Friday, March 23, 2012

Xanax and Kierkegaard

The New York Times has been running a series of articles on anxiety. This one is about Kierkegaard's The Concept of Anxiety. The author notes that in our culture anxiety is conventionally treated with medication. Of Kierkegaard: "Is there any doubt that were he alive today he would be supplied with a refillable prescription for Xanax?"

The same is probably true of Augustine in 386, the year of his conversion to Christ. Many other major religious and philosophical figures might, in our day, have been diagnosed and given anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. A few who come to my mind are Jeremiah, Boethius, Nietzsche, and the Buddha (the article actually mentions Buddhism in this regard). You can probably think of your own examples.

So here are a few questions I think are worth asking.

What, if anything, do you think is the spiritual benefit of anxiety?

Has our culture gone wrong in seeking a medical solution to anxiety, rather than a spiritual one? (And what would the world have been like today if the Buddha, Jeremiah, Augustine, Boethius, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard had taken these medications?)

Is it possible to seek medical and spiritual solutions to anxiety? Can we have it both ways?


Zach said...

Dr. Boone,

Thanks for the great post, as always. Two thoughts jump out at me:

1. Kierkegaard wrote The Concept of Anxiety under the pseudonym Vigilius Haufniensis, not as himself. Should we not too, then, offer a distinction between Kierkegaard's experience of anxiety and Haufniensis' experience?

2. Per Kierkegaard and/or The Concept of Anxiety, all anxiety is certainly not sin, and it seems as if it doesn't necessarily lead to sin. Certainly, there are categories of anxiety that are sin (a certain reading of The Sickness Unto Death would indicate that despair, a category of anxiety, is sin, and sin is despair), but not all anxiety fits into that category.

It sounds as if we as a culture consider anxiety to be a problem. Is the question whether we can treat it medically and spiritually, or whether we should treat it at all?

Ray said...

Can the spiritual benefits of anxiety be removed from the feeling of anxiety itself? It seems strange to think that someone, after having anxiety in the past, would say that he is now benefiting from that experience in everyday life. I know that many people say they have moved past, shrugged, or transcended periods of anxiety and there is usually a sense of being finished; as if anxiety itself is an emotional/spiritual event.

After thinking about all this two questions of my own come up: what would a spiritual solution to the problem of anxiety look like? Can a spiritual solution be verified in a public way?

Also, If anxiety is a sign of a spiritual problem, what is it about spirituality that lead to problems in the first place? ...And in consideration your second question, what about the other way around, is our culture wrong to seek a spiritual solution to a medical problem?

My feeling is that it would be worse if we decided to stop treating anxiety with medication. Maybe we need it to continue going on in the way we do. If we want to keep writingand reading about xanax and its spiritual issues I don't see any other way.