Living with Panic Attacks
By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche • 5 min read
In my childhood, I had horrible panic attacks. I don’t know exactly what their true cause was, but I reacted to many ordinary events with terror. For example, I panicked during storms. Where I come from, there is thunder and lightning all summer long, and winter brings snowstorms. One time the gale was so powerful our house shook. As the wind howled, I clung to the house’s central pillar, thinking I had to keep us from blowing away. My mother thought this was very funny. When we went down to Kathmandu Valley, I would have a panic attack when we rode the bumping, lurching buses. I tried many strategies to cope with my fear, but nothing worked. In fact, I learned that aversion only makes anxiety stronger and more solid.
My father taught me that I should make friends with my panic. So, I would try to welcome it. But the truth was, my motivation hadn’t changed. “Okay,” I thought, “I’ll welcome panic, and then maybe it will finally go away.” I was more or less faking acceptance. Even this kind of fake acceptance did help a little. However, it did not fix the problem. I was still anxious about having anxiety attacks, and then I would have one, going around and around in a circle like that.
As a teenager, I lived in a monastery for a three-year retreat. I was hoping that daily life there would be so structured my mind would have no time for panic. But soon enough, my mind was all over the place. My laziness and my anxiety reinforced each other, and my panic got even worse! And I felt bad about that, which of course made it worse still. I often had anxiety attacks during the traditional ritual practices with loud drums and horns. My throat would close up and I’d get dizzy and breathless. Many times I had to leave in the middle of prayers. I felt trapped by my panic.
With three-quarters of the retreat still to go, I felt I could not go on like that. I decided to really let go of trying to escape my panic, and learn how to use it as support for meditation and awareness. What started to happen after that was that I was able to hold the panic in awareness. The panic was still simmering on the surface, but under that would be awareness. This is because the first step to breaking the cycle of anxiety is to connect to awareness.
After that, I began to really welcome my panic. I still felt the sensations and symptoms of panic, but my mind would be engaged in the process with more interest. Before, I had felt anxiety and resistance rising at the prospect of having a panic attack – what I call “panic of panic.” But now, this added level of anxiety was gone. I was still experiencing the symptoms of panic, but I found it intriguing, even exciting. “Aha! Okay! Here is panic. Hmm…I am observing, watching my heart beat faster. There is tightness here in my chest. I have a headache. I feel dizzy. I feel as if I cannot breathe.” I grew to enjoy the experience of this exploration. So, when anxiety arose, I no longer felt bad. Eventually, my panic and I became very good friends.
“My anxiety accompanied me like a shadow, but when I got to know it through awareness we became very good friends”.
– Mingyur Rinpoche –
Practice together with Mingyur Rinpoche in this guided meditation and learn how to watch your panic.
Learn meditation under the skillful guidance of world-renowned teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at your own pace.
In his approach to teaching meditation, Mingyur Rinpoche integrates traditional Buddhist practice and philosophy with the current scientific understanding of the mind and mental health – making the practice of meditation relevant and accessible to students around the world. Mingyur Rinpoche is the author of the best-selling book The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, as well as Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying, and many others.
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