How An Eco-Challenge Helped Me Reduce & Reframe My Anxiety

mbg Contributor By Sara Weinreb
mbg Contributor
Sara Weinreb is the host of the Medium Well podcast and curator of the weekly email, Sara... lately.. She has a bachelor’s degree from Tulane University.

Image by Jelena Jojic Tomic / Stocksy

I used to think that the more mindful practices, herbs, and rituals I added to my life, the less stressed I'd be. And while those elements are certainly important pieces in my quest for reducing my stress and anxiety, I eventually realized that curating my life to live my values, finding room for space and ease, practicing slow and sustainable living, and actively reducing my stressors (versus trying to just meditate them away) moved the needle more than any downward dog.

How one eco-challenge can lead to a lifetime of change.

My adventures with sustainable living started with exploring ethical fashion, after realizing that my do-gooder values were not aligned with my fast-fashion, shopaholic tendencies. I committed to only buying one new item a month, which quickly turned into buying only sustainable and ethically made pieces. While I thought I was just refining my shopping habits (and saving some cash), this shift flipped a switch and catapulted me toward a more mindful lifestyle overall. I was no longer "killing time" by hitting up the closest fast fashion store in between work and dinner plans. Instead, I was going to a bookstore or taking a yoga class.

It’s interesting how when you shift one thing in your life, it can cascade.

The challenge nudged me to replace my need to "be busy" with practices, activities, and rituals that supported my health, well-being, and personal development. This intentionality extended, eventually, to the experiences in my life, my work, my friend group, and beyond. It's interesting how when you shift one thing in your life, it can cascade.

Eventually, out of frustration for the lack of accessible options in the ethical fashion space, I launched a sustainable clothing brand of my own. I then pivoted to exploring sustainability and mindful living in a nonphysical form, through my podcast, Medium Well. Writing and chatting about these topics allows me to more fully understand all aspects of the process and learn from others while sharing that information and forming connections. 

I've also started studying herbalism, which, for me, is the embodiment of wellness, mindfulness, and sustainability in one practice. Connecting to our earth and providing for it, while honoring it with reverence and gratitude for what it provides to us, has helped me slow down and stay grounded. Sometimes I look out my office window at the giant tree outside and wonder all the things that tree has seen. It's been there for decades, maybe centuries. It's rooted, grounded, and strong, unfazed by the weather or the construction.

While I didn't see it in the moment, looking back, I realize that each decision I made toward living a mindful life helped me not only practice self-care and sustainable living but enabled me to reduce my stress and anxiety because I was living in alignment in a way I had never been before.

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My invitation to you if you are looking to welcome less stress and more intentionalism into your life: Take inventory.

Start jotting down the things that give you energy and the things that drain you. Notice the things that trigger your stress response, and the things that you are using to distract yourself from feeling the things you don't want to deal with feeling. Take note of the moments when you feel the most joy and most in alignment, like you're on top of the world.

Then, start curating. And I'm not talking about the Instagram version of curating—this is for you and no one else. See where you can eliminate, or ease, those triggers. Find easy swaps for your numbing behaviors with something that serves you. Invite joy into your life wherever you can. Swap scrolling for reading a book and shopping for yoga class. The process isn't about getting to any specific outcome but rather to invite into your life the things that serve you.

The process will likely take work, deep work. You might need to work through your shadow elements, deal with eco-anxiety, or distance yourself from certain people in your life. You might have to truly accept what's in your bank account (or what's not), or how certain foods make you feel. While it may feel overwhelming at times, just start with one small area—whether that is something draining you physically, emotionally, monetarily, or energetically.

I'm still on this journey, too. I am far from stress-free. But I can look back to the days when I came home with plastic bags full of cheap clothes with a lot of compassion and realize that I was stressed out because I was always trying to keep up and live on other people's terms. I never would have guessed the impact that shifting to mindful fashion would have had in my life. But that one step led to others and eventually led me to a career in intentional living. I invite you to take a step, too, and let me know where you end up.

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