Using philosophy to deal with anxiety

We all suffer from anxiety at some point in our lives. Some of us suffer more than others. The problem with anxiety is that it is partially a biological problem and a partially a philosophical problem.


The question is, which comes first? Does the philosophical problem cause the biological problem? Or does the biological problem cause the philosophical one?

The answer is that it depends on the situation. Sometimes depression is caused by a philosophical problem. And sometimes it is caused by a biological problem. Anxiety is the same. Sometimes it is caused by a biological problem. Sometimes it’s philosophical.

However, until you know whether you are dealing with a biological or philosophical root cause to your anxiety or depression, you won’t be able to fix it.

That’s because it doesn’t matter how great your philosophical solution to your problem is if the real problem you have is biological. To fix an essentially biological problem, you will need a biologic solution. And, conversely, biological solutions don’t fix essentially philosophical problems.

The good news is that taking the time to figure out a philosophical solution to your problem is going to help either way. Here’s why. While the root of these problems is either/or, the manifestation is both philosophical and biological. So you will need to work on a philosophical solution anyway. The bonus is that if this turns out to be caused by a root philosophical problem, doing this will solve your problem.

If it turns out that your anxiety or depression has a biological cause, doing the philosophical work will help you find the motivation to seek out and accept a biological solution, if it turns out that is what you need.

Philosophy helps us find meaning and purpose and reasons. Fear, anxiety, depression. These emotions are felt biologically, but our clever little brains give them meaning. What sort of meaning we give them largely defines how we respond to them. If we think of fear as excitement, it might spur us to take necessary risks. If we think of fear as existential dread, it may paralyze us.

Interestingly enough, it is fear that we might find out our philosophical dread, anxiety and depression may have a biological cause that causes a lot of people to not seek out help when they need it!

My point is that spend time thinking about how you think. Think about how you find meaning and what you find valuable. All this thinking and philosophizing will help you when, not if, you find yourself feeling feelings of anxiety or depression. Choosing to aspire to your higher ideals despite your biological response to your environment is the hallmark of what it means to be human. In other words, through philosophy, we have the ability to think and choose our response so that we can refuse to allow our conditions to condition us. It’s a choice. Even if that choice is to seek out a doctor to help you find out IF your problem is biological in origin.


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2 thoughts on “Using philosophy to deal with anxiety”

  1. Jennifer, could you give a concrete, detailed example (or examples) of when a philosophical solution will not solve a biological problem, of how it will solve one, and of how it will solve a philosophical problem? Thanks much.

    • The example I gave was anxiety and depression. Sometimes depression is a philosophic malaise. Sometimes it is a medical condition arising out of malfunctioning brain biology.

      Fixing depression depends entirely on what is causing your depression. If it is philosophic malaise, then a philosophic solution will work. If it is a medical problem in the brain, no amount of philosophy will help, unless the philosophy encourages you to seek out a medical solution to fix your medical problem.

      I think too often we assume our thoughts are under our control. But in reality, the brain is a big gooey organ that malfunctions from time to time and we need to accept that reality. So the only help philosophy has in those situations is that it either helps you accept the reality of what your brain really is or it doesn’t. But you can’t pray or meditate certain depressions away. You just can’t Sometimes you can, but not if it is a biological problem.


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