Buddhism and Anxiety

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby ReadyFeet » Wed Apr 21, 2010 9:32 pm

Hello everyone,

I was wondering if anybody could offer any Buddhist insight to the topic of anxiety/panic. Thanks!
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Apr 22, 2010 2:08 am

Greetings Readyfeet,

Do you mean a Buddhist explanation of how it happens, or a how one might use Buddhism to tackle anxiety?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby ReadyFeet » Thu Apr 22, 2010 7:47 am

Both really! Ive done lots of reading on Buddhist perspectives on depression and found it very interesting. I understand that it was exactly the things I craved for (pleasures) regarding them as happiness, that actually brought me so much suffering and stopped me enjoying the inherent good in me and those around me. I have been more a sufferer of anxiety and 'exestential fear' if you will than of depression so thought I was ask for some insight into anxiety. Thank you.

Stefan
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Apr 22, 2010 10:57 pm

Greetings ReadyFeet,

Have you head of Professor Guy Claxton?

http://www.guyclaxton.com/tbs.htm

I read an early book of his and he seems quite adept at relating Buddhist concepts with Western psychological concepts.

It looks like you can even contact him through the website.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby Modus.Ponens » Thu Apr 22, 2010 11:14 pm

Hi

Others will explain better than me how anxiety is formed. What I can offer is a way to deal with anxiety based on the Goenka technique. I once almost had a panic atack during a plane flight because I'm afraid of flying. After I went to the Goenka retreat I had to fly on a plain and the usual anxiety was completely controled. Today I have less practice in the technique, but it still works for me.

All feelings/sensations are felt in the body. By observing them with mindfullness and equanimity you can learn that the suffering is not the feeling/sensation it self, it is the aversion or atachment to the sensation that causes suffering. Starting this observation directly with anxiety can be overwelming. So you can start by observing a moderate physical pain with equanimity, without leting aversion come to your mind. When you do it like this, you'll still feel the pain, but you will not suffer with it. You can also do this by observing the sensations of cold. When you realise how you can observe these sensations without suffering with them you can observe the sensation of anxiety that arises in the body. Observing it with equanimity you will find that the anxiety is just another physical sensation and is not suffering itself and your mind will remain centered and calm. The more you do this, the better you'll get at stoping anxiety to make you suffer.

After you learn how to deal with anxiety in this way, you can add samatha meditation. It will naturaly leave you with a calm mind, making anxiety less likely to atack and, when atacking, it will be with less intensity. The reason why you have to learn how to deal with anxiety prior to geting in samatha meditation is that you can develop relaxation-induced anxiety and panic during meditation.

I hope this helps

Metta
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Thu Apr 22, 2010 11:41 pm

Usually, i think fear is projected in time, that is we're afraid of something that may happen in the future, or we're afraid something that happened in the past may happen again. So the more one learns to focus on the moment, the less anxiety one feels. Perhaps. More in theory than practice. it takes a lot of discipline to not be afraid of immediate physical or psychological harm.

J
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby Ben » Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:36 am

What excellent responses!
metta

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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby ground » Fri Apr 23, 2010 3:56 am

Focusing on anxiety as state of body and mind is one approach another approach is focusing on the object that causes anxiety (i.e. one's distorted perception of it caused by the concomitant conceptual elaborations) . I tend to think that the latter approach is more straightforward in most cases.

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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Apr 23, 2010 4:42 am

TMingyur wrote:Focusing on anxiety as state of body and mind is one approach another approach is focusing on the object that causes anxiety (i.e. one's distorted perception of it caused by the concomitant conceptual elaborations) . I tend to think that the latter approach is more straightforward in most cases.

The issue with anxiety - what makes anxiety rather than fear is that its causes are not easily, if at all, apparent. What is more straightforward to paying attention, without comment, to what it is that is being felt in the very moment.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby ReadyFeet » Fri Apr 23, 2010 11:31 am

Thanks everyone. They are very helpful responses, especially the one about the suffering being the aversion or attachment. In my own case I think thats very true. The second method replied (conceptual elaborations) could you possibly expand on that. That would be great. Thanks again.
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby Ben » Fri Apr 23, 2010 11:47 am

ReadyFeet wrote:The second method replied (conceptual elaborations) could you possibly expand on that. That would be great. Thanks again.


Yes, I am most interested in how this actually works.
kind regards

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby ReadyFeet » Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:08 pm

Also if anybody could offer some Buddhist insight into obsession that would be a great help. The concept of feeling anxious and then catastrophising and obsessing on the thought until it takes on a life and power of its own./ Sorry its just that Im very interested into Buddhist insights into the working of the brain. Perhaps it just comes down to cultivating patience or understanding impermanence. Any thoughts?
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby Ben » Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:18 pm

Yes, you could review some of the responses you have above as they are, largely, applicable to OCD as well.

Another thought...
If you are currently getting treatment for something such as anxiety/depression or OCD, you should discuss your treatment options with your clinician. Buddhist practice should only be done in conjunction with existing medical and cognitive therapies, and not as a replacement.
kind regards

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby ReadyFeet » Fri Apr 23, 2010 4:20 pm

Thankyou but Im not recieving treatment or suffering from OCD as such. I do suffer from anxiety but am opposed to Western medications for it and 'liquid cosh' types of approach. Im a believer that most afflictions are a result of our often underlying perceptions of things which are often warped or confused. Id still be interested to know if anybody had any thoughts on the matter.
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby ground » Fri Apr 23, 2010 7:16 pm

ReadyFeet wrote:The second method replied (conceptual elaborations) could you possibly expand on that. That would be great. Thanks again.


