Advertising
Advertising

10 Reasons Why a Simple Lifestyle Reduces Stress and Benefits Your Health

10 Reasons Why a Simple Lifestyle Reduces Stress and Benefits Your Health

I remember the day we began to live simply.

After spending half of the summer cruising with our daughter on a 29-foot sailboat, my husband and I were overwhelmed by the amount of clutter in our four bedroom house. We went through the house, room-by-room, questioning anything that had not been necessary while living on the boat. We filled our station wagon, making twice-daily trips to Goodwill for a week.

The end result was a lifestyle that was immediately calmer. We had more time to spend together, and we noticed that our daughter, who has autism, made marked improvements across the board. We were happy, our communication improved, and we began to talk about the next steps our life would take.

In our case, those next steps involved emptying our house completely, moving across the country, and living aboard a sailboat full time. We might be called “extreme minimalists,” but it is possible to experience the benefits of a simpler lifestyle without having to take such drastic measures.

More and more studies are showing the benefits of taking small steps to simplify your life. A little less screen time, a few less toys, and a slight decrease in stimulation can reap great rewards.

Here are some ways in which a simpler lifestyle can benefit you, physically and emotionally:

Advertising

1. Less television will improve your brain function.

In her article, Electronic Sunset: What Overstimulation Does to Our Days and Nights, published on Huffington Post, Tracy Marks, MD, explains that studies have shown that fast-paced television impairs executive functioning in children and adults. What is executive functioning? It is a set of skills, including planning, working memory, problem solving, and impulse inhibition. While executive functioning is more impaired in children who watch fast-paced programs, adults are also affected.

As we’ve had less “noise” in our lives, I noticed that I remember names and other details much better. My mind feels less cluttered. I used to have to write everything down, and I am needing to do this less now.

2. Simplifying will help you sleep better.

According to Marks, multi-tasking leads to stress and burn-out. Being constantly “plugged in” and trying to complete too many tasks at once greatly increases stress levels. Difficulty sleeping is often one of the first signs that the mind and body are over-stressed. She reports that children and adults who spend too much time trying to do many things at once often end up suffering from a lack of sleep as a result.

This is a benefit of simplicity that my husband and daughter both have noticed. He used to have insomnia nearly every night, and now he has fewer sleepless nights. Our daughter used to throw a tantrum at bedtime, because she was unable to fall asleep. Since we’ve moved onto the boat, she has started putting herself to bed at a reasonable hour. The decrease in stimulation has helped to regulate her sleep-wake cycles.

3. Having less stimulation will help you concentrate better.

In The Negative Effects of Too Many Toys and What to Do About It, published on A Perfect Playroom, Natalie reports that a study funded by the U.S. government found that when children have too many toys, they become overstimulated and cannot concentrate on playing with just one thing. According to Natalie, “They just shut down.”

We have noticed a difference in our daughter’s play since paring down. When her room was filled with toys, she would get them all out and play with none of them, leading to a constant, unused mess. She is not the only one who has noticed this benefit. I have found that I am much more focused on my writing and on building my website now that I have fewer distractions.

Advertising

4. Having less clutter will help you become more creative.

According to Natalie of A Perfect Playroom, a study in Europe found that children played much more creatively when their toys were taken away, and all they had to work with were school supplies. The children also learned to communicate better and work better in groups.

My whole family has noticed an increase in creativity since simplifying our life. My husband is more able to problem-solve and gets less overwhelmed when faced with a challenging situation. My daughter will create villages out of the flatware and has begun creating books for her stuffed animals to read. I have noticed that I have more ideas for my writing and have been able to develop my website in ways I would have not considered before.

5. Less technology may decrease the symptoms of ADD and high sensitivity.

In High Sensitivity is Everyone’s Problem–Reduce Overstimulation and Increase Self-Respect, Susan Meindl states that the increase in ADD and high sensitivity is due, in part, to the increase in stimulation from technology and multi-tasking. With technology, there is more pressure to work and process faster, and this is very overwhelming.

My husband has ADD and noticed that his symptoms have all but disappeared since we have pared down. He also used to suffer from paralyzing anxiety attacks, and those have significantly lessened. Our daughter has decreased her sensory seeking and avoiding behaviors and is performing better in school as a result.

