

evolutionary psychologist, biologist, and psychiatrist because I just needed to know why I was broken. Turns out I wasn’t. But I felt like, why does this even persist in the human genome,

right? Anxiety is terrible for us. Panic attacks seem to be detrimental to our existence. Why do

they even exist?

Fear was, I guess, the primate’s greatest invention—to be able to anticipate threat. That’s what a panic attack is: the anticipation of a possible threat. Your body doesn’t care if that threat exists or not. I mean, it does, but it would much rather err on the side of caution, which is why Randy Nesse, who is the father of evolutionary psychiatry, told me that your brain would rather pull the fire alarm a thousand times rather than miss a single fire.

The way I learned that it works with humans in social threat is [that] there are two major buckets of human fear. There is physical fear, right—the lion will jump from the bush, or you’re going to be killed when a rock falls on you, or the people in a nearby cave are going to club you to death, or your child will die of an infected splinter. The other is social fear because we have been developed to network. We gave up muscle mass, speed, size, and all sorts of other attributes to harness and support the massive and wonderful brain we have. The brain works best when it’s networked with other people’s brains. We lived with these other people, and we so depended upon them [such] that over thousands and thousands of generations, our brains evolved to fear being ostracized, being shunned from the group. If we got kicked out of the group, we’d be wandering the savanna, where we may be eaten by a lion. So we learn to associate social threat and social rejection as being as scary as physical threats. Which is why you crinkle up like you’re being poisoned or like Mr. Hyde when you have a panic attack. It’s a social threat.

"The problem for me was that the thing I feared most did happen."

-Matt Gutman

Robert:  I’m really interested in talking a bit about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) because it seems like you found that to be helpful. What kind of CBT strategies did you find most effective when dealing with panic attacks?

Matt: The central goal of CBT is psychoeducation. It tells you that the thing you fear most is not likely to happen. The problem for me was that the thing I feared most did happen. I was afraid that I’d lose control during a panic attack and blurt out the wrong thing with significant

consequences, and that’s exactly what happened. So that part didn’t work so well for me. But other parts of CBT, which included not having safety behavior and not having avoidance

behavior, were actually helpful. A lot of the stuff I was doing to help stave off a panic attack, like smoking cigarettes, magical underwear, stretching—all this stuff was not actually helpful to me. It was deleterious. And once I started to remove those things, before I did any other kind of treatment, it helped with the panic. But the pressure of being live on air was not something exposure therapy could recreate, so it didn’t work for me.

Robert: Did you consider stopping what you do since yours is such a high-pressure job?

Matt: Yes, of course. That was the first thing I considered after the Kobe thing: stopping what I do. But I really do like what I do, and I’m good at a lot of it, so it felt like that was not a great

idea. I was almost willing to leave it behind because I love writing even more, but I’m glad I

found a way through. The other part is [that] being a print reporter or just writing—it’s not as

remunerative as being a TV reporter unless you’re massively successful.

Robert: So, your book definitely falls into the category of mental health advocacy, yes?

Matt: Right, I would think so.

Robert: Have you done mental health advocacy before? And, was it your experience with panic attacks that led you down this path?

Matt: No, I’ve never done anything with advocacy. In many ways, being a journalist is being an anti-advocate, right? We’re just listeners. We’re receptacles. So I was not into advocacy and never did mental health advocacy. I never even knew I had a mental health problem. This was definitely the first, and I was not interested in it. I’m a reluctant advocate, and maybe that makes me better at it. I’m not someone who’s a flag waving anything. I just realized that there was this massive need. I realized that people who panic are so underserved, under-recognized, and under-supported. That’s what really drew me to write this book—is the thought of how many people out there that weren’t getting attention. Because “panickers” tend to implode rather than explode. Everything is internal. They tend to become shy and retiring, and they’re not people that tend to get into drunk driving accidents. They’re people who tend to become agoraphobic and you never hear about them again. That’s what drew me into writing this.

Robert: I’m trying to flash back on your book right now. I’m wondering if you ever talked about the audience, those people on hand for someone’s panic attack, and whether they’re reluctance to ask about what just happened might cause the sufferer to suppress it even more. I mean, no one ever said anything to me, and I don’t think, even if they saw that strange behavior, they would have said anything. But if they did, I might have felt as though I really needed help instead of thinking that maybe it was just part of my imagination.

