How Philosophy, Yes Philosophy, Can Help You With Anxiety
I came to philosophy seeking relief from melancholy and anxiety. But after years of study, as a student and a philosophy professor, I still have these feelings. I now believe that anxiousness is a crucial aspect of the human condition, and I must live with it — it’s a vital component of my ever-evolving self.
I hope philosophy can be of similar service to you. I think philosophy can help you accept that we will always feel anxiety. More importantly, it can help you understand that we don’t have to be anxious about being anxious.
Here are three simple truths that I think show how:
Anxiousness forces you to face reality
Consider the four Noble Truths of Buddhism, which the Buddha offered to his disciples as antidotes to this world’s perplexities:
- There is suffering in this world.
- This suffering has an identifiable cause.
- This suffering can be eased.
- Here is how you do so.
Buddhism’s First Noble Truth notes the undeniable, acute human dissatisfaction with existence. The Buddha then notes that our first step toward relief, as expressed by his Second Noble Truth (that our suffering has a cause), is a true, unblinking understanding of the nature of the world and of human existence’s place in it: If we misunderstand the nature of the world, we will be anxious, and suffer, in ways far worse than need be.
Think about falling ill and how gathering information about your illness and how to treat it changes the actions you take to stay healthy. Such correct information can increase anxiety. But false beliefs on this, or any other topic, can be harmful and damaging.
You have to entertain the correct beliefs about the world and your place in it, then, in order to arrive at an appropriate state of mind to reckon with the world’s often intractable challenges. There is no point in pessimistically retreating from the world, either through our actions or by entertaining self-deluding beliefs about it. We must unflinchingly accept the world as it is, flaws and all. Among the…