Stress: Is Simplicity the Answer?

Is your life more or less complicated than it was 10 years ago?How about 20 years ago? More and more people are finding that, inspite of technology and other modern conveniences, they have lesstime, get less sleep, and are more stressed than they were a decadeago. The reasons for this are, well, not so simple, but relate to anumber of factors.

Today's Sources of Complexity

Too Many Options

When making a purchase, whether it's food, health and beautyproducts, cars, or computers, we confront an expanding array ofbrands, flavors, and options. Similarly, we also have more optionsin terms of careers and lifestyles, and this can make our livesbusier and more complicated. Although choice can certainly be agood thing, it doesn't always make life simpler. Some people losetouch with their priorities when faced with too many options anddistractions.


You have an urgent question to ask your healthcare provider andyou reach an automated phone system instead of a person. Your newcomputer has a problem that no one in the office can fix and yourwork is put on "hold." Your new office phone has dozens offeatures, but you can't make sense of the complicated instructionmanual. It's enough to make one question whether or not technologyreally makes life simpler.

Overconsumption Mass production, mass marketing, and buying on credit has fueled afervor of consumerism. People buy more than they need and end upburdened with clutter and debt. Information Overload Exchanges of information used to take place primarily among thepeople in one's immediate environment through personal contact.Gradually, more information was exchanged through letters,publications, telephone, radio, and television. Now we have rapid,world wide, mass communication through the internet, email, and faxmachines, as well as diverse and increasing numbers ofpublications, radio, and television stations. More organizationstend to be created in response to increasing knowledge andinformationalong with more regulations and more bureaucracy. Population DensityWe went forth and multiplied. Now we wait in long lines, sit intraffic jams, and witness phenomenons such as "road rage." Increased Cost of Living Today it takes more money to live at the same standard of livingas our parents did. Many women cannot afford to stay home withtheir children, and two-income families have become the norm. As aresult, people are feeling strained by the lack of quality time andenergy they can bring to their families and relationships.
Job Uncertainty Many businesses have gone through phases of "merging and purging."Most people don't expect to stay at the same job for decades, butmany are working longer and harder than ever. Mobility Increasing choices, and job and lifestyle changes are leadingpeople to move more frequently. Look at your address book. How manytimes in the last 5, 10, or 20 years have you crossed off theaddresses of friends and family members? How many times have theycrossed off yours? Rapid ChangeHere today, gone tommorowthat seems to be the law of modern life.But unless we know how to manage it, rapid change can take its tollon physical and mental health, jobs, relationships, family life,and goals. What Is Simplicity? Making changes to simplify certain aspects of life can be theantidote to living in such a complex society. But simplification isa very individual matterwhat's considered simple andstress-relieving to one person might be burdensome and stressful toanother. For example, you may eat convenience foods because theysave you time and energy. Your friend, on the other hand, may findconvenience foods expensive and rather "inconvenient" for herfamily food budget. The most important part of the simplification process is introspectiontaking an honest and in-depth look at yourselfand your life and then identifying things that can be changed.Simple enough? Yes and no. That is, some changes can be relativelyeasy to make. You may decide to unclutter your house by throwingout items that you really don't need and scaling back on yourconsumption. On the other hand, you may find that you need a majoroverhaul to find a simpler lifea change of career or financialgoals, a geographical relocation, or a change in perception throughintensive psychotherapy.
What makes the concept of simplication difficult for some peopleis that it implies that you must give up something. But many peoplederive invaluable benefits from simplifying their livesmore time,freedom, self-expression, and a chance to live with more clarity andmeaning. Simplification is a deeply personal endeavor and should beapproached with the following things in mind: Values/Priorities. What is most important to you? What would you have the hardesttime living withoutyour health, spouse, family, friends, time,creative projects? (This can be a tricky one. For example, you maysay that you value money, but by looking deeper within yourself,you may find that what you really value is freedom, self-reliance,time, friends, or self-esteem, which you think money will buy foryou). Identity. Who are you? What talents, skills, activities, and types ofenvironments bring you the most enjoyment? Are you livingauthenticallyspeaking your truth and living according to your ownvalues (values that you've examined and owned) or someoneelse's? Time/Pace. How do you manage time and pace yourself? Is your natural pace100 miles per hour or a bit slower and more reflective? Examineyour current pace and your energy levels. If you're feelingexhausted or burned out, you may need to slow down, or at leastchange where you are focusing the majority of your energy. Purpose. What do you most want to do with your life and are you doingthat right now? How do you wish to direct your talents? Are youliving purposefully? Vision. What is your ideal lifestyle and environment? What would yourlife look like if you could design it exactly the way you wanted?You can't always "have it all," but think about how close you canget to that vision now, realistically.
Ways to Simplify Your Life The list of things you can do to simplify your life is probablyendless. Big changes will require a good deal of thought andplanning. But there are many small changes you can make to simplifyyour life right now, such as: Buy a simple carone that has less gadgets to fix.Do your shopping all at once, and preferrably in the sameplace.Reduce the clutter in your home and office. Throw out thingsthat you don't use.Buy classic clothes that don't go out of style.Donate your dry cleanables.Shop during off-hours.Get a simple, low-maintenance hairstyle.Downscale to a smaller home or less expensive car.Find a way to turn your hobby into your primary source ofincome.Make a conscious effort to reflect upon and appreciate thesimple things in your lifethose things that you may be taking forgranted. Simplifying your life isn't always simple, but something as easyas getting more organized can be a big help. As some of thecomplexity decreases from your life, you may find greater clarityand peace of mind. RESOURCES: National Institute of Mental Health National Mental Health Association References:
Adams C. The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the GoodLife. Harpercollins; 1998. Aumiller G. Keeping It Simple: Sorting Out What Really Matters in YourLife. Probity Press; 1995. Orem S, Demarest L. Living Simply: Timeless Thoughts for A Balanced Life Health Communications, Inc; 1994 St. James E. Living the Simple Life: A Guide to Scaling Down and EnjoyingMore. Hyperion; 1998. Last reviewed August 2007 by Marcin Chwistek, MD Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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