Brazil is one of the most anxious countries in the world and I followed suit. If you're wondering whether anxiety can be cured, I'll tell you a little about how minimalism helped me.
According to the WHO, Brazil has won yet another unnecessary title: the country with the highest percentage of anxious individuals.
I was surprised by this information because I imagined that countries like the United States or England would be even more anxious since they are more immersed in materialism and social media.
However, it seems that the combination of the need to keep up appearances and little money generates even more anxiety than just the need to keep up appearances.
Of course, it's not just materialism, social media or, as I joked above, the need to keep up appearances that contribute to anxiety. Inequality, lack of resources and work culture also contribute greatly to it.
I'm someone who suffers from anxiety. I've suffered more, but it's still a factor that I try to understand in myself, because anxiety can be cured.
My history with anxiety
I first noticed my anxiety as something that was damaging my life in 2013, when after several nights of sleeping too little and being addicted to work, I found myself suffering from headaches, difficulty breathing deeply and other strange symptoms.
I was building one of my companies and the anxiety of seeing everything finished quickly made me work all the time. My motivation and energy were so great that all it took was half an alarm clock to jump out of bed and get back to work.
At the time I thought that was great! A productive person! Recognized for her speed and ability to get things ‘up and running'. An example of an entrepreneur.
It took me a while to realize that the example of an entrepreneur wasn't for me. But it's hard to let go of anxiety. If, on the one hand, I didn't expect my work to always be done in record time, I began to think that success would come even faster simply because other people on social media were ‘succeeding' with speed… or so it seemed.
The anxiety in this case was even greater. On the one hand, there was anxiety about producing content and ‘showing your successful side'. On the other, there is anxiety about wanting the imagined reality mirrored by what is shown on social media to become a real reality.
Obviously, the imagined reality will never arrive, because it is imagined.
It is manufactured. I make it, you make it, they make it, we make it and everyone imagines that one day it will become real.
Anxiety can be cured
Like everything else in life, there are several ways to get to the same result. And I dare say that trust in the method, rather than the method itself, tends to be the most important factor for change.
We tend to bring our empirical experiences of success in some area as the only way out.
“I lost weight because I became a vegetarian! So that's what you should do.”
“I found inner peace because I became a Buddhist! So that's what you should do.”
“I was cured of anxiety because I drank orange tea! Then that's what you should do.”
I'm not going to tell you anything like that. Phrases like that underestimate the diversity of living beings, in this case human beings.
What I am going to tell you, then, are the clues and reflections that have pointed me in the current direction.
Accepting our nature
Natural for human beings – as explained in the book Sapiens – is everything they are capable of doing.
To eat meat or not to eat meat -> Natural.
Having heterosexual or homosexual sex -> Natural.
Sleeping sitting up or sleeping lying down -> Natural.
Only what we can't do with our bodies, minds or spirits at the moment is unnatural. For example, it's not natural to use feathered wings to fly. After all, we don't have feathered wings… at least we haven't developed them yet.
Anxiety, therefore, is natural. It's part of our biological mechanisms. It's the response our head brings to a situation we're experiencing.
Whether that situation is stress at work, financial difficulties, the constant fear of something bad happening or any other reason, only you can stop and understand it.
In this sense, the path I have preferred to walk has two steps:
- Acceptance with love of my nature – The realization that I'm not going to get anywhere by fighting my feelings, but by embracing, understanding and digging deep inside to discover the real reasons that are making me anxious. The roots of the problem. It's only by accepting this that I believe I'll have the calm and clarity to reflect and search deeply for these roots.
- Cutting the roots – Once we have discovered what is really causing the anxiety, we can start to make the best decisions; hopefully to cut the roots. Social networks, a person who puts us down or maybe even our job.
Getting rid of what's making us anxious is often not easy, but if we're really committed to improving the situation, I think it's right to have the courage to make a decision (even if it's a decision that gradually improves rather than something abrupt).
As human beings, we tend to think that we are something separate from nature and not part of it. But I think we are part of it.
Nature – and therefore so do we – has its time. If you shout at a plant every day to get it to grow and slap it to see if it grows more, what do you think will happen?
