As one of the most common mental health issues in the world today, anxiety is being called "the plague of our generation." Personally, I've had it for years, and as I've slowly become more comfortable talking about it and how it affects me, the most striking realization I've had is just how common it is among the people I interact with daily. Many of my friends and family members have similar stories to tell about their anxiety, panic attacks, and exactly how their lives have been affected by them.
For me, anxiety has never been fully debilitating or something that prevented me from going about my day-to-day life. Instead it's just always been there in the background, annoying me, preventing me from fully enjoying the present moment. That rush of adrenaline I felt when I realized that a friend was earning more, achieving more, or appearing happier than I was would cause a ball of tension. And that tension would sit in my chest from morning until night.
In today’s world, we live under the subconscious assumption that life is a process of attainment—that getting promotions, partners, and collecting items will make us happy and secure. But this mindset makes us prone to competitiveness, feelings of insecurity, and reckless spending, which often results in a continuous cycle of anxieties and feeling as though we'll never have "enough."
Stuck in a cycle of "things"
I was stuck in this cycle, and all the "things" surrounding me seemed to trigger these anxious thoughts and uncomfortable feelings. (Ever noticed how you feel much calmer in open, green spaces?) I wasn't 100 percent sure, but I was starting to realize that some of the objects around me were visual cues causing my brain to go into overdrive. I started to resent them and I wanted to be free.
I decided to test out out my theory. If it was true that my stuff acted as a trigger, then it would make sense that my well-being would improve if the stuff that I surrounded myself with went away. Even better: What if the space I decided to surround myself with triggered feelings of calm and happy memories?
Experimenting with minimalism
So I did it. I took a long hard look at everything I owned and split the items I would keep into two categories: those that served a purpose and those that had a psychological benefit. The items that triggered feelings of calmness and contentment—or memories of a time I was happy or at peace—stayed. The rest had to go.
And almost immediately I felt a sense of calm.
In an obvious example, I observed that the expensive handbag I bought last payday—because I knew it would make me the envy of my friends—was not actually making me happy. In fact, it was causing worry and anxiety because it wasn't something I could really afford. I also noticed that many of the items in my home, even stuff I bought to decorate, was really just clutter. And it took adopting a minimalist lifestyle to realize all that clutter had been clouding my thoughts and, ironically, making me think about all the things I didn't have.
Facing my fears
Another big lesson I learned was that after I decluttered my life, I had to deal with the root of my problems. I took the time to think about what had been gnawing at me and stopping me from living in the moment; because with so few distractions around me, there was no longer a way to deflect them. When I realized that over half of my wardrobe was bought because it was cool, not because it was an item I loved or because it flattered me, it was an incredible relief. Once I realized that having the trendiest jacket or the most fashionable toaster (yes I thought about that) was not what I needed to make me happy, I could free my mind from the daily nagging anxiety that consumed it and be present, enjoying each moment for what it was.
Strengthening my sense of self
Minimalism doesn’t have to mean living with the bare minimum; it means discovering and understanding what your legitimate wants and needs really are. In my world, minimalism means surrounding yourself only with items that serve a purpose or hold beauty. Items that have been acquired mindfully.
When you remove yourself from the continuous cycle of attainment and attachment you have time to discover the activities that really soothe your mind and bring you joy. Once you start to differentiate between what is necessary and what's not, you realize that a lot of what causes you stress and anxiety is simply putting your energy into things you don’t genuinely believe in. Eliminate what doesn’t matter and you may find that the anxiety that accompanies it will dissolve, too.