Matt: Hmm. I never thought about the audience. I think they’re probably preoccupied with other stuff or not paying attention. Most of the time, people don’t notice when other people are having a panic attack. And it has almost nothing to do with the audience. It’s all internal. You know, it’s about our own personal triggers. That’s why each panic is so unique. I don’t really panic before I speak publicly in front of humans. It’s only the camera that really scares me for some reason. There are also weird things about TV news that make it extremely challenging that people don’t know about. Like this morning, 20 minutes before air, I was thrown a curveball. I had to prepare something completely different as I was driving to my live shot. So what do you do? I basically crammed as I was driving, trying to figure out what I need to do, how to regurgitate it and put out this new reporting.

Robert: Social media is a double-edged sword, right? Good aspects, bad aspects? What's your take on how it affects those dealing with anxiety?

Matt: There are some great social media handles out there who do good stuff, and they can

really help people. I think the obsession with social media is probably not healthy, but I’m not a doctor. I don’t know. The science says that it’s not. I do agree with it only because I tend to agree with data. It’s a tool, and it can be used both ways. It can be helpful, and it can be harmful. It’s so easy to go down weird rabbit holes on social media, which are not helpful.

"[D]on’t stop doing stuff because you’re scared of it because that would suck." 

- Matt Gutman

Robert: For anyone out there dealing with panic attacks, I’m sure they’d love to hear your advice. What do you think are the most helpful things to keep in mind during those most difficult moments of surging panic?

Matt: Well, the first thing is that you’re not going to die. The second is that panic is so common, you’re not alone. The third is that it’s fleeting, anywhere from 15 to 30 to 60 seconds; then it’s just anxiety. All of us live with anxiety every day. We can get through it. The fourth is that there are lots of techniques that can help you to lessen the intensity of a panic. From mindfulness techniques like focusing on five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. You know, there are all these little techniques that can help reduce anxiety in the moment. But it’s not a life sentence. I would just encourage people not to get into safety behaviors and avoidance behaviors. And don’t stop doing stuff because you’re scared of it because that would suck.

Matt with daughter, Libby, wife, Daphna and son, Ben

Robert: You tell the story of when your wife, Daphna, asks, “Is the protagonist going to be cured?"; at the end of the book that you’re writing. That made me smile, as if you didn’t have enough pressure as it was to solve this. How did you respond to her? What did you tell her about the protagonist?

Matt: I told her that I don’t know, and I still don’t know. It’s not over yet. I’m definitely not cured. I’m just wired to be who I am. The protagonist will continue working on wellness, which is a lifetime effort. It’s not easy, man, and you know this. It’s constant maintenance, and it’s not always fun. But I feel like I’ve learned a number of skills that have helped me, just in general, as a human being. I’ve learned how to cry better, which is a huge, wonderful skill. Last week, was it last week? 10 days ago. It was the 33rd anniversary of my father’s death, and I had a wonderful cry. I cried for a good hour. Forcing myself. It’s like when you’re sick and you have food poisoning, and it feels like you have to throw up, but you can’t get it out and you pull the trigger. That’s what I do. I try to force it to come out, and eventually it did. It’s such a great catharsis. So there are lots of things I picked up, especially through psychedelics, that were very helpful. I mean, that was what psychedelics most helped me with, I would say, is learning how to cry better or more easily.

Robert: Okay, thanks for bringing that up. This is The Psychedelic Blog, so I don’t want to let you go without asking a question about hallucinogens as a means for addressing mental disorders. Your journey with ayahuasca is intriguing to me because it is a part of my own narrative. Did that experience open up any new spiritual avenues beyond your mission of dealing with panic attacks? Any unexpected revelations?

Matt: Uh, interesting question. So, you experienced the same thing with ayahuasca?

Robert: Well, I don't believe I experienced the same thing you did. Based on what I read of your account, I think you passed further into another realm than I did, beyond what some people would call the ego or self. I didn’t. I felt as though I was knocking on the door but didn’t go through. My ayahuasca experience was difficult, but I find that I continue to process what happened there.

