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Living Simply to Reduce Stress & Anxiety

Posted Nov 18 2010 3:18pm
                                                                                                        Photo: Andres Rueda (flickr)
I was the perfect target for credit card companies.  Not just in the fact that I was young and naive, but also that I was dealing with depression.  I remember receiving my very first credit card - it was when I first started college.  I felt like such an adult.   Little did I know that would only be the first of MANY more cards to come - and with it lots of anxiety and stress...

Years ago, one of my main ways of coping with my depression was through "retail therapy".  Any time I was feeling down I would head off to the mall and buy myself a bunch of stuff.  That or I would flip open the latest J.Crew catalog and order whatever caught my eye.  Money was no object - I had a credit card!  I never looked at the price of the items I was buying because I didn't care - if I liked it I bought it.  My friends would try to reason with me and shove the price tags in my face so I could see how insane it was to spend "x" amount on a purse or a sweater.  I just ignored them.  They didn't understand.  They didn't have depression.  They didn't realize that shopping made me happy - and I would do anything to make me feel happy.  (Well - not anything - I want to make that clear... I'm just taking about shopping here folks!)

Reality hit once the first statement arrived in the mail.  I was blown away at how much the total was.  Could I have really spend that much in such a short period of time??  I guess so - and that was a scary thought.  Panic set in, but not for long.  After the shock wore off I told myself "Big deal - I can manage paying the minimum amount..." (ignoring the fact that paying the minimum amount meant paying on the interest alone).

It only got worse from there... once I reached my limit on that card I started opening new cards... and then store cards (which have insane interest rates - but I didn't care... just as long as I could shop).  I ended up having about twenty credit cards and eventaully every single one of them was maxed out.  I knew I had a problem and I tried to put a halt on my compulsive shopping.  I tried everything I could think of - I gave my credit cards to a friend, I froze my credit cards into one big block of ice, I cut them up -  but it didn't matter because when the urge to shop would strike I could still charge on the cards - all the stores needed were my social security number and driver's license in order to look up my account number.

I was in so much debt it scared me and I didn't know how to make it stop.  It got to the point where I couldn't make all my minimum payments along with rent, doctor bills, electricity bills, etc... so I started to default on some of my credit cards... which then started the endless harassing phone calls from debt collectors.  I was one big ball of anxiety.  Having all of this stuff didn't make me happy - it was making me miserable.  I knew it too when I bought the items.  I knew it was only going to be a temporary "high" because I always stressed out after I got home and looked at all the stuff I had bought.  But would I return the items?  Of course not.

I finally found help (through advice of a friend) through a debt consolidation agency.  They worked with my creditors and helped lower my interest rates among other things.  I was able to get all my bills lumped into one monthly payment - making it possible for me to pay all my other monthly living expenses too.  It took a long time for me to finally pay off my debt... but during that long process I learned that if I want something I had to pay cash for it.  I learned that having new things wasn't going to make my depression go away.  In fact, it was only making it worse.

Thankfully I learned my lesson and didn't fall back into the same trap (which many people do).   In fact, it forced me to look for alternative ways to cope with my depression.  During this self-discovery period I read quite a number of books on living a more simple life.  My husband (at the time - boyfriend) was (and still is) into living a simple life.  A life in which we don't live beyond our means and in which we are content with what we have.  After all, I had found out the hard way - money does NOT buy happiness!

The following is one of my favorite quotes that I have framed and hanging on my wall: "Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have." ~ Anonymous ~ 

I too agree with his philosophy on life.  All I want in life is to be happy.  I don't want a big house or a fancy car (not that anything is wrong with wanting or having those things - it's all a personal lifestyle choice and what's right for one person is not for another).  Additionally - it's one thing when you can afford these things and another when you think you can, but really can't.  No - I wanted as few bills as possible and just enough money to pay them... with a little extra to spare.  We used to go on road trips and camp out along the way to our destinations.  It was a wonderful way to see the country and we loved it - plus it was a lot cheaper than flying.  We definitely saved money by doing it our own way - and I loved every minute of it.  We haven't gone on a trip in a while due to my anxiety and depression being at an all-time high, but I know we'll go again - and when we do I can't wait for our next adventure.  So... it's not like we don't do ANYTHING - we do... it's just a matter of what is more important to us in our lives... a fancy car (with big payments) or having a little extra cash to travel (in car that always has the possibility of breaking down).

Simple Living or Voluntary Simplicity (whatever you want to call it) is a choice - a way of life.  I am grateful for what we have even if I complain sometimes about it :) "I'm sick of this tiny house!" or "There's always something wrong with the dumb car!"  But truly, I wouldn't change a thing about my life.  By having less we have less to stress and worry about which in turn helps ease my depression in some ways... and anything that can do that is definitely worth doing!

For more information on simple living, the following three books are definitely worth reading! 

1.  The Simple Living Guide:  A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living by Janet Luhrs
 *** One of my personal favorites! ***

2.  The Circle of Simplicity:  Return to the Good Life by Cecile Andrews

3.  Voluntary Simplicity:  Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich by Duane Elgin

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