Minimalism and Anxiety
Anxiety is a term used so loosely in the 21st century. Not only has it been “trending” amongst today’s millennials but it’s rapidly evolved into a full blown epidemic! Every other person I meet is suffering from some form of anxiety whether it’s generalized, social, or trauma induced. We’ve become nervous, worried, and stressed out beyond repair. To be honest I’m surprised so many of us are even functioning at all while trying to cope with the increased societal pressure and never-ending demands of day to day life. It’s just too much.
In order to fully understand the complex nature of this diagnosis, we must first acknowledge the various types of anxiety disorders.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Panic Disorder
Out of the 5 general types of anxiety listed above I have been diagnosed with 4 (excluding Panic Disorder). This still seems quite alarming, even to me, which is why I’ve grown to prioritize coping mechanisms specifically geared towards reducing my stress levels. When I’m stressed my anxiety goes through the roof! Despite my best efforts I have recently experienced more panic attacks in the last 6 months than I have in my entire life. Yikes! I can’t even begin to explain how truly frightening it is when this unexpected wave of fear washes over you with one fell swoop. It’s as if one minute you are completely fine, and the next you are gasping for air; unable to breathe, speak, think, or move. You are paralyzed by fear and have lost any and all ability to control yourself and your emotions. It’s petrifying.
Before we can create a treatment plan we have to identify what our triggers are and respectively how they present themselves. What are some symptoms of anxiety?
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
- Overwhelming feelings of nervousness
- Uncontrollable worry
- Trouble concentrating
- Increased heart rate
- Sweating (clammy hands and feet)
- Feeling weak
- Avoiding social settings
Do any of these sound familiar? I don’t doubt that most of you (if not all of you) have experienced these symptoms at some point in time. The distinct difference between someone with an anxiety disorder is the regular occurrence of these symptoms and their life altering consequences.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
As the name suggests, General Anxiety Disorder pertains to all aspects of one’s life. From what you will eat for breakfast to the strangers you will come into contact with; everything becomes daunting and worrisome. Will I have enough energy to be productive today? What if my boss thinks I’m not working hard enough? Should I have eatin that? Why is that person staring at me? Did I really just say that? These questions and more weigh so heavily on your conscience that by mid-day it’s as if you’ve already conquered a full blown mental marathon! It’s exhausting. The worst part is that most of the time you’re stuck worrying about something that A) took place in the past ,or B) hasn’t even happened yet. Your mind is in a constant state of distress because of your inability to become fully present in the moment.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Generally this type of anxiety is more manageable than most simply due to the fact that you can choose whether to socialize OR embrace your inner introvert. But let’s face it, there is no avoiding social interactions all together. Between work, school, and errands we are constantly forced to interact with others on an ongoing basis. I don’t know about you but the thought of this makes me cringe! Most often my pups are the only company I need if I’m being completely and entirely honest. Unfortunately there is no escaping societies expectation of conversing on a daily basis. Our nerves can become so overwhelming that we may find ourselves saying “no” to invites we actually wish to partake in. Meeting new people whether in a forced setting (such as work) or simply out with friends throws our brain into overdrive as we battle the never ending stream of what ifs?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Every time I hear someone refer to their “OCD” tendencies a part of me wants to look them dead in the eyes and respond with, “Please elaborate”. Being particular and having OCD are two completely different things, each with their own set of ups and downs. With that being said a true OCD diagnosis is similar to hell on earth if I’m being frank. No I do not enjoy having to wash my hands upwards of 30 times a day. I don’t find pleasure in the fact that my underwear drawer looks like a Victoria Secret display and I certainly don’t love wasting an hour picking at my face because I have one pimple and have decided to find 20 more to satisfy my craving to obsess and poke at my skin. And yet these are the harsh realities of someone diagnosed with OCD. Of course these compulsions vary depending on the person. Whether all of your labels need to be facing a certain direction or your fingernails need to be exactly the same length is irrelevant. At the end of the day the real struggle lies in one’s inability to ignore these compulsive tendencies and live an ordinary and productive life despite such debilitating urges.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Trauma is a delicate subject. With each traumatic event we overcome our mind grows resilient to the pain and suffering that causes long term, and often subconscious damage. PTSD occurs when someone has experienced a tremendous (and often life altering) traumatic event. Most often these events present themselves in the form of flashbacks or nightmares and can occur suddenly without any warning. Typically there is some form of trigger that sets us off and resembles a similarity to the event which initially caused the trauma. In layman’s terms, it’s as if you are reliving the event all over again despite the fact that you are not currently in any sort of danger. Your brain switches to fight or flight mode making it almost impossible to comprehend the situation at hand and the emotions associated with your pain begin to resurface. Adrenaline levels play a role during this time as your body and mind experience intense changes and an influx in hormone production. Time stands still as you become paralyzed by an all consuming fear, unable to differentiate reality from thought. This form of anxiety is severely crippling and can impact an individual throughout the entirety of their lives.
So how does minimalism play into anxiety? I’m glad you asked.