Matt: Ah, yes, very difficult. [Muffled voice] I was doing the same thing. It took a while to work

it out, and I still think about it. Sorry, I just wolfed down a banana. Um, can you go back to the

question? I’m sorry, Robert. I got waylaid thinking about your experience.

Robert: Did the ayahuasca experience open any new spiritual pathways?

Matt: No, not so much spiritual. There was something about suffering a bit that was important for me. That—just by suffering alone—produced healing effects. That was important. That was worthwhile, and it made me feel it wasn’t a total loss. There was also the ancillary part of being in a group—the comradery and the support—even though I didn’t have the experience that I’d hoped to have. Then, of course, learning later that a significant subset of the population that tries ayahuasca, specifically DMT, doesn’t have a full psychedelic experience. Which was reassuring to know it wasn’t just some weird aberration for me.

Robert: I mentioned to you offline that I’ve been speaking with some shamanic healers about what it is we’re supposed to feel. We, meaning Western people, go into it with a lot of expectations, and if the experience doesn’t live up to those oversized expectations, we think it’s a loss.

Matt: Are you going to try ayahuasca again?

Robert: Probably, yea. I feel like I've just scratched the surface. Were you experimental with drugs as you were growing up, Matt?

Matt: No. I mean, I tried LSD a couple of times, but I wouldn’t say I was experimental, no. You

know, I never had good experiences on psychedelics. I tried mushrooms once in college and LSD a few times in high school, and I often found myself to be miserable. And when I tried it as an adult, I was often in misery as well. Yeah, these were not fun experiences for me.

"We are wired to be funky and weird and to care what other people think and to not always feel good about ourselves."

-Matt Gutman

Family time

Robert: Anything you would like to add about your hopes for the book?

Matt: I guess I just hope that the book opens a conversation, you know? That people start sharing and talking about this stuff. It was just so healing for me that I hope other people can benefit from it. I don’t expect it to heal anyone necessarily, but it can help people. That I’ve already seen. I didn’t expect this kind of reaction, frankly, with so many people coming out of

the woodwork. It’s been wonderful. I hope it continues to pass on that message of self-forgiveness and acceptance.

It's a little bit of a counterintuitive thought about the wellness industry. The wellness industry kind of tells you that we’re perfect as we are; we’re made to be happy. That you just have to reach your inner Zen. I think my message is that humans are not designed to be content. We are all in turmoil. We’re designed to survive and procreate. That’s pretty much it. And if you can achieve a modicum of satisfaction beyond that, then you’ve really achieved something. You should tap yourself on the back and feel good. But I think a lot of people feel badly because they’re not achieving wellness and contentment at the level they’re told that they should by the wellness industry. I’m here to tell people it’s okay. We are wired to be funky and weird and to care what other people think and to not always feel good about ourselves. We just gotta keep working through it, and any contentment we get—any of that good stuff—just enjoy it and ride it. Does that make sense?

Robert: I love the way you said that. Yea, I like that part of the book, basically saying we're not wired to meet a happiness quotient.

Matt: Yea, exactly. I like that. They didn’t really want me to put that sentiment in the book. The

editor was like, “Ya know, I’m not really sure how I feel about this.” But, I thought, this is it!


Robert: Do you know if there's a 12-step program for people that suffer from panic attacks? A Panic Attackers Anonymous?

Matt: No, the reason I decided to write the book was because I couldn’t find panic attack

support groups. There aren’t enough of these types of groups to begin with. Maybe now that has changed. Or maybe it will change.

Robert:  Thank you, Matt. This has been a great experience; a pay-it-forward kind of experience. You say in your book that talking about your panic attacks helped reduce their potency. Now, here I am talking about mine and, for me, this is just a first step. Confronting our inner shadows can be daunting, but the burden of suppressing them is just too exhausting.

Thanks again to Matt Gutman for talking about this with us. Please check out his book, No Time To Panic.

Have you experienced panic attacks? Let's talk about it. Comment anonymously below.

If you enjoyed this blog, please consider sharing it with a friend. Interested in writing a blog article like this? Contact 

  • Panic Disorder Information Hotline: 1-800-64-PANIC (72642)

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)


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