By Dimithri Wijesinghe
The current Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnation to be born amongst the Tibetan people and he has expressed that the 15th reincarnation may not happen, and whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not is up to the Tibetan people; if they feel it is not relevant, it will cease to continue.
Considering this, the Dalai Lama has been addressing audiences with various dignitaries and persons of interest and in one such meeting he was posed a question with regards to the youth and mental illness where he was asked: “A lot of young people struggle with anxiety and depression, and if you had the ability to whisper in the ear some advice or a lesson to every single young person in the world, what would it be and why?”
The Dalai Lama answered: “Too much self-centred attitude – me, me, me, me, then anxiety, suspicion. The antidote to self-centred attitude is altruism and considering the rest of the human beings as one human community…Children of a young age they don’t care of others’ nationality, religion, and faith –they play together. We all have same right to achieve a happy life.”
He also said: “Now in our existing education field we should include how to tackle our destructive emotions. This is where I want to criticise these White people – you introduce modern education which is very much oriented on material value. We should include education about our mind…”
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure”.
Essentially, it is your body’s natural response to stress, a feeling of fear or apprehension, which is for the most part, a natural thing. However, if your feelings of anxiety are extreme and interfere with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
According to the American National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), the exact causes of anxiety disorders are unknown. However, research provides that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It is also believed that anxiety disorders tend to happen alongside other mental health conditions such as substance abuse and depression, with researchers sharing that people suffering from such illnesses try to ease the symptoms temporarily by consuming alcohol or drugs.
We spoke to counselling psychologist Nivendra Uduman about the rise of anxiety as a disorder amongst the youth and its prevalence in Sri Lanka. He shared that there is an increasing trend of a great deal of young people in Sri Lanka struggling with anxiety and related mental health problems.
He said that this has been more apparent in the recent years due to increasing pressures at home, school, and in the workplace. Young people not feeling seen or heard, or not being reciprocated in their social networks often puts them in a state of apprehension, fear, and anxiety, where their worries about being rejected, invalidated, and unappreciated hijacks their ability to feel safe and grounded.
Uduman shared that social isolation is another factor that he sees causing many young people anxiety. Disconnection often contributes to feeling unsafe, which naturally causes the brain and the body to go into activating the fight/flight/freeze response – the body’s natural safety mechanism. This sometimes can lead to filtering out sources of happiness, pleasure, and joy because one is continuously on the lookout for signs of danger, reasons why another person cannot be trusted, etc.
He said that there are other contributory factors like not feeling safe in relationships, as ourselves, and in our families also lead to us interpreting stimuli we receive from the outside world as dangerous and scary, whereas looking at the same stimuli through a different perspective might be interpreted otherwise.
We asked Uduman what he thought of the Dalai Lama’s expressions on the prevalence in anxiety amongst the youth of today. He said: “Looking at the recent comment made by the Dalai Lama on anxiety and altruism or connecting with others, I believe that there is a lot of sense in what he said. We are wired for connections as human beings, and that is the essence of how we thrive. It is also important to note that changes that happen in our brains and bodies don’t only happen because of chemical changes, toxins, or other illnesses. It is also about how our social world speaks to our hardwired world.”
He also added: “Contributing to our communities, practicing mindfulness in our daily lives (while eating, working, showering, exercising, etc.), fostering safe, nurturing relationships, and taking care of our bodies by getting enough sleep, a balanced diet, and exercise can help us deal with anxiety in a healthy manner. Avoiding what makes us anxious, consuming alcohol and other substances to numb out anxious feelings, and isolating ourselves from others can act as barriers in reducing and recovering from anxiety.”