The minimalist lifestyle has taken over all social media platforms in the last few years and is #trending amongst our generation far and wide. Instagram in particular is notorious for it’s newsfeed full of stark white photos embracing simplistic style and beauty. We are obsessed with owning and spending less than ever before and creating a lifestyle full of intention and purpose. There is something undeniably intriguing about the idea that we can survive with less material possessions, and in turn, actually live happier and more fulfilling lives! But the true meaning behind living minimally delves so much deeper than surface level trends. It is a conscious choice to appreciate what we already have in our lives and acknowledge the difference between consumerism and basic human necessity. It really is that simple.
Overstimulation is common in individuals suffering from anxiety. Environmental stressors such as errands, going to work, and socializing can begin to weigh us down over time. If you stop and think about it, how many of these things could you eliminate in a week if you focused solely on what HAS to get done rather than cramming everything in to an already insanely busy schedule? By prioritizing our mental health and well-being we begin to discover what brings us true satisfaction in our routines and overall life. We learn how to experience joy in the little things and cultivate a lifestyle that embodies calm and peaceful energy. Less is more.
3 Tricks to Living Simply
- Spend less
- Own less
- Set your intention
You might be thinking to yourself that these simple steps are a walk in the park. And for some of you they very well might be. For the majority of us, these things require constant discipline and awareness; self check in’s, weekly budgets, and even putting into practice some sort of daily motivator whether that be in the form of meditation, reading, or listening to a podcast. Let me break it down for you.
By spending less on miscellaneous items that we don’t actually NEED, we can invest that money towards early retirement, travel, or put it into an emergency savings account. As ironic as this may seem (thank you Vancity for introducing me to the wonderful world of debt) I am very intentional when it comes to parting with my money. Due to circumstances in the last couple of years I’ve learned what I can and can’t live without. This was a bit easier for me than it might be for some women as I’ve never been one for pampering myself. I don’t get my nails, lashes or brows done, I don’t get waxed, and my hairdresser can confirm that I leave my hair to grow out far longer than I should (oops. Sorry love!). These things are not at the top of my priority list and I wouldn’t feel right spending money on them.
99% of the time I cook my meals at home. Partially due to food intolerances but mostly because it is WAY more affordable. My endless love affair with Starbucks hit record breaking numbers in December and has since become a thing of the past. I stopped impulsively buying beauty care products and have narrowed down my hair and makeup routine 10 fold! I only buy something once I am completely out and I don’t keep a variety of colours and scents in things like eye shadow, lotion, or perfumes. What may seem like meaningless expenses at a glance can add up to an unbelievable amount over time (ladies you know what I’m talking about!). Less financial stress means more time and energy for the things that hold REAL value in our lives, our relationships, mental health, and most importantly, ourselves.
Similar to spending less is owning less. Ultimately the two go hand in hand however the outcome of decluttering focuses less on financial freedom and more on mental clarity. Let me ask you this. How does it make you feel when you come home at the end of a long day and your house is a mess? Does it make you feel calm? Are you able to relax and kick back knowing that there are a million things that need to be cleaned or put away? If the answer if yes then I truly envy you (my girlfriend is one of these people and I’m confident she’s planned my death several times over). This state of chaos stresses out a LOT of people and prevents them from being able to relax and unwind after work, school, you name it. What you might not realize is that these messes actually impair your ability to function because they are causing what I like to refer to as “mental clutter”.
Mental clutter is the bane of my existence. I become immediately overwhelmed if my living space is unorganized and find it next to impossible to function and complete daily tasks. It’s almost as if my messy environment is taking place inside my head and I can’t properly form a thought or wind down! If you’ve experienced this feeling at any point in your life then you understand the importance of keeping your home and work space tidy. One way to do this is by cleaning up after yourself on a daily basis. Putting your clothes away when you’re done with them and washing your dishes after cooking a meal are two perfect examples of ways in which you can prevent more work for yourself in the future. By implementing these small things daily, you’ll find you have less work to do in the long run and in turn gain an overall sense of mental clarity.
When I started off on my minimalist journey I watched just about every video I could get my hands on. I quickly learned the term “capsule wardrobe” and purged everything in my closet that I no longer wore. Some items were donated while others I sold or gave away to friends. I was convinced that the meaning of this new found trend meant owning little to nothing and I became fixated on sending it all out into the universe! Upon doing so I realized something; I had slowly started replacing and purchasing things to make up for the fact that I had gotten rid of previous items. I lost sight of my original intention to live a more simplistic lifestyle and was sucked right back into the mindset of “needing more”. Until I discovered my intention…
At this point I had to be honest with myself and address the underlying cause for my lifestyle change. What is the benefit to living a simple life? Does it align with my goals? What am I aiming to achieve? When I really took time to think about it the answer seemed blatantly obvious. Freedom. Freedom from stress, anxiety, worry, and debt. I was striving for abundance in the form of meaningful relationships, quality time, and mental stability. THIS was my intention, everything else became irrelevant. Of course I am only human and still struggle with daily temptations (who doesn’t?) but I gain a sense of control by allowing my intention to become my driving force. Acknowledging my goals and values was the missing piece to the puzzle, everything else just fell into place naturally.
Ultimately the choice is yours. If your material possessions make you happy and the thought of getting rid of them doesn’t feel right, don’t. My personal experience in this area is merely a guideline for those of you interested in pursuing an alternative avenue. Anxiety is down right exhausting, but it doesn’t have to control your life!