Our fight, freeze, or flight response has been with us for millions of years. Its purpose is to protect us from immediate danger. When we imagine a dangerous future, anxiety kicks in.
Modern life can trigger chronic anxiety. For example, some imagine the dangers of slipping into an abyss of unhealthy nationalism, fascism, communism, or anarchy, the dangers of an increasingly damaged environment, or of vastly unequal distribution of wealth.
Let anxiety wake you up so you can do what you can do to eliminate or moderate the perceived threat, if possible. To avoid chronic anxiety, apply remedies, prevention, and awareness.
Simply recognizing and accepting anxiety can immediately dissolve it. If that doesn't happen, then skillfully apply a personalized remedy using meditation, mindful dis-identification with the feelings, contemplation, therapy, analysis, displacing or hiding the feelings of anxiety with a mantra, thought, prayer, or by eating, drinking, drugging, or smoking.
Remedies, used skillfully, help. They avoid chronic anxiety and soften or even eliminate symptoms. Though, too much of a good thing becomes harmful. By-passing and suppressing emotions is unhealthy. Some remedies (drugs, over-eating, etc.) can harm physical and psychological health.
For a healthy remedy, Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “... mindful breathing brings us back to our fear so we can embrace it. We look deeply into the nature of our fear to reconcile ourselves with it… transform it.”
"Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” Thich Nhat Hahn
To some extent, you can prevent, as opposed to remedy, anxiety. For example, by desensitizing - the way a phobic becomes incrementally more comfortable in situations that produced fear or anxiety. You change the programming that transforms a particular set of conditions into anxiety.
Become conscious of the arising of anxiety before it takes hold by cultivating mindful awareness. Observe anxiety. Neither identify with it, nor push it away. Allow it.
Over time and with the practice of mindfulness, you dissolve anxiety by gaining insight into its nature – the impermanent result of a continuous flow of causes and conditions.
Radical Acceptance and Awareness
Radical acceptance is the fierce practice of simply being aware of phenomena. Not pushing away, not grasping. The most interesting phenomena are your sensations, feelings, and thoughts. They may be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. They feed on one another in a continuous interactive flow.
When anxiety comes, greet it with friendliness and interest, but don't invite it in and serve it tea.
When even the observing itself and the observer become phenomena, then there is an experience of dynamic peace and clarity. Maybe it lasts a moment, maybe longer. You acknowledge it and continue. Then, you experience fewer instances of anxiety and when they do arise, they do not stay long.
The remedy and prevention are the same - accepting whatever comes and skillfully applying remedies when appropriate.