Stress in times of austerity

“Every superfluous possession is a limitation on my freedom” Henry David Thoreau 1817-1862

I saw this quote recently and it set me to thinking about stress, especially in times of austerity.

Many years ago, I was put in a position of having to make major changes to my life. I went from having a comfortable flat, a job that I thrived on and disposable income, to living in a flat that badly needed renovating, a job that I hated and debt. As a result of being in debt, I had to sell anything of value I had and was unable to do anything about the flat that I lived in. I found it incredibly difficult but the one thing that did strike me about my change in fortune was that for the first time, I would have found it easy to walk away from what I had; I had little materially and what I did have was of little or no value.

I find myself again in a position of walking away from what I have, but this time from choice. Instead of having the choice made for me, I want to shed the material things that I have acquired and pare my life back to the minimum. I don’t want to live without the basic human comforts but I am prepared to compromise on some of them in order to live a simple life. I have come to believe that we need to be more mindful of the need to create balance in this world of ours, which means that we in the western world have to do with less. I also believe that we need to take more responsibility for our own food production and the amount of energy we use. This has been challenging but has felt right and also liberating.

So what has all this to do with stress then? We know that it is an indicator in many serious illnesses, the scourge of the modern world, and we all have different ways of dealing with it. Why do so many of us get stressed though? Many of us would see it, rightly or wrongly, as being job-related and affecting those in higher paid, responsible jobs. What happens though, if you are one of those people and the unthinkable happens? You lose your job and suddenly the bottom falls out of your world. You have built a life for yourself and your family which is based around a house, cars, family holidays, a fashionable wardrobe and a social life for the adults and the children.

Suddenly, your life changes and you are facing a new kind of stress, a more urgent form from which you cannot escape. You can’t go on holiday to re-charge your batteries or indulge in a bit of retail therapy to help you “de-stress”. Where do you go from here?

The point is that you get stressed working to earn money to spend and you get even more stressed when you can’t earn and you can’t spend and in fact, face losing what you have acquired.

So, what if we all decided to acquire just a little bit less while we have plenty? What if we all decided that we would do with a little less, so others could have a little more? How painful would that be?

What about if we all decided to use a bit of our garden to grow some vegetables for our own use? We might even find that we have grown more than we need and can share the surplus with family and friends. What if we all decided to plant a tree in our garden, just one more tree each?

What if we decided to make one car journey a week less? What if we all decided that we would only buy free range organic eggs?

We can all kid ourselves that we cannot make a difference on our own but we have also seen the effect that our combined power can make, in recent times. For example, for the first time ever the sale of free range eggs is greater than that from battery farms. We did that. And we can do more if we just take a moment to think about what we are doing and what impact our decisions will make to our world.

It’s not easy and there are plenty of dilemmas; do we want to buy fruit and vegetables from South American countries where some of the farmers are dirt poor or do we consider the air miles involved instead? I don’t have the answers but I have started questioning and am trying to resolve some of these for myself.

I believe in climate change but I also believe in fair shares for all. So, I can only do what I can do which is try to have a more sustainable lifestyle and only consume what I need and as little as possible of what I want. At the moment I am finding out exactly what that means but I can honestly say that I am learning from generous like-minded people and I am hopeful for the future.

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