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Cut the Stress, Simplify Your Life

If stress is wearing you down, take some advice from those who have left their stress behind -- simplify your life.

Simplicity Movement Taking Hold continued...

Simplifying your life doesn't necessarily mean doing without. It might, but it doesn't have to. Rather, the prevailing philosophy of today's voluntary simplicity movement is not to live without possessions or to live in frugality, but to slow down and live a more balanced, deliberate, and thoughtful life. And as research increasingly shows, a healthier life as well.

It's no longer news that stress can take its toll on both your physical and mental health. Numerous studies have shown a link between stress and high blood pressure. In one such study, for example, scientists at the University of California at Irvine reported in 1998 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine that men with highly stressful jobs had systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings that were approximately 10 points higher than those with less stressful jobs.

In a study published in 2000 in the journal Social Science & Medicine, researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Alabama found that people with a high ratio of credit card debt to income were in worse physical health than those with less debt.

Too Much 'Stuff' Takes Its Toll

And now, mental health professionals have joined the movement, focusing on how simple living can help alleviate tension-related reactions such as insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, neck and shoulder spasms, chronic fatigue and, says Roderic Gorney, MD, PhD, "our excessive dwelling on 'things.'"

"The message that we get is that without this complexity of 'things' in our life, we are not lovable and not worthy," says Gorney, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and author of The Human Agenda, who also serves on the board of Seeds of Simplicity, an LA-based program of Cornell University's Center for Religion, Ethics & Social Policy. The organization has recently started a campaign called "Unstuffocate," to help people decide for themselves just how much is enough.

The mental health community's awareness of such dependencies as "consumption addictions" led UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute to recently sponsor a conference on "Mental Health and Simple Living: Countering the Compulsion to Consume." The purpose of the conference, says Gorney, was to "help the person shake off the addiction to too much, and with it the distress of excess."

Just acknowledging that you need to simplify your life, however, doesn't solve the problem, although it is a beginning. You may be so crunched for time and energy that you can't even stop to think of ways to simplify your life. Let the experts give you a few suggestions.

It's Time to Disconnect

"Many people feel stressed and overwhelmed because they are 'overconnected,'" says Debra A. Dinnoncenzo, president of ALLearnatives, which specializes in alternative work arrangements. "As a result of the ... never-ending ways that people can access us any time of the day or night, we feel perpetually connected to our work," says Dinnoncenzo, also the author of Dot Calm: The Search for Sanity in a Wired World.

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