Actually this is quite similar to what tiltbillings has written:
tiltbillings wrote:
TMingyur wrote:Focusing on anxiety as state of body and mind is one approach another approach is focusing on the object that causes anxiety (i.e. one's distorted perception of it caused by the concomitant conceptual elaborations) . I tend to think that the latter approach is more straightforward in most cases.

The issue with anxiety - what makes anxiety rather than fear is that its causes are not easily, if at all, apparent. What is more straightforward to paying attention, without comment, to what it is that is being felt in the very moment.


However tiltbillings advises to focus on anxiety "without comment" which I interprete to mean "without conceptual elaborations" wheras I have been assuming that there is an object or are several objects that cause anxiety. Now perceiving those objects with or without "(mental) comment" (with or without "conceptual elaboration") is what makes the difference. The "without" of course presupposes a relaxed mindfulness when attending to the "bare" objects as they arise in one's mind.

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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Apr 24, 2010 1:00 am

Greetings ReadyFeet,

Also if anybody could offer some Buddhist insight into obsession that would be a great help.


Try here...

MN 18: Madhupindika Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

It's a sutta about conflict - both internal and external, and the role that obsessions and mental proliferation (papanca) play.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby Nibbida » Sat Apr 24, 2010 3:03 am

Readyfeet,

I had an anxiety disorder for about 13 years before I started meditating seriously. I took SSRI medications like Zoloft and Lexapro. As a result of vipassana, the anxiety has essentially disappeared now and I am completely off of medications. So I'd say vipassana is a very fruitful approach. No matter what the kind of anxiety, the basic principle is the same.

The goal is to identify the feelings of anxiety in the body in as much detail as you can, what and where. Look with a magnifying glass, so to speak at each of these sensations (i.e. vedana). The pattern in the body will be very regular and consistent. Before I started meditating, I never even gave thought to this. All I knew was that it was a general yucky feeling. Once I started meditating and the anxiety recurred, I made those feelings the main object of meditation. I saw that there was a great deal of specificity that I never noticed before--for 13 years! That's because I was too busy trying to distract myself from the symptoms to notice what was going on right under my nose.

Secondly, watch these sensations with as much equanimity as you can muster. In other words, observe without trying to resist, control or interfere with them. Give them complete permission, so to speak, to increase/decrease, move, shift, etc. with no resistance. Shinzen Young says that Suffering = Pain x Resistance. So cut down or eliminate the resistance. The irony of this is that it's not something that's happening to you. It's something that you are actively perpetuating, even though you're unaware of it. The most automatic habit is to try to resist and/or avoid unpleasantness. With anxiety, attempts to do this become of epic proportions, dreading the experience and wishing it would go away. So rather than "getting rid of it," all you need to do is not feed into it in the first place. This becomes more and more apparent the more you develop mindfulness of these bodily feelings.

Instead of dreading the experience, take an attitude of investigation & curiosity. Rather than viewing the anxiety as a hassle, welcome it as an opportunity to learn. Every second that you apply mindfulness and equanimity to the experience you are literally rewiring your habitual response to it (i.e. purification of sankharas). This shift in attitude itself is a major turning point since it further diverts you from dreading/resisting the experience. Every single time you make even a little effort to do this, you will get getting better this skill. In the long run, having dealt with the anxiety this way will be a great advantage in furthering your practice. My symptoms don't even seem to occur anymore, but if they did, I wouldn't be concerned. I know what to do.

The other good news about anxiety is that it is a heightened state of attention. Attention is generally a good thing for mindfulness, so it's a matter of re-directing it somewhat and adding equanimity into the mix. Depression, on the other hand, can be more stubborn since depressed people have a hard time arousing concentration. A word of caution though: if you go on a meditation retreat, the anxiety may "return" or "worsen." I put those in quotes because literally it is not worsening or returning, you're just becoming more aware of it on a more subtle level. So it can seem like it has been exacerbated, but actually a retreat is a prime environment and opportunity to work with these sensations on a very subtle level.

If you have any further questions or need help, feel free to contact me. Trust me when I tell you that you can greatly reduce the anxiety and eventually be rid of it.

Incidentally, Buddhaghosa mention of a monk named Sammunjani who had OCD in his commentary on the Dhammapada:

http://tiny.cc/326j9
http://tiny.cc/xvw5e (see p. 5, XIII "The Monk With a Broom")
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Apr 24, 2010 4:14 am

TMingyur wrote:
However tiltbillings advises to focus on anxiety "without comment"
I would not necessarily use the word focus; rather, pay attention. Other things will come into awareness.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby ReadyFeet » Sat Apr 24, 2010 4:26 pm

Thanks guys for all your responses, especially Nibbida. Your words are truly very healing and I plan on investigating all your advice further. It certainly rings true for me. I am very often scared of fear. Its an annoying problem. Feeling fear - thinking 'oh no its never going to leave' then obsessing on it so it doesnt (atleast for a while) I think Western Culture instills a perspective of instant gratification and a notion of 'deserved pleasure' which is in reality some what warped and the more I read Buddhist text and recieve invaluable advice from people like yourself, the more I begin to see my situation in a clearer and more realistic light.

Thank you

Stefan
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Re: Buddhism and Anxiety

Postby ReadyFeet » Sat Apr 24, 2010 4:27 pm

Also Nibbida, I cant open the links you posted, any other way of viewing them? Thanks
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