Reducing Anxiety and Stopping Panic Attacks

Ajahn Brahm (Peter Betts) is a Buddhist monk who as born into a poor working class family in London. He won a scholarship to study theoretical physics at Cambridge in the late 1960s. He was a student of the Thai Forest tradition under the famous monk Ajahn Chah for nine years. He Currently is the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery, in Serpentine, Western Australia. His talks are known for humor, warmth, and insight. His Friday night talks are published to the YouTube channel of the Buddhist Society Of Western Australia. You can find many more talks of his on audio here.
In this video from 2005 titled “Panic Attacks” Ajahn Brahm explains how he is concerned that anxiety and panic attacks seem to be on the rise in the modern world. He asks two questions:

  1. Why are panic attacks and extreme anxieties becoming more common?
  2. What can we do about panic attacks and anxiety?

Ajahn Brahm sees these two questions as unlocking the teachings of Buddhism, as these symptoms are dukha (suffering) and can be helped

According to Ajahn Brahm people get anxiety and panic attacks when they don’t have the proper view, the big picture.

Anxious people tend to look at any situation they are in as having limited options and dire consequences. Things HAVE to happen in particular way or TERRIBLE results will happen.

Panic attacks often come when people least expect them, when circumstances are peaceful. Ajahn Brahm believes this is the result of accumulated fear building up and spilling over.

Ajahn Brahm believes that fear is celebrated and cultivated in modern life. People seek out horror movies, drama and violence in entertainment. The entrainment industry and news media pedal fear.

People seek out fear because they are afraid of peace. They think that part of them will die in living a calm life. If they are not living life on the edge, living a colorful life, then they ask themselves “what is the point?”.

Ajahn Brahm believes that these people do not know what the point of life is, which is to reach real peace, real stillness, where kindness and other fantastic qualities can grow before spreading outwards to others.

Anxiety makes people feel more alive. Anxiety feeds the ego. It makes the anxious person feel as if they are living through something important.

How can a person begin reducing their anxiety?

Stop cultivating fear and stop letting others cultivate it for you. Cut down on fear cultivating entertainment and media. Instead watch and listen to calm things. Beautiful things.

Begin cultivating a proper view — wisdom. Start noticing that circumstances do NOT have to end
in a particular way and that if they end in the “wrong” way the consequences will not be TERRIBLE.

When you practice noticing these things, you begin to see that you have more options and your anxiety will abate.

Ajahn Brahm tells several stories in the recording to illustrate that some of the best things in life happen when things go wrong. Good things happen that would not have happened if everything went “right”. People relate to each other in good ways they might not have before if everything went “right”. New discoveries happen, new opportunities are discovered. To reduce anxiety begin looking for and noticing these good things for yourself, when things “go wrong”.

The people who thrive in life are the people who make something out of a situation where things go wrong, who can adapt. You can know this truth intellectually, but still be afraid.  This is because you have no peace in your heart. When you have no peace in your heart you have no tolerance for things going wrong. You become more demanding that things MUST be a certain way. You give yourself less options.

The next anti-anxiety activity to do is to begin reducing anxiety is to cultivate peace.  Begin meditation. Give your mind a chance to be peaceful each day. Let the mind calm down and let the mind do nothing. When you go to cultivate peace with meditation do it with GENTLE meditation. Never think of meditation as HARD work, it is supposed to be the opposite.
Cultivate relaxation.

Cultivate humor. Whatever situation you are in try to see the humor in it and make it fun. You can’t laugh and be anxious at the same time. In the recording Ajahn Brahm tells many stories where situations turned out better and people were more successful when they were able to let go of a situation enough to appreciate the humor in it. People in those situations relax and relaxation makes them perform better.

Lastly, to reduce panic attacks, Ajahn Brahm recommends that you “program” yourself to react with mindfulness, instead of fear.

To program mindfulness, begin noticing what your triggers are for panic attacks. Choose a time when you are calm, when you are far away and removed from the possibility of a panic attack. Say to yourself three times “When I am in this situation, I will not be afraid, I will not be anxious. After a very relaxing meditation situation is an ideal time to do this. When you are
very relaxed, that message sinks in to your mind fast and easy. Instead of responding with old habits of panic, you will soon have a new habit of responding to the triggers with mindfulness.

Buddhism actually works, it does help you overcome anxiety, it helps you overcome fear. The 3 main steps are

  1. Cultivate the wisdom that will help you see that you have more options and
    that whatever happens it will be okay.
  2. Cultivate peace instead of fear. Cultivate meditation and relaxation.
  3. Program yourself to be mindful instead of panicky at triggers, as a stop
    gap measure as you build up the wisdom mentioned in number 1.
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