6. Less stimulation will help you to feel better physically.

Meindl also reports that overstimulation causes chronic stress, which takes a toll on the body physically. As energy is depleted, a person will seek to feel better through physical means–avoiding chemicals in food, taking supplements, and so on. While these measures may help, they do not address the core issue–that the person’s body is simply overstimulated and over-stressed.

For years, I lived with a effects of having a body in a chronic state of stress-induced fight-or-flight. As we simplified, I found that I had time to relax and calm this physiological response to stress. I have noticed an increase in energy, improved health, and less muscle pain and tension.

Advertising

7. Having fewer possessions can help you grow spiritually.

In his article entitled What is Voluntary Simplicity?, Nagarja Jade states that living simply can help a person find meaning and grow spiritually, because it takes the focus off of material possessions and helps the person to look inwardly. When a person can no longer use possessions to find meaning and inner peace, they are more likely to find it.

In my case, questioning all of the possessions we are expected to own led to questioning other expectations that society has. And that led to questioning the assumptions I held about myself and my potential. As assumption after assumption fell away, I began to experience a freedom from the restraints of fear.

8. Living simply can help protect the environment.

Jade also reports that having fewer possessions helps to decrease the amount of waste that a person produces. As people become more mindful about what they purchase, they also become more aware of the product’s impact on the environment. Simple living and sustainable living go hand-in-hand, and having a healthier environment will lead to better health for generations to come.

It has amazed me how much less waste we produce, now that we own less. We spend our time and money on experiences, which leave nothing behind in the garbage can.

9. Living simply can decrease chronic stress.

In the article Voluntary Simplicity: Characterization, Select Psychological Implications, and Societal Consequences, Amitai Etzioli states that living a simple lifestyle can decrease the chances that a person will suffer from chronic stress. Having fewer possessions and not worrying about “keeping up with the Jones'” can lead to experiencing fewer stress-related symptoms.

By having fewer possessions to maintain, we found that we spend less time on our jobs. Simplifying has led us to experience a huge increase in our free time. We have time to go to the gym, to pursue our passions, and to go on outings with our daughter. This increase in time has led to a large decrease in stress for all of us.

Advertising

10. Having a simpler lifestyle can improve relationships.

Etzioli also states that when the focus is no longer on accumulating material possessions, people are more likely to focus on relationships. Owning fewer possessions means spending less time managing them, so more time is available to spend with friends and family.

We also noticed that owning less means that we go out into the community more often. We are no longer “walled in” by our possessions. By sharing resources rather than having our own of everything, we have strengthened our friendships and our feeling of belonging to the community.

Voluntary simplicity does not mean giving up your hobbies or the possessions you enjoy. It means only owning what you need, use, and treasure, rather than blindly accumulating possessions because society says you should. It is living intentionally, on your own terms, and every family can benefit from it.

Featured photo credit: Simple/Bethany Rosselit via myjourneytoithaca.files.wordpress.com

More by this author

From Kids To The Elderly: Wisdom On How To Live Your Own Life 9 Signs That You Are Actually A Shy Extrovert 9 Bad Things Happen When You’re Too Nice A Little Of Both? 12 Signs You May Be An Ambivert! 10 Life Lessons For Highly Sensitive People

Trending in Home

125 Really Cool Cat Furniture Design Ideas Every Cat Owner Needs 2Scientists Discover Why You Should Take Off Your Shoes Before Entering Your Home 35 Ways to Deal with Snow Runoff in the Garage 415 Amazing Design Ideas For Your Small Living Room 550 Cleaning Hacks for Your Home That Will Make Your Life Easier

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on June 15, 2018

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

Video Summary

Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

Advertising

Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

    Sit Properly

    If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

    Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

      Credit: StayWow

      Stand Up More

      Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

      Advertising

      Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

      Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

      Or get a standing desk.

      One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

      Exercise for Lower Back Pain

      Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

      But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

      The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

      Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

      Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

      This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

      Advertising

      Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

      Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

      There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

      Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

      I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

      Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

      If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

      Where to Start

      The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

      Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

      Advertising

      If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

      Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

      Keep a straight back.

      Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

      Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

      I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

      If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

      Stay Away From the Back Pain League

      Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

      Read Next