How Miyazaki films ease my anxiety disorder

When I was little, I turned on the television to a film I’d never seen before and immediately was transported to another world. This world was one of talking cats and little girls on broomsticks, and so much beauty I could hardly believe it. I’d never seen animation like that before. Even at a young age I recognized the artistry behind it – I knew it was having an impact. With each new scene I felt transported further and further from the world I called home, and I was in love with the feeling.

Spirited Away was my first, and I lost that feeling of joy that I feel when watching Hayao Miyazaki movies.

During my early twenties, I realized that I have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and panic attacks often leave me feeling like I’m being transported out of this world, but not into a beautiful one. It’s a fuzzier, darker world, one that many have described as something close to a heart attack. There are no bright colors or stunning landscape, no strange creatures with big hearts or snarky senses of humor. There is just an intense feeling of stress, like with every heartbeat I am being pushed further and further into a hellish version of reality.

In these moments, I try to reconnect myself to the world around me. I think about my feet, and what the ground feels like beneath them. I think about the room – what it smells like, how the air tastes, if it’s cool or warm. I go through my own body step by step and seek reconnection with the world I’m actually a part of. And maybe it isn’t bursting with colors or sea creatures with faces, but it certainly isn’t as dark as the one I get sucked into when I’m at my most anxious.

Movies like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle have always calmed me because they bring me to an entirely different, and more beautiful, world. At my most stressed, I pull up a new world on my laptop screen and let myself get sucked into somewhere else. It’s a way of shutting down my own anxieties and shutting off the world around me. A way of finding a temporary sense of peace.

There, the stories don’t always have endings – sometimes, the conflict still exists, in some form, when the credits roll. But things are still alright. Something changes, in the world or within the characters. We see someone’s true self, or the ocean grows calm. It’s a comforting reminder of the continuing universe.

Even when it feels like everything is ending, and even when the screen goes black, things aren’t quite over yet. There’s still so much to be discovered.

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