How I Keep My Anxiety in Check

(Photo above courtesy of Alex Federline)

By caring for others, Alex Federline, of Washington D.C., develops a deep sense of worth and wins over his anxiety.

During my junior year of college, I was overcome by severe anxiety. I began taking anti-anxiety medication and, around that time, my best friend introduced me to SGI Nichiren Buddhism. Although It sounded interesting, I didn’t believe that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo would solve this problem.

My senior year, my grades slipped from A’s to C’s. I stopped applying to jobs, because I had become discouraged by the constant rejections. I stopped caring about my productivity and began abusing my prescriptions.

After graduating, I hit rock bottom. One night, while under the influence, I attempted to drive my car but my best friend stopped me. The scariest part was that I had no memory of this the next day.

I decided to take control of my life and joined a local Buddhability community meeting, where I was warmly embraced. I began attending meetings every week because, being a part of a community dedicated to bettering human life, made me believe I could better mine.

The stronger I became through chanting, the more I began looking for work in my field of interest, biology. I still kept getting rejected from jobs, but this time, I didn’t quit. My anxiety was replaced by hope through my Buddhist practice. This allowed me to persevere and, as a result, I was hired in February 2016 as a lab technician in a biomedical research company, where I continue to work today. This lab does important research for infectious diseases such as HIV and COVID-19.

My anxiety was replaced by hope through my Buddhist practice.

I wanted to do more to support and care for the people around me. Whether it was chanting with and supporting fellow Buddhists or helping my friends, I started to take action for other people. I had always been anxious about life in general, but when I did things for others, I felt confident about myself.

But just as I started to challenge this deep-seated anxiety, it emerged full force. I started thinking I wasn’t good enough and, once again, felt deeply insecure about my future. I drank heavily to cope, following the pattern of alcoholism that runs in my family.

Amid these ups and downs, I read an essay by Daisaku Ikeda, where he writes about how to move forward:

If you should fall, just get right back up. If you can pick yourself up, you can move forward. You are young. Now is the time for challenge and construction.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 2, pp. 262–63

A Buddha is also known as “One Who Can Endure,” because we appear in the world enduring hardships, so that we can overcome them and help others discover their Buddhability.

I was struggling but felt that if I could encourage just one person, then I that meant I won that day. After consistently showing up for others in this way, I was promoted at work to a senior laboratory technician.

I’m not sure if my anxiety has gone away, but now when I feel it, instead of reverting to old, destructive habits, I chant, sometimes even just softly, under my breath. Through this, I’ve developed a confidence that I can face anything. For instance, in November 2018, my grandmother and a childhood friend passed away in the span of one week. This was one of the most difficult weeks of my life, but instead of drinking or abusing medication, I mustered the courage to support a local Buddhability gathering.

I’m not sure if my anxiety has gone away, but now when I feel it, instead of reverting to old, destructive habits, I chant, sometimes even just softly, under my breath.

That week, obstacles at work also arose. A co-worker had complained about my leadership, and I was almost fired for it. I chanted seriously to have an honest dialogue with this colleague. Chanting so hard that I was sweating, I saw my tendencies. My arrogance and lack of clear communication were contributing to our disunity. I chanted to convey what was really in my heart.

The next morning, I cast my ego aside and apologized to my co-worker for the miscommunication. Since then, we’ve had a great relationship. Through my Buddhist practice, I’ve learned to transform even the most negative work environment into a joyful one.

My family has watched me change now appreciate my faith. My brother, who was most resistant to my Buddhist practice, even bought me a book by Daisaku Ikeda for my birthday!

Caring for others has truly become the path for me to care for myself. Through this I have learned the value and potential of my own life.

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