Saturday, January 20, 2018

Six Remedies to a Stressful Life, wherever you are

For many years, I have been unable to articulate  WHY we live as we do, (telecommuting consultants from an off-road, off-grid cabin in Alaskan woods) other than joking about my husband''s mid-life crisis.  Just last week, however, I figured it out when we listed all the people we know who seem to lead very stressful lives.  I realized that our very intentional living choices had the added benefit of reducing our stress levels.  No more back pain.  Better quality sleep.  A deeper savings account.

By “intentional life,” I mean pro-actively thinking about one's priorities, values, and goals in an actionable way, such as how you want to spend time, with whom, doing what.  Then enact those goals by, in part, shedding activities, people, and expenses that detract from those goals in order to free up resources to pursue what matters to you.

Our stress reducers seem to have been the following.  Maybe your list would be similar or different:
   *reduce expectations,
   *reduce expenses,
   *reduce maintenance,
   *increase exposure to nature,
   *reduce personal ignorance, and
   *reduce sense of urgency.

The micro-managers and “my way or the highway” personalities we know all suffer stress-associated health problems.  I also wonder if their rigid pursuit of perfection limits their sense of joy in simple things.   Lowering  expectations of myself and others opened a willingness to try new things and consider other points of view.  As a result, I think I have developed a sunnier and more forgiving disposition than I had as a child/younger adult.

Suggestions:  Let yourself (and others) be less than perfect.  Pick something new you will try in which your expectations are low.  Avoid people whose unreasonable expectations of you cause you stress.  

Wise business people and families know that you cannot control income, but can constrain expenses.  We know many people stifled by their expenditures, deeply in debt, borrowing from friends, desperate for “too good to be true” investments.

Intentional living had a profound impact on my money management.  Once my husband and I identified our life priorities, it became exceptionally easy to allocate resources to “this”  and no longer to “that.”  Simple examples are that we donated lots of accumulated stuff we rarely used (obviously didn't value). This freed up space so we could downsize, which freed up money for travel and learning (which we do value).  We also shed unsatisfying social and business commitments and focused on those of higher value.

Suggestion: Reallocate your money to align with your priorities by reviewing your credit card slips or bank statement. Circle the expenditures that you value. Cross through those you don't.  Do you  remember that restaurant?  What is in that storage unit?  Which clients were not worth the bother?  Review your calendar.  Which commitments were time wasters?  Which had lasting impact?  Develop goals for the money and time you will save by judicious income and outflow choices (of both time and money).

High maintenance people, lifestyles, homes and even landscaping require extra energy to sustain. That effort can be energizing or ennervating depending on enjoyment.  Soul-sucking relationships with abusive bosses or spouses exact a terrible toll.  Happy marriage is usually a low maintenance endeavor and key stress reliever.

In terms of lifestyle, I admit: our rural life is much higher maintenance than when we lived in a high rise condo!  No question: chopping wood, patting out snow paths, raising food, heating water on the woodstove all winter take effort.  We know that we will age out of the “fun” at some point.  But in terms of life balance, many of the chores provide the added benefits of stress reduction, such as exercise, learning, confidence-building, money saving, creativity, and pride in a job well done, in a natural, pollution-free setting.

Suggestion: Quantify the hours you spend on endeavors (or with people) that negatively stress or positively energize/relieve you.  Make a concrete plan to reduce the former and increase the latter.  Schedule time for productive/creative activities that will lower stress.  

Some Japanese doctors prescribe “Forest Bathing” to stressed, anxious, depressed city patients.  This has nothing to do with water.  It means spending repeated time in nature.  Millions do the same with their vacation dollars.  Some hotels, hospitals, and offices install wallpaper with photographic images of leaves and trees to calm people.  Spending time outside, listening to birds sing and ice crack, feeling the snow on my skin or dirt under my nails all confer a powerful sense of peace and contentment.  My mind settles.  Breathing changes.  I wish a bit of nature for every stressed out office worker and hospital patient.

Suggestion:  Prioritize frequent time in a pretty, natural setting.  Volunteer at an urban garden.  Take a hike.  Visit a zoo or arboretum.

Fear and worry are debilitating. They cause, for example, stress reactions of higher blood pressure and sweating during a doctor visit or job interview.

I am more of a worrier than my husband is.  As a result, I was quite nervous when we first moved to this remote property  because I was entirely ignorant of key skills needed to live here.  My reaction was “I hate it” when what I really meant was “I'm scared of what I don't know.  It makes me feel vulnerable.”  My husband is so confident and cavalier, that he could not understand my lack of initial enthusiasm. My solution was to give myself a curriculum of skills to learn, knowledge to acquire.

Seeking mentors and taking on-line classes in Master Gardening, Permaculture, Herbalism, and Ethnobotany have helped me utilize my environment.  Additional short in-person and on-line classes have, too.  Similarly, a nervous junior level employee or unhappy parent might benefit from finding pertinent classes or mentors.  Doing so increased my competence and confidence, reduced worry and stress (in those topics), and encouraged me to take additional steps in this unique lifestyle.

Suggestion:  Write down a few things that are worrying you right now.  Don't just wring your hands.  Learn about them.  Make a call;  boot up the computer, open a book, find a mentor.

The only things that are really urgent are safety and health.  Some people seem to stress themselves out by confusing true urgency (getting to the hospital) with mere rushing due to their own procrastination and disorganization.

Obviously an intentional life is built around planning ahead, which often involves del
ayed gratification. Maybe that in itself is character building; it can also reap health and financial benefits.  For example, we have made both large and small acquisitions at far below market prices because we did our research and then waited for the right deal.  We rarely buy on emotion.  Safety is the best outcome of planning ahead.  Cavalier though he may be, Bryan endeavors to NEVER fly or snowmachine to town in dangerous weather.  What's the rush?  We avoid urgency by stockpiling important supplies, like food, fuel, tools.  We also try to prepare for real emergencies with survival gear in our vehicles, a well stocked first aid kit and classes.  For other needs and wants, we wait.  Work-arounds can engender some creativity, like when there is no running water!  Sometimes our wants and needs are delayed for a week, other times, a season or a year.  When a rush purchase really is essential, savings accrued by planning can pay for it.  

Suggestion: Identify some likely emergencies.  Plan ahead so the anticipation  won't be so stressful. Stock your pantry, build savings, take a Red Cross class.  Has your procrastination cost you (or others) money and stress?  Learn to plan ahead or wait.

This  blog article endeavors to shift from my other topics about what it is like to live in the Alaska bush to why.   I have concluded that one can be the artist of one's own life. Making intentional life choices based on values and priorities can lead people away from toxic acquaintances, or toward more satisfying jobs, or inward, to self-corrections.  Doing so has the benefit of reducing collateral stress (to others and yourself) so one can enjoy tomorrow more than yesterday.      

1 comment:

  1. I did not realize you had a blog until Bryan mentioned it in an email yesterday. I find it fascinating how different our lives are yet how similar. See

    We live on a ranch in a county with less than 2,000 adults. We have 35 neighbors in a 10 mile radius. We are 25 miles from a grocery. Our city and professional friends cannot imagine how/why we live here. Ellen was living in NYC and I in Houston when we bought this.

    We are much more “upscale” than Alaska however. We can drive to town, but only once a week. We have rural electricity, water and fiber optic internet thanks to federal rural programs. But we enjoy the cattle and wildlife, gardening, canning and other rural activities. We see a movie about once a year, but listen to live music emery month at one place or another. Our cell phones don’t work but high speed internet lets us handle business, banking, and entertainment as well as being in Houston.

    You and we are fortunate for our lives.