Relephant read: The Buddhist View of Loneliness as a Good Thing.
Anxiety is uncomfortable.
I was oblivious to the symptoms for the greater part of my life. It was not until a few years back that my trouble sleeping, agitation, and excessive worrying started to make sense: I suffer from anxiety.
Anxiety is a normal response to triggering or disturbing events—millions of people suffer from it on a daily basis. One thing I know for sure, is that we can’t relieve anxiety with a magic wand. We might not be able to make it thoroughly go away, but there are ways which can help us feel better.
Buddhism has been a great aid in making me feel good. I’ve formed the habit of working mindfully with my anxiety instead of feeding it.
Below are seven Buddhist notions which I consider helpful whenever I feel anxious:
1. Worry is useless.
“If it can be remedied, why be upset about it? If it cannot be remedied, what is the use of being upset about it?” ~ Shantideva
Buddhists acknowledge that throughout our time on earth, we will experience pain in many ways—such as aging, death, and sickness. Worrying is part of the suffering which Buddhists consider self-created. While we can’t control death or aging, the Buddha ascertained that we can control what goes on in our heads.
Whenever anxiety creeps up within me, I ruminate on how it prevents me from living a happy life. I’m absolutely convinced now that there’s no benefit that comes from worrying.
2. Peace starts within.
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV
Outer circumstances can be difficult to deal with. However, we might not always be able to change or fix them. In one of my Buddhist courses, the monk explained, “What differentiates us from other species is our ability to make a choice.” When I can’t change the outside, I remember that I have the choice to change my inside.
Peace starts from the inside out; let’s remember this.
3. Understanding impermanence and attachment.
“If there is no blind hope, there is also no disappointment. If one knows that everything is impermanent, one does not grasp, and if one does not grasp, one will not think in terms of having or lacking, and therefore one lives fully.” ~ Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
Anxiety manifests in the body first, then resides in our minds—and our minds tend to forget that nothing lasts forever. All our problems, worries, and fears are transient. If we understand this Buddhist notion, we can reduce our anxiety when it peaks. Always ruminate on impermanence and our refusal to let go of what the Buddhists label as “illusion.”
4. The importance of meditation.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn
Throughout all my years of meditation, I have realized that observing my mind feels much better than battling with it. When we meditate, we realize that our thoughts are indeed like clouds that come and go. And buying into everything that the mind creates only brings about suffering. Breathe mindfully so you can bring attention to your emotions and patterns. A whole lot of undiscovered parts of your anxiety will come to the surface.
5. Delving into uncertainty.
“When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.” ~ Pema Chödrön
The greater part of our anxiety is because of our underlying fear of the unknown. We worry because we’re anxious to know why a certain thing has happened or what will happen in the future.
The Buddhists have long advised to take a leap of faith into the unknown and not worry about what will be. Everything reveals itself at the right time—be patient.
6. Examining ourselves.
“You are your own teacher. Looking for teachers can’t solve your own doubts. Investigate yourself to find the truth—inside, not outside. Knowing yourself is most important.” ~ Ajahn Chah
This has been the most helpful tip throughout my journey. Take a step back and observe how you behave in the face of calamities. The Buddhists call it “a self-check.” What are you identifying with? How are you perceiving your problems? Which toxic pattern are you repeating? Find the answers so you can know yourself better. You are your own most helpful therapist.
7. Paying attention to the present moment.
“Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life—and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
In order to reduce our anxiety, we must pay attention to our surroundings. Activate your five senses with what is available to you. Listen to nature, eat slowly, feel everything. Our surroundings can be of great assistance if we allow them to be. Let’s focus on the present moment more—it’s our only direct exit from anxiety.