Q&A: Dealing with Anxiety
How can we handle the anxiety that arises from
Anxiety when making decisions often comes
because we look at the situation from the viewpoint, "How can I get
the most possible pleasure? Which of these 15 choices will give me
the most pleasure and release me from the most pain?" That makes us
very uptight because we do not know the future. "Maybe this will
make me happy, maybe that will make me happy. I don't know which one
will make me the happiest, so I am confused and unhappy now trying
Sometimes the anxiety arises because we think
there must be one right decision and we don't know which one it is.
This is a very limiting view because, the unfolding of karma is very
complex, and the future is unknown because it hasn't happened yet.
It's better to let go of the idea of one right choice and instead to
be mindful and kind in whatever situation we find ourselves.
When faced with a decision, I try to use ethics
as a criteria. I explore, "Could any of these choices cause me to
get involved in unethical behavior, bring out my negative qualities,
or make me create negative karma? Are there some options that would
propel me to act constructively or to generate positive attitudes?"
In other words, I use ethical conduct as criteria for making a
Another criterion is the benefit the various
options would have for others. "In the long-term, what will be the
most beneficial for others?" This viewpoint makes the mind more
relaxed and is a lot more expansive than thinking, "What will bring
me the most pleasure now?"
How do we deal with the anxiety that comes from
uncertainty about the future?
Almost everyone can relate to this concern
because nothing is certain in our life. Things are not fixed,
permanent, and predictable. This is the nature of samsara, cyclic
existence. One of the disadvantages of cyclic existence that the
Buddha described is uncertainty, insecurity. Because our minds are
under the influence of ignorance, anger, and attachment, we suffer
from not being able to control what happens to us. We can influence
the world around us, but we can not control it. We can not make the
external environment be what we want it to be.
The first step is to recognize that uncertainty
is the nature of things. None of us ordinary beings know the future.
Understanding this has two effects: first, it leads us to a greater
determination to free ourselves from cyclic existence and thus to
seek the wisdom that realizes reality in order to eliminate the
ignorance, anger, and attachment that keep us bound in cyclic
existence. Second, it helps us accept that change is part of life.
When things are uncertain, I say to myself, "Yes, this is exactly
what the Buddha taught. Things are impermanent. This is the nature
of life. If I accept this, I will be less anxious than if I
constantly fight it, wanting to control everything and make it
predictable. I have to relax into the fact that we are not in
control and that everyone is in this predicament. This is not just
my problem; everybody has this problem." Remembering that dealing
with uncertainty is a universal problem takes the stress out of
thinking that it is just my dilemma.
In addition, we can take refuge in the Buddhas,
Dharma, and Sangha when we are anxious about the future. Turning our
hearts towards the spiritual guidance that the Three Jewels provide
relieves us of anxiety as well.