I’ve had an anxiety disorder my whole life, and I reached a tipping point last winter. I had a stressful 8 to 5 job, plus kids, a husband working long hours, and the housework and appointments that come with having a family. I had been on autopilot for a long time, knowing something was going to have to give at some point, but pushing it off. My body was shutting down, and the anxiety was winning. My doctor pulled me from work.
It was a struggle to regain my equilibrium. I started medication, therapy, meditating, and yoga, but I needed something more, a significant life shift. I wanted to live more deliberately. I had read about minimalism and mindfulness before, but now it was really resonating with me. I needed to create white space in the margins of my life so I could catch my breath.
Wave the White Flag
I waved a figurative white flag, surrendered, and let all the anxious thoughts wash over me like waves. I gave up trying to do everything I could, to appear like I could handle it all, have it all, and be perfect. I needed to simplify—boil myself down to my essence and live with that. Clear my head, so I could see that thoughts are just thoughts and I can pop them like balloons. Permit myself to let things go, forgive myself, and let go of fear. Stop living in a reactive state.
I wasn’t present in my own life. My job owned me. My things owned me. I wasn’t in control of my time. I forgot how to notice simple things.
For me, being mindful starts with being quiet and drilling down deeper into myself to acknowledge my feelings. Doing that not only gives me something important but refills my “well” so there is something left to give others. Trying to stay in the present moment is tricky. (If you’ve ever meditated, you know how hard it is to sit still and focus on the breath when the mind wants to wander.) Mindfulness does take dedication and practice, but I believe it’s key to less stress and more happiness.
Let Go of the Truly Unimportant
I wanted to enjoy my kids—I’d worked full time their whole lives. I also wanted freedom from being trapped behind a desk for 40+ hours a week. I realized that I could not go back to that job and stay healthy, so I resigned. I thought I would miss getting dressed up, putting on jewelry and buying anything I wanted (I was working hard—I deserved those bracelets and that new purse!), but I didn’t miss any of it because none of that mattered anymore. Buying those things was just an attempt at self-medication.
Find Your Values
I thought about what I wanted my life to look like, to FEEL like, and it needed to be the opposite of autopilot. I created a list of values I want to live by to support my new minimalist mindset (google “lists of values to live by” for inspiration).
1. Balance (simplicity, flexibility, order, perspective, freedom)
2. Stillness/Solitude (clarity, contentment, mindfulness, nature, silent reflection)
3. Creativity (growth, curiosity, passion, uniqueness)
4. Love (relationships, humor, compassion)
5. Energy (adventure, strength, outdoors)
Now, if something feels off or I feel troubled, I question it against my values. I frequently discover that my anxiety is caused by situations that go against the values I’ve set.
The End is Just the Beginning
I realized that the values of that company I worked for did not align with my own values; no wonder it was causing me so much stress. Letting go of that job paved the way for a new career in freelance editing and writing, spending more time with my family, and knowing what the world outside looks like on a random Tuesday at 10 AM (hint: it’s nice).
Living with a Minimalist Mindset
A year ago, I stepped tentatively out of the chaos and into a more deliberate way of living. Knowing my values and living to them embodies a minimalist mindset.
Living with a minimalist mindset is:
1. Choosing quality over quantity. Weed out possessions, people, or thoughts that don’t serve you anymore and mindfully focus on what adds value to your life. Then, practice gratitude for what remains.
2. Being responsible—financially and otherwise—so you have the freedom and fluidity to live to your values and remove yourself from unhealthy situations.
3. Being curious about every opportunity the universe offers you.
4. Discipline. It’s simple and hard at the same time, but so worth it.
5. Having nothing to lose. I live without too much fear because I have enough, and I know everything will work out. I don’t have anything to lose anymore, because none of my possessions really matter. Only my values matter and those can’t be taken away.
Choosing what is important every day and long term automatically begins to point life in a calmer direction. What do you value and how do you want to apply those values to your life?