It will probably ignore you and grow at its own pace, or it will die from the pressure of the slaps.
Technology is getting faster and faster, but that doesn't mean we have to do things at the same speed as it. Productivity isn't about doing 20 times more things in a day. In my view, all this speed is also making our expectations less patient.
In the past, you could send someone a letter and wait days or weeks for a reply. No anxiety.
Today, I have clients, friends and family who start freaking out if I take more than 2 hours to reply on WhatsApp. With anxiety.
When I was in high school I remember joking that it seemed like some people were in a competition to see who would retire and die first.
“You've got to pass the entrance exam soon, finish your degree – maybe even get ahead in a few subjects -, get a job soon….”
I used to joke, but then I had my first company and I wanted everything to be ready, not even for yesterday, but for last week. I'd stay up all night just to upload a new feature to the site.
Fast food, fast fashion, fast success, fast travel, fast anything
I don't think our nature is fast like that.
In this case, the solution isn't simple either, and will probably involve fighting with the people around us.
I've been testing this a lot. Taking my time. I look at emails and WhatsApp less, I leave my cell phone on silent, I avoid setting an alarm and I've been working constantly to ensure that my expectations of growth and development aren't exponential.
After all, exponential is the development of a machine and I'm not one.
Focus on what's important, because anxiety can be cured
If you're immersed in the job market, your studies and/or urban life, there are probably few days when you go to bed with a zero ‘to-do list'.
There are always a million things to do. Paying bills, contacting clients, suppliers, services, calling the phone company to complain about an undue bill, going out with friends, studying a language, watching the new Avengers movie, etc. That's because I haven't even mentioned how many things others ask of us.
Like it or not, we have to prioritize. But when I talk about prioritizing, I'm not necessarily talking about understanding which tasks are the most important and urgent and tackling them first. That's important, but what's more interesting is thinking about whether what's important to us is on the list in the first place.
What's important to each of us is different. For me, spending time with family and friends, learning new languages, writing, traveling, playing video games, meeting new people, helping others and organizing things are super important actions. Things that, when done, energize me.
If I don't give them due importance, I end up spending time on things that will only take me closer to the end of my life and not gaining time enjoying life.
If this is your first time here on the blog, you may be thinking:
“Yeah, but I have to pay the bills and I have to work all day.”
Yes, unfortunately this is the reality for most people today, which is why I believe that a life of professional autonomy makes it much easier to prioritize what's really important.
If you're interested in learning more about this, leave your e-mail address on some of the forms here on the site to receive my tips.
It is possible to have a choice about how we use our time.
Trust in the healing process
I commented above that trust in the method is often more important than the method itself and I'd like to reinforce that point.
Science is developing and we know that there is still much of the world that our technologies cannot perceive, analyze, test, refute and prove. However, our experience as individuals shows us that there are many more factors involved and that existence is more complex than we learn at school.
With this in mind, I have no problem pointing out that confidence in our ability to improve has much greater effects and affects our bodies. Placebo effects are studied for exactly this reason.
Our mind has the power and capacity to not only transform itself, but to transform our bodies. So the more you have faith in yourself and confidence in your ability, the more likely you are to leave anxiety and other illnesses behind.
So far I've only commented on how we can go deeper into our minds, routines and actions to heal stress and anxiety.
However, I can't fail to mention that we are influenced by the people around us. In fact, not only by people but also by the media and information we consume.
Those close to us can help us or distance us from curing anxiety. That's why I believe we have to think long and hard about the people we keep close to us.
Are they empowering us or bringing us down? Are they giving us hope or telling us that the world is horrible and that nothing is worth doing?
The more people around you who are trying to live a life with more meaning and purpose without wanting to follow the anxious pattern, the more likely you are to be calm and happy.
At the same time, it's worth reflecting on what kind of person you are. Do you bring more hope or more anxiety to the people around you?
Learn to turn on the fuck you button
Finally, a good tip is to learn to say: fuck you!
Fuck what isn't important.
Fuck the expectations of people who don't matter.
Fuck what “society” expects of us.
Society is sick and too proud to recognize its frustration. So better to listen to that voice inside us asking for help than the media promoting materialism, futility and speed.