The Upside of Downsizing: 3 Tips for Your Mental Health

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 56% of Americans say the recession has forced them into changing their lifestyles - and over half of them are angry about it.

The recession has hit all of us, and as awful as it is, especially for those who have lost their jobs or homes, it can be possible for something good to come out of all this misery. I know this, not only as a psychiatrist, but as someone who has downsized her life from a large, supposed dream house, to a 340 square foot RV - and is much happier for it.

Here are some tips to not only survive, but hopefully thrive through the recession:

1) Get Over It.

By all means, get angry and grieve - not only for what you’ve already lost, but also for the life you thought you were going to have. But, you know what? You also have to accept the new reality of the way things are going to be, or you won’t be able to figure out how to make the best of it. And, there are ways to not only make the best of it, but come out stronger and happier than you’ve ever been.

2) Potential wake-up call. 

Studies have shown that how much we earn and the things we possess don’t make us any happier, rather it’s our connections with others and feeling like we have a purpose in life that really matters to our overall sense of well-being. So, why not use any current economic setback as a chance to really reassess your life? Have you been spending most of your time supporting a lifestyle rather than supporting relationships and experiences? This can be a time to figure out what you really need in life vs. what you think you have to have.

When we returned from our year-long RV adventure, we unpacked boxes and boxes of stuff we hadn’t missed, let alone thought about. Even the disasters we had on our trip – a fire, an armed robbery, and finding ourselves in a nudist RV park, just to name a few – all just served to reinforce this one essential truth we all give lip service to, but most of us don’t really live: All that really matters is spending time with people you love.

3) Take a risk and live your dreams.

As psychiatrists, the saddest things my husband and I saw in our practices were people who put off their dreams until they retired, but then, tragedy struck - whether illness or death of a spouse - and it was too late. Maybe this is a rare opportunity to stop putting off your dreams. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but the moment never seemed right? If you’ve been laid off or have to move, maybe now is the time to take a risk with something that would have felt much too scary if you were still tied down. If you were someone who always complained about your job, use that energy to go for it and take some risks now. It’s so important to keep challenging and stretching ourselves.

Even if you’re happy with your chosen field, you can still look for new ways to do the same things: Going back for more education, getting more experience by volunteering. Use this as an opportunity to think about your life – including your work life – in a different way.

When we returned from our life-changing QUEEN OF THE ROAD trip, Tim and I were (and pardon the technical jargon here) majorly bummed. We had planned to sell the bus, but somehow just couldn’t bring ourselves to. Then, we spent some long vacations in it and found that every time we returned to our stationary home, we missed bus life terribly. Then, the recession hit and we realized: Why keep working to support an expensive lifestyle, when we had discovered a much cheaper one we loved much more?

This summer, our “dream” house goes on the market so we can live a new and better dream – in our bus. 

I hope our experience inspires you to find you own “inner bus.”

Copyright 2008 Doreen Orion