• How Being A Minimalist Helps With My Anxiety

    21.8.17

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    Photography ©️ Alice Gao

    A little over a year ago I started noticing certain daily things were causing strange involuntary reactions in me: like a slight increase in my heartbeat every Sunday before bed, or a near inability to take deep, steady breaths while I worked on my computer or replied to emails.

    The symptoms worsened when my father got ill—until seemingly out of the blue I woke up one day and I started becoming paralyzed with fear at any given moment. Stress and negative thoughts weighed down on me to the point of making me experience the feelings of going through unimaginable tragedy and loss. The slightest day-to-day challenges would set me off on a panic attack. Air seemed not to fill my lungs and I would get more and more worked up until my body would eventually crash and I’d feel burned out. An exhaustion I'd never experienced before.

    I had no idea why after I had gone through so much in life I was suddenly unable to cope with the most common things. My creatively demanding job, of course, wasn’t helping. I was starting to lose touch with the things I loved and giving up on everything that I had built.

    My life was at that point where I couldn’t go left, right, forward or backward. I could just exist in that moment and try to change my attitude—because the situation wasn’t going to change any time soon. My father was going to get worse or pass away before he could get better and my daily work was always going to have its positives and negatives. I needed to relearn how to cope.

    I wish I could tell you I had that realization moment and I set off on a magical journey or rediscovery, but it was nothing like that. There was the preliminary part where my emotions and what I knew to be “me” had spiraled out of control, making me lose all of my sense of routine, self-love and the work I held so dear.

    One day, a few months down the line after going through the actual loss of my father, I was sitting on the edge of my bed, having just woken up from a vivid dream where I had taken a train ride with him. I woke up sobbing and feeling like my chest was going to explode. Suddenly I felt tired of it all—of imploding and feeling I had no control over my emotions.

    I had to face the fact that I was helpless and stop swimming against the current. I had to truly stop and realized that I had all this bottled up and it wasn’t serving me.

    Minimalism was one of the many things that helped in the process of picking myself back up. It made it so that I could grasp some perspective and focus on the present moment. I needed to let go of some of my emotional baggage and that is exactly what I did.

    I kept it simple. I did what I could manage every day and I kept my focus on the day-to-day with a heart full of love and forgiveness for what I thought I had neglected or left behind when I wasn’t able to cope.

    I committed myself to doing one thing at a time and to tackling that one thing that was the most terrifying at the beginning of each day. That meant I wouldn’t let it hang over my head and that I wouldn’t run the gauntlet of anxiety every single day. Being mindful helped me find true strength in times where I’d otherwise have lost all emotional control.

    With time and much persistence I’ve been able to react appropriately to each situation. That’s not to say that I no longer suffer from anxiety or panic attacks but they do not run my life anymore. Last week was a terrible week for me. I was anxious and down. I was physically ill and entertaining all the negativity I could... but what counts is today—and today I'm here.

    Even in the midst of experiencing paralyzing fear, I’ve been able to push forward knowing that I can do at least one thing every single day. That the emotions that don’t serve me are supposed to be let-go of and not bottled up... and that as terrible as today might seem, there is still hope for tomorrow—or even for a minute or an hour from now.

    Minimalism has brought mindfulness into my life and consequently comfort and happiness, even in times of grief, need and fear.

    For everyone suffering from anxiety or panic attacks like me, I’d suggest looking for professional help. I wanted to share my story with you on where I’ve come from so you know that you can come out on the other side too... but this might not apply to you, so this is not at all a formula to follow but a story of someone who knows how hard it is and who can now see light and hope in her situation.
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