How to simplify your life

Stressed and overworked have become the new normal’but it doesn’t have to be that way. Learn how to prioritize and simplify your life to find a happier, more balanced you’and better sleep, too

How to simplify your life

Source: Adapted from Sleep to Be Sexy, Smart and Slim, Reader’s Digest

Want a simpler, happier life? Look over your priorities and see what is really important to your work, your family, and your life. Pare down everything else. Here’s how.

Dump the 24/7 stuff

On call to managers, kids, husbands, neighbours, friends and sometimes even complete strangers who break down on the road, most of us are on the move from the second we open our eyes. No wonder we can’t sleep. Even if we manage to drop into bed for the six hours researchers claim most of us spend there, our minds are full of what-ifs, why-did-we’s, and what’s-on-the-agenda-tomorrows.

This type of rumination and agitation ignites stress hormones that keep us in a state of perpetual arousal. So even if we do manage to fall asleep, chances are we’ll wake later, wake early, or not be able to reach the deeper levels of restorative sleep we need.

That’s why most of us should make a serious attempt to simplify our lives, says Cecile Andrews, Ph.D., a pioneer in simple living and author of Slow Is Beautiful: New Visions of Community, Leisure, and Joie de Vivre. Draw up a list of what’s important, then draw up a list of what you have to do the next day and compare the two.

What’s important to you’the sense of purpose that guides you, the values that you use in making decisions, how you affect the world around you, and whether or not you actually do things you think are important’will slowly become very clear.

‘It’s really about aligning life with values,’ adds Rebecca Gould, Ph.D., an associate professor who studies simple-living practices at Middlebury College in Vermont. ‘There never is a perfect alignment. But to what extent can you bring your life and your values together?

That’s the challenge. The second step is to take a big breath and start crossing things off your to-do list, says Dr. Andrews. It’s a bit humbling to realize, but few of us are so unique that there isn’t someone else out there who could perform the same tasks just as well.

Put your job in its place

Sleep-stealing on-the-job stress has reached off-the-wall proportions, according to a Canadian health report. And it points a finger at the fact that the workplace no longer has any boundaries. More than half of all employees take work home, 69 percent check their work e-mail from home, 59 percent check voice mail after hours, 30 percent get work-related faxes, and 29 percent keep their cell phones on day and night.

Not surprisingly, 46 percent feel this work-related intrusion is a stressor, and 44 percent report ‘negative spillover’ onto their families.

The problem, however, is not just the fact that work is intruding into familial life, it’s also that it’s actually interfering with the most effective buffer to workplace stress’the family‘as well as active leisure activities, exercise, hobbies, and social activity.

A joint study of 314 workers conducted by the University of South Australia and the University of Rotterdam found that workers with higher levels of these activities were able not only to bounce back from workplace stress better than their always-on-the-job coworkers but also that they slept significantly better.

Manage the electronics

This is tough. Few of us can survive for more than 30 minutes without being hooked up to a cell or BlackBerry at the very least. But the technological innovations that were supposed to give us more leisure time have instead made it easier for us to work all the time.

The issue is that by their very nature, they create stress by forcing what Rockefeller University’s Bruce McEwen, Ph.D., calls ‘a wholly artificial sense of urgency’ on us. The minute your cell phone rings, you tense. And if your phone rings often, you never get to un-tense. That makes it difficult to wind down at night and get to sleep.

The thing is, we don’t have to do without our electronics to cut stress. All we have to do is control them. Answer e-mail three times a day instead of every 30 minutes, and turn off the instant notification feature. Moreover, turn off your cell after 6:00 p.m.

Don’t stay late at work

The prevailing thought is that you have to stay late to get the job done, says Margaret Moline, Ph.D.,former head of the sleep disorders center at Weill Cornell Medical College in White Plains, New York. But working right up until bedtime is bound to disrupt your sleep. So go home at a reasonable hour. The truth is that it’s better to go home and go to sleep, then come back and do more work in the morning. Studies show that after a good night’s sleep, your increased ability to concentrate means that you can work faster’and more accurately.

Don’t check your e-mail

At least, not before bed. Researchers at Stanford University have found that the light from your monitor right before bed is enough to reset your whole wake/sleep cycle‘and postpone the onset of sleepiness by three hours.

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