I couldn't cope with the treadmill of life," says Tracey Munn. "I was stressed and miserable and I wanted something better for myself and my son."

Single-parenting and working fulltime she yearned for a daily routine that differed from running around in circles trying to fit everything in.

"Dropping my son off at 'before-school care', finding a car park, then leaving work early or right on time to pick my child up from 'after school care'. It didn't work for either of us. I thought living in a small town would be a lot less stress."

Downshifting, swapping a high-pressure career and salary for a simple life, is the antidote to the stress-driven rat race say authors Polly Ghazi and Judy Jones, authors of Downshifting: The Bestselling Guide to Happier, Simpler Living.

It may mean switching to a less stressful job, working part-time or negotiating flexible working hours. For the more adventurous it means selling their costly home, escaping to the country or moving abroad to live the dream. For many it means trading security for insecurity and living on less.

Tracey quit her legal secretary job, sold her house and moved to the country. Friends and family thought she was mad and warned her she'd never be able to afford to return.

"At the time making the move was a great relief, I bought a house for a third of what one costs in Wellington. I could walk with my son to school and back. And I took a year out to complete an arts course. Life really slowed down."

But moving to the Wairarapa in pursuit of the good life hasn't been easy, especially when it came to finding work. Tracey's first two jobs were extremely challenging. The pay was very low and the working conditions even worse. She stuck them out, grateful to have a job.

Getting breast cancer two years ago turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While getting treatment in Wellington Tracey bumped into Cathie Morison, CEO of Brackenridge Country Retreat and Spa, Martinborough.

"She said, 'Come and see me, I've got a job for you' and now I have the best job in the world." Tracey says it's a job she wouldn't have found had she stayed in the city.

For the first time in many years she looks forward to going to work and feels appreciated. Recently she saw an opportunity to improve the range of Spa treatments Brackenridge offers, and sourced new treatments unique to the South Wairarapa.

"The other week I had to lay on a heated massage table while the therapists trained on me with Bamboo Massage and Chinese Ball massage. Before that I spent three hours snoozing whilst having my eyelashes extended. I can't believe my luck. It is a wonderful working environment, great pay, great people, and a beautiful place."

"We left behind a beautiful home, friends and family to get out of the rat race in Europe," says Dutch fashion designer Maartje ten Berge of her family's move to New Zealand six years ago.

"We wanted our three daughters to have less pressure so that they could develop their talents instead of getting frustrated by the consuming attitude in the Netherlands. Everyone is much happier in New Zealand."

A better family life has been the biggest payoff, she says. And she's happy to be away from "the horrible pressure".

"We are enjoying the relaxed Kiwi way of living and focusing on what is important in life. We're both self-employed now and renting, which gives us more control. While we don't have a lot of money we do have more time to enjoy our lives and less stress."

The quest for freedom and improved mental wellbeing spearheaded Rob Reid's decision to turn his back on corporate life. He confesses to staying in his job longer than he should've and says the challenge of redundancy turned out to be a catalyst for positive change.

"I'd spent my whole working life, over 23 years, working within the financial services sector. My heart wasn't in my job anymore. I was a senior manager, I'd like to think I was respected for my performance and the value I added, I worked with some great people, and enjoyed many above-average employee benefits. But I was also working long hours at times, and as my stress levels increased, often so did my working hours. At one stage I ended up on a lengthy period of stress leave and on medication for depression and anxiety."

A simpler, happier life for Rob meant having the freedom to do what made him happy. He's resisting narrowing his options, so his business card simply reads, "I do stuff."

"Taking the time to choose what I want to do, rather than be told what I must do. It's a bit of a luxury," he says.

Rob's contracting to whoever will have him, he says, as long as he likes the work.Right now he's working in areas such as client management, project management, facilitation, and script development - all with a focus on improving communication.

Rob's also working toward his instructor's qualifications in scuba diving - a passion he intends on integrating into his career.

"Everybody I know that has downsized thinks, 'Why did I take so long to do this?"'

Some people find it difficult to "downsize", he says, because they worry too much about what others will think of them, or because of "golden handcuffs" that make a change difficult.

"In my case the biggest challenge was getting over the fear of the jump."

While the move to self-employment brings less security and his pay packet has taken a hit, Rob says making the choice to downshift has definitely been worth it.

"People are commenting that that the 'sparkle' is back, and I look healthier. I certainly feel more confident and relaxed than I have in years."

If you're wondering if downshifting is right for you but you're not sure how you would swing it, consider the cost of maintaining the status quo, say those who have made the move.

How will remaining the same impact on your health, your lifestyle, your family and your relationships?

Whatever you do, urge the downshifting experts, take time to make a conscious decision about what is best for you and yours.

Those who have recently downshifted offer the following advice:

*Take some time out from the job you want to leave, in order to free up your thoughts about what you want to do, and to get the inspiration and motivation to follow through.

*Work with a career coach, who can help guide you, "believe in it" alongside you, encourage you to think up big audacious goals, and work different options through. The "what ifs" become achievable.

*Finance a downshift by cutting back on consumption and unnecessary expenditure. Start early.

*Make the choice based on your own situation. Nobody has ever been in exactly the same position.

*Consider the worst case scenario. Then halve it. Then halve it again. With planning making the move is never as risky as you fear.

Whether the stress of your current job outweighs the benefits, or you crave more time to devote to the things that really matter, with planning, courage and support downshifting doesn't have to be a distant aspiration.