Voluntary simplicity can ease the stress of American life

Who hasn’t heard the story of a friend or acquaintance who retires only to become seriously ill or die soon after?

Are we working ourselves to death? For anyone who has ever wondered “is this worth it?” a move is afoot to question the concept of the American work ethic. We are currently the most overworked society on the globe. The United States has surpassed Japan as the nation with the longest working hours. We also enjoy less vacation time than most Europeans, where the average is six weeks a year.

As we have developed more advances in technology to make our lives easier, instead we have ended up stressed and exhausted. Americans soothe themselves by acquiring more and more things, but increasing debts add another layer of stress with personal bankruptcy on the rise nationally.

A vicious cycle is created when we need to work ever harder to support a lifestyle of debt and abundance. What does all this mean for our health? One clue may be the increased rate of heart attacks on Monday mornings.

Voluntary simplicity offers an alternative to this lifestyle. It asks us to examine our consumer driven lifestyle, our relationship to money, work and what it means to be happy and fulfilled. It encompasses a wide variety of lifestyle choices, from the CEO who decides to cut back on work hours to spend more time with her children, to the family that chooses to live off the land and raise their own food.

There is no one model that suits everyone. Spiritual exploration, environmental consciousness and more healthful living are frequent benefits. The goal is a life enriched with a sense of purpose and fulfillment with a decreased emphasis on the pursuit of wealth and status.

Steps toward voluntary simplicity

Examine and make a list of your personal priorities and goals. Consider how do you want to spend your time and where do you want to be in ten years.

Explore what your work means to you. Does it give you a sense of fulfillment?

Learn to say no. Set limits on your obligations and stick to them.

Reduce stress by eliminating debt. Money concerns are a common source of marital discord and personal frustration.

Think before you buy. Consider whether the item is something that you really need and will regularly use.

Eat a simpler diet. Limit the consumption of fat laden fast food and highly processed foods. We are blessed to have an abundance of locally grown foods available through our local farmers markets.

Explore your spirituality. Medical studies have found improved outcomes and better coping skills in patients who have a spiritual belief system.

Volunteer. Doing something for someone else has powerful benefits. I have often recommended this to patients. They return empowered with a sense of purpose.

Connect with nature. Plant a garden or explore the park and its many hiking trails. Enjoying our natural environment is a wonderful form of relaxation.

Honor yourself with a day of rest every week. This is an important opportunity for renewal.

Aldebra Schroll is a family physician who blogs An Apple a Day at NorCal Blogs.

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