Ask a Philosophical Counselor: Can Meditation Cause Anxiety?
Here's another Philosophical Counseling query submitted to me by Matteo Liberatore (with follow-up thoughts below the exchange):
I have a quick question that I was hoping to get your opinion on. In all the years that you have been meditating, have you ever experienced increased anxiety due to meditation?
Lately I started having this weird state of mind where I feel like I am pretty much always kind of meditating every time I am alone. It's getting in the way of regular alone activities, like being on the bus, walking around etc. It's like if my brain is trying to reach for a meditative state at all times and it feels uncomfortable in "messy" situations, like being in the NYC chaos, so I try to focus on breathing, or outside noise, or do Vipassana, and I can feel my brain rushing through these techniques to try to get out of the "foggy" mind state. Being alone used to be mostly thinking about a million things. That was my default state. Now when I am alone I keep catching myself thinking really fast, and for some reason this constant snapping back and refocusing on "reality" started feeling quite wearisome.
I can mostly feel this state arising when I am alone or around strangers in a confined space. It led to short anxiety feelings a couple of times. It feels like I am becoming too aware or something. The state completely disappears when I am focused on something. It only appears when I am not focusing on a task. That's why I am wondering how much the meditation is contributing to it.
Does this sound like the storm before the calm/higher state of consciousness to you or I am just getting fixated and I should try to decrease my meditation?
Very busy lately (manuscript deadline). But I have some insight into your experiences. I’ll give a short answer for now. If that’s not enough, let me know, and I’ll say more in a few days. Briefly, it’s normal. My meditative one-pointedness, for example, got so powerfully habitual that it got in the way of my spontaneity at one point. It all needs to be modulated and adjusted as needed. Trust your instincts. Middle path means more about not too much or too little, than it does about any fixed value.
That was enough for Matteo. Sometimes the answers to complex questions are simple. But I thought I should point out that sometimes the issues are much more complex even when they seem very simple. For example, meditation can be so powerful that individuals who might have borderline psychological pathologies could be adversely affected by 'playing around' with their minds. It does happen sometimes. Willoughby Britton and Jared Lindhal have researched this, the so-called dark side of meditation. How do I know whether someone like Matteo is one or the other of these types? I don't, but Matteo's own account did not strike me as worrisome in that regard. But even if he was someone whose mental health was fragile enough to be disrupted by meditation, I think that would have happened a lot sooner (he's been practicing for over a year), but also the advice was to pay attention to his own mental states and increase or decrease meditation accordingly, so I think that would probably be enough.