How to Work with Worry and Anxiety
Once a young person asked me for advice because they were worried, generally, and were experiencing frequent bouts of anxiety.
Of course I have to say that I’m not a therapist, so I don’t have those kinds of suggestions regarding anxiety. But from the point of view of the Emotional Rescue Method, and also from the point of view of dharma teachings on mindfulness, one thing that is really important for dealing with anxiety attacks, is to bring your mind back to the present. I’ve heard from some friends who experienced anxiety attacks that in therapy they were also told, “bring your mind back to the present.”
I would like to suggest that you don’t need to discredit your worries. Your worries may be relevant. But what you really need to do is examine your worries. Look to see how you think they’re going to manifest. Then look at whether those things are actually going to manifest in that way, or not.
It’s important to examine our worries first, to make sure we don’t worry about something that is totally not going to happen. Instead, you want to put your focus on what can really help to remedy a possible problem. So you examine that.
Examine the Situation, Then Take a Break!
Secondly, you have to make sure you don’t over-examine it. That’s the key point. Usually when we are anxious, we are over-examining the situation. We are thinking about it way too much, and that becomes really painful and difficult, and even harmful. So let’s try not to do that. Instead you can just take a look at it and then take a break. Examine it again, then take a break. Just briefly examine it, and then be sure you take a break.
Each time you take a break, you come back to the present. That’s very important. And when you come back to the present, you can focus on your breathing, for example, as in breathing meditation techniques. Or focus on a visual object. Like TV. Or visual objects such as trees and mountains, which becomes so helpful.
Anything that can help you distract your mind from that thing you’re worried about becomes very helpful. But it’s important to know what you’re distracting yourself from. What object are you distracting your mind from, and then where are you moving your focus? You are distracting your mind from that object of worry and anxiety, and bringing it to present –– any object in the present.
Working with Worry and Anxiety: An Exercise
The next time you experience anxiety or worries, you might want to try this.
1. Consider what you’re worried about. Even if it seems to be relevant or real, examine your thoughts about it. What are you afraid will happen?
2. Ask yourself, Is it really likely to happen that way, or not?
3. Then rest your mind. Bring your mind back to the present moment: your breathing, your surroundings, or any visual object. Focus on that, and take a break from examining your thoughts or concerns. Rest on that object, and let your mind enjoy a little rest.
4. After you’ve taken a short break, notice: What is my breathing like now? My body, my mind. When you come back to the present moment, what changes?
This article is based on teachings given by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche during the online event, “A Conversation with Author Dzogchen Ponlop” in July 2021 hosted by Emotional Rescue Courses.