We live in an increasingly overcrowded world. Populations are being driven more and more into urban centers, where cramped and unnatural environments are plastered with propaganda making constant demands on our attention.
What’s more, rapid evolution of technology and manufacturing is creating more new products than at any time in history, which has caused consumerism to spiral.
At the same time, anxiety is now the most commonly diagnosed mental illness. It is the plague of our generation – a fear response caused by catastrophizing, believing that the worst can happen in any situation. It could be specific imagined what if’s or a nameless dread.
It can be anchored to specific events or circumstances or not.
Imagine the voice in your head reminding you of a Monday deadline and that last minute planned Sunday get-together with your friends, on top of your kid crying because the book report is due and he needs help.
We believe all these factors are connected, and that presents an unusual solution to the question – what is the solution for anxiety?
Originally a design concept, it has now grown to become a lifestyle. The principle of having less. Using only what is essential. And making every element present work as hard as possible.
Once you begin to understand the discipline of minimalism, it can help to calm the disquieted mind. Here are six reasons how the minimalist lifestyle is for the anxious, overwhelmed and stressed.
Find Clarity Through Reduced Visual Cues
The fears experienced in anxiety are often those of uncertainty. Clarity is the enemy of uncertainty. Minimalism uses white space to create clarity around messages, and fights to make sure messages are powerful and deliberately chosen.
At the same time, vision is our primary sense. It uses the most processing power in our brain compared to any other sense. As such, visual cues are the most frequent to both deliver and trigger recall of information.
The problem for anxiety sufferers is that they are surrounded by visual cues at all times. Visual cues trigger the recall of memories without our conscious effort, which means visual cues are also capable of triggering anxiety.
Out in the wider world, we are constantly assaulted by a high density of visual cues. That’s why having a minimalist ‘safe space’ can create an oasis of calm that can reduce the presentation of anxiety symptoms.
Clean Your Space, And Your Headspace
Freeing yourself from clutter can also be seen as freeing yourself from attachments. In the Buddhist sense, being free from attachments allows you to be calmer and clearer in your perception of reality.
Being surrounded by clutter also passively reinforces ideas about consumerism that need to be re-examined. Emptying your controlled spaces, such as your apartment or even just a room like the kitchen, of unnecessary items can reduce the amount of brain power it takes to be in that environment, lowering you passive stress level and making you less likely to pass the threshold that triggers a panic response.
Eliminate the Unnecessary
The ability to simplify also means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. Often time, we may feel that we do not have enough time, we feel that we are always busy and all over the place.
But that’s different from being productive, instead of having 10 things to do in your to-do list today, why not try just have 2 priorities a day. Eliminate the unnecessary by making them into a habit which requires zero willpower and will not add on to your anxiety.
Develop Your Self-Control
A lot of the practice of minimalism in application is to do with discipline. Rigorously self-examining why you want something, whether you really need it, and then practice saying no to your inner instinct to have more and more.
Remember, wanting more is just a fear of not having enough. That fear was useful when resources were scarce and we struggled to survive on a daily basis. In a modern context it has become absurd, but evolution moves far more slowly than human progress.
If you can remove this fear from yourself, you remove a big source of the stress that can trigger anxiety. Doing more with less will allow you to redirect and sublimate that drive into something productive, like creativity or ambition.
Remember – anxiety is recent because rampant consumerism and social media make ‘signalling’ easier than ever before. In 2017, “Keeping up with the joneses” is making you ill. Step off the treadmill.
Know What Really Matters
Once you do interrupt the cycle of using buying as a reward mechanism, you can begin to appreciate what really matters to you.
You can define what your tastes are, and carefully select items that reflect them. You can begin to ‘design’ your life based on what makes you happy. You begin to live deliberately.
This sense of control is essential in moving beyond anxiety. Deliberately choosing to put time and money into things we really believe in is far more richly rewarding, but takes far more effort than a meaningless purchase.
This helps you create the life you want, not the one expected of you. And you save money in the process.
This process of finding what really matters to you goes deep. Rooted in our visual perception is the fact that humans understand things by contrasts. We don’t ‘get’ rough without understanding smooth, and how they differ.
By getting rid of the things that don’t matter, and understanding the things that do, this series of contrasts will help you identify where you’ve been hiding all this time.
Like we said in the beginning – minimalism provides white space in which the message can speak louder. That message is your authentic self, and you will start to hear that voice more clearly as you minimize distractions. For someone with anxiety that might seem scary at first – our instinct is to ‘drown out’ that voice. But fighting it gives it a toxic strength. Embracing it is a form of taming that rage against the machine, harmonizing with it, and using it productively.
Finally Feel Like You Have Enough
What a relief it is to know that enough is enough. This is the core principle of minimalism.
Contentment doesn’t lie in achieving all your goals. If this is your attitude, there will always be more to do and you will never be satisfied.
If you are an average westerner, you live a life of huge privilege, and you already have everything you could need and more. Acknowledge that. Let the desperation for the next thing leave you. You don’t need it because
You have enough. You are enough.