‘Absolutely terrifying’: Nate Byrne reveals harrowing on-air attack

nate byrne abc news breakfast
Image: courtesy of ABC News

Beloved ABC weatherman Nate Byrne has opened up about his private battle with anxiety, including crippling panic attacks he’s repeatedly experienced on air.

Byrne, a former Naval Officer, is no stranger to stressful situations on the job.

But in a new essay the ABC News Breakfast weather presenter has revealed the behind-the-scenes struggle.

He wrote that his first panic attack occurred on-air during one of his live weather reports in 2018.

“It was absolutely terrifying, and completely reshaped my understanding of mental health,” he said.

“As I stood there,… my heart was racing, I was gasping for breath and sweat was pouring out of every pore as my brain screamed ‘RUN!'”

Byrne ultimately made it through the segment, with little to indicate to viewers that anything was wrong.

But 15 minutes later it happened again, and this time nearly “broke” him.

“This time, it was much worse,” he recalled.

“I started shaking, my vision narrowed, my heart was pounding like I’d run a marathon, I couldn’t breathe.

“I needed to be anywhere else, and I had no idea why.”

‘I thought my career was over’

Byrne’s ABC News Breakfast colleagues covered him for the rest of the day. But he was left confused, angry and scared about the incident.

“I’d later find out that what I was experiencing was diagnosable and manageable,” he said.

“But in that moment I thought that my career was over.

“Something was taking control of me without my permission or understanding, and it was preventing me from doing what made me, me.”

Byrne saw a doctor, who told him it was a textbook panic attack. The doctor put Byrne on beta blocker medication to help “reduce his body’s reactions”.

“We want our brain to react to danger, but it needs to get it right for that response to be useful,” he explained.

After that, Byrne dealt with the anxiety attacks as he stood at the weather wall. But working with a psychologist he “learned ways to distract my brain” and developed coping mechanisms.

Later, Byrne slowly weaned himself off them, thinking he had the issue under control.

Colleague feared Nate Byrne was having a stroke

But a year later, Byrne had another on-air panic attack. And this one was noticeable.

The presenter repeatedly paused to catch his breath and stumbled with his words during the segment.

Watching on, colleague Lisa Millar feared at the time Byrne might be having a stroke.

“Sitting a few metres from you, I was struck that it now felt you were wading through mud. Each word seemed to need so much effort,” Millar later told him.

Byrne said he “learned an important lesson” from that.

“Making sure your support network knows that you sometimes need assistance, and how they can support you, is essential,” he said.

‘Complete lack of control’ during anxiety attack

Nate Byrne said the experience had opened his eyes to the complexity of his mental health.

“While I appreciated that things like anxiety and depression are very much real, I had no idea about the complete lack of control you can sometimes have over your brain.

“Nor the ways in which it can take over.

“It’s a powerful tool, but when things go even slightly wrong it can be an incredible burden.

“Talking about my anxiety and seeking treatment mean that it’s something I can live with and manage.

“And it means I can keep doing the thing I love.”

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