Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Courtney Carver of Be More With Less.
“I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind.” — Albert Einstein
When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 37, some of my initial thoughts were:
- I am going to wake up blind tomorrow.
- What if I can’t walk?
- What if this vertigo never subsides?
- I won’t be able to ski with my family.
- My husband and I won’t be able to hike together anymore.
- I didn’t know enough about MS to be anything but scared.
Once I realized how little I knew, researching MS causes, symptoms, treatments and success stories became my new job. That research forced me to admit that I needed to change my life.
I learned that while stress may not have caused my MS, it certainly contributed to my declining health. In addition to conventional treatment and an awesome medical team, my weapon in fighting MS has been eliminating as much stress as possible.
When I learned about how stress contributes to not just MS, but many other health issues, I knew I had to take action.
Chronic stress exposes our bodies to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Common physical signs of stress include dizziness, general aches and pains, grinding teeth, clenched jaws, headaches, indigestion, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, racing heart, ringing in the ears, stooped posture, sweaty palms, tiredness, exhaustion, trembling, weight gain or loss, and upset stomach. – Web MD
Stress can trigger both migraine and tension-type headache. Events like getting married, moving to a new home, or having a baby can cause stress. But studies show that everyday stresses — not major life changes — cause most headaches. – Womenshealth.gov
And a study done by Carnegie Mellon scientists demonstrated that subjects who had been through stressful experiences were more likely to develop colds.
Stress comes from food, fear, worry, busyness, bad relationships, debt, drama, clutter, and a host of other internal and external factors.
The most effective way for me to eliminate stress was to simplify every area of my life. It didn’t happen overnight, but each small change motivated the next change. If you want to simplify your life, it doesn’t matter where you start, but I simplified in this order:
I was a chronic dieter. For every few pounds I lost, I’d gain them back plus one. When I started to focus less on vanity and more on health, I began to make better food choices. Trading meat and most animal products for fruits and veggies reduced physical stress on my body and made it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Simplifying food choices contributes to better health.
From the moment I got my first credit card at 18, I thought being in debt was normal. My first credit card led to more credit cards, car loans, student loans, and a mortgage. Today I spend what I have and nothing more. My husband and I made paying off debt a priority and today we are debt free. Simplifying and eliminating debt contributes to better health.
I never thought I had a problem with stuff. I loved to shop and spend time at the mall. I had a closet full of clothes and boxes of clothing for different seasons. I thought that was normal. When I started dressing with 33 items or less, I realized how much time and money I had actually spent on my stuff. I enjoyed the freedom of dressing with less so much that I began to live with less in every area of my home and life.
This spring we sold our 2000 sq. ft. home to move into a 750 sq. ft. apartment. Decluttering and simplifying stuff contributes to better health.
A 15+ year career in advertising and marketing was stressful. Deadline after deadline and goal after goal with the focus always on the almighty dollar wore me down. By paying off our debt and living more simply, I was able to embrace uncertainty and start my own business. I left a world of more, more, more for a life with less. Doing work you love contributes to better health.
When I simplified my diet, debt and stuff, I had time and space to look at the bigger picture. I realized that some of the relationships I had weren’t healthy, so I fixed or ended them. I also noticed that I wasn’t paying attention to the good relationships I did have because I had been so distracted. I was distracted by life, by work, by cell phones, by email, and by my own stress. The freer I became, the more engaged I could be with the people I love. Loving relationships and time spent with people who lift you up contributes to better health.
I initially thought it was selfish to spend so much time and energy to make myself whole and healthy, until I realized that the better I was, the more time and energy I could give to everyone around me.
As I removed each stressful thing from my life, from meat to debt to work I didn’t love, I knew that simplicity was saving my life. Perhaps my condition wasn’t life threatening, but maybe something more serious was waiting around the corner.
When I think about the freedom I have now, I am convinced that simplicity saved me. Without the stress of poor health, exhaustion, debt, and stuff, I have a chance to really live.
Give simplicity a chance to soften your heart, open your mind, and save your life.
Image: Pink Sherbet Photography