Thursday, November 03, 2005

How downshifting benefits your health and wellbeing.

The article below is reprinted with permission by Sally Lever and is taken from her excellent newsletter on downshifting and healthy/simple living "Fruitful"
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© Sally Lever

About 17 years ago, I consulted a Complementary Therapist for the first time. I had decided to take a different route and try out what was for me an unknown and unexplored alternative to the conventional medicine I had always relied on in the past. Why? Because I was pregnant for the first time, suffering chronic morning sickness (of the “all day” variety) and unwilling to risk harming my baby by taking conventional drugs. This experience was to be a revelation for me and my introduction to a totally new way of viewing my own health and wellbeing, as well as that of my child.

Priorities and values

Suddenly, with the prospect of being responsible for someone else’s life, my priorities had changed. No longer did my health come second to my availability to work and earn money. Some would say that my behaviour was a natural reaction to surging hormones – nature taking over and asserting itself. I prefer to see it, with hindsight anyway, as the start of a shift in my priorities and values.

When we choose to prioritise our quality of life above our standard of living, magical things can happen with respect to how we treat ourselves. For most who downshift, improving health and wellbeing take a driving seat, often where it has previously been denied or ignored. And for those who are forcibly downshifted through ill health, this change in circumstances can be very challenging indeed. For those who take the route of voluntary simplicity and decide of their own accord to slow down their pace of life and reduce their stress levels, miraculously, it seems, health issues suddenly seem to become less of a problem. How does this happen?

Trading money for time.

The answer is very simple. Downshifting involves deciding to accept a lower level of income in return for more time to spend as we want to spend it. In order to practice preventive medicine and optimise our health and wellbeing, time is exactly what is needed.

Spending more time on ourselves benefits our nutrition. Real food, home cooked, is higher in nutrients, lower in harmful additives and costs less than convenience food in money terms. Growing and preparing food can also be an enjoyable experience for many, rather than just a means to an end. Thus, the process of looking after ourselves in itself becomes a stress-relieving activity.

By reducing our stress levels, we strengthen our immune systems and are therefore less likely to succumb to infection or contract stress-induced chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, depression, chronic fatigue states or diabetes.

When we spend more time on self-care, we are more likely to find a form of exercise that suits us and that we find enjoyable.

When we are ill, time gives us the opportunity to explore the options with respect to treating the illness. We can choose to take a more holistic approach through diet, exercise and rest, alternative or conventional therapy or lifestyle changes.

During the pregnancy that I mentioned above, one thing I came to realise was how incompetent I was as a patient! I was so lacking in self-awareness that I didn’t have the first idea how to answer my homeopath’s questions. Ok, to be fair to me, they did seem to be rather odd questions, like “How do you feel in a thunderstorm?” What on earth did that have to do with how long I could keep a meal down? I got impatient with her and wanted a quick fix, when really what was needed was my cooperation and thoughtfulness. Often I felt like cutting out the middle man and just throwing my carefully prepared platefuls of food straight down the toilet! I was afraid that I would not cope with the situation and that my baby would not survive. My anger soon dissipated when I realised the homeopathy was working and I was starting to benefit from giving myself time to be more self-aware rather than fighting my affliction or denying it existed.

What other aspects of downshifting are beneficial to our health and wellbeing?

Trading an unhealthy environment for a healthier one.

One of the parts of our lives that we attempt to optimise when downshifting is the way in which we earn a living. Hopefully we will take steps to modify our employment to suit our values and minimise stress levels. Looking at our working environment can be part of this. What effect does working in an air conditioned office have on our well-being? What about fluorescent lighting, noise levels, access to sunlight, fresh air and water? Trading an unhealthy environment for a healthier one can benefit our wellbeing by reducing the physical stresses we have to endure and by bringing us into contact with fewer infections.

Reclaiming the responsibility

In my experience, many downshifters discover during the process of changing their lifestyle that they feel more able to accept responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. They learn to face up to the challenges of making self-care a priority.

One of the advantages of working from home (and home educating) that I’m personally very grateful for is that when I or my sons are ill, there’s noone putting pressure on us to return to work or school. When we need to rest, wrap up warm, take extra fluids or get more fresh air, we can adapt our day to incorporate this and recuperate in our own time.

Ultimately, it’s not up to our GPs, our bosses, our family or anyone else to keep us well. It’s up to us.

Copyright Sally Lever