Colonel Shiv Choudhary (Retd)
In the prevailing world, none seems to be stress free. It is only the varying magnitude which defines and separates a stressed individual from one and other. Be it an infant, teenager, students, adult, aged, a house wife, worker, businessman, Dr and front end employee or a CEO, everyone feels some stress in one or the other form. It is indeed an unavoidable universal epidemic. It is important to appreciate that about 82% of the population in India is said to be suffering from stress compared to the global average of 86%. Out of this 82%, 89% Indian are in the age group of 35 to 49 years. India is in fact most stressed country in the world when compared with other developed and emerging nations like USA, UK, France, Germany and Australia.
Stress is the “psychological, physiological and behavioral response by individuals when they perceive a lack of equilibrium between the demands placed upon them and their ability to meet those demands ie the allocated task in hand and the capacity to do that. One may co-relate it with work life imbalance. This is practically the reason of daily uninterrupted pressure on every human being and the daily chorus revolves around this phenomenon. This process over a period leads to “ill-health”. It is like continuously “burning the candle at both ends” until we reach physical and emotional exhaustion? Just like the candle itself, we risk getting stressed ourselves. We can say if a frog is dropped into a pot of boiling water, it will try to escape. However, when a frog is placed in a pot slowly approaching a boiling point, it will be too hot for the frog to survive. This is exactly the case of slow acceptance of the pressures around you, until everything is “just too much” and you can barely cope up.
There is a dire need to effectively manage stress in a professional manner. There is a warning to be alert on major issues related to excessive and prolonged stress leading to burnout while the stress is inevitable and burnout is not. Stress has been referred to as the “silent killer” as it can cause heart disease, blood pressure, chest pain, and an irregular heartbeat (Chilnick,2008), hair loss (McEwen, 2003) and multiple other ailments. Stress worsens acne (Warner, 2002), weight gain (Chilnick, 2008), negatively impacts the developmental growth of children (Van der Kolk,B. 2007) and shrink, impair and kill brain cells (Wallenstein, 2003). Our blood sugar levels leading to fatigue, hyperglycemia, mood swings, and metabolic syndrome etc are affected too.
Stress does not spare work places. Symptoms of workplace stress can manifest into headaches, difficulty , obesity, stomach pain, irritability, teeth grinding, panic attack, erratic decision making, feeling of let down, poor concentration, heartburn, over/less sleeping, tension, sweaty hands or feet, social isolation, fatigue and nausea.
We live in an era of internet and digital. These two technology gifts take away much needed quietness in a non-stop manner. We must go offline from screen time, apps, google, alerts, noise, social media and other such stimuli to rest and much needed recharging. This is possible only if we are apt at time management, well organized, set rules and defined boundaries. Sometimes one just needs a break, occasional distractions, watch a movie, phone or catch up with a friend, go for a walk, or do something positive to your mind. The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.
Before one discusses the remedies and the techniques for stress management, one must endeavor to know for sure that as per American Psychological Association (Stress Tip Sheet,” 2018) one must understand the stress, identify the sources and symptoms, recognize strategies, implementation of strategies, switching off/ on behavior, care for self before others and seek needed support. Life threatening effects of the stress need to be understood with all the alacrity and seriousness. The fact that stress is inevitable, distress is not, cannot be ignored. There is a plethora of actions which can be taken proactively. These may include clear, firm, fair and effective communication on what, when and where is something bothering us. Stress management techniques and strategies may include changing the perception, acting in time, changing situation and acceptance of uncontrollable facts.
There are also a set of techniques and programs to help people deal with stress in their lives by analyzing the prime causes ie “stressors to minimize their effects”. Popular examples of stress management include meditation, yoga, and exercise. However, we need to explore some ways that work for everyone. We must understand realistically that one can never be totally stress free being an unavoidable human response. Stress can also be positive and helpful as it warns us of impending danger to protect ourselves termed as “fight or flight” response.
Remedy is all in the brain. The way you respond to under adverse environment, self belief, action, outcome and consequences. Men folk always get more disturbed not by happenings, but by views they take of them. Also one is what one eats. Reducing your alcohol, caffeine and sugar intake is a proven way of reducing anxiety. Daily exercising, meditation, mild breathing and guided visualization, are guaranteed ways to distress as these act as antidepressants in relieving mild depression. Resilience, accepting the problem, talking it out, sharing and taking much needed uninterrupted sleep and consulting medical professionals when needed, is vitally essential for lessening stress.
Organizations can do many things like encouraging exercise, mediation, rational allocation of workload; up skilling, promote leave, rest and breaks, clarity of roles, ending discrimination, engage consultants, employees friendly policies and work life balance. May also emphasize upon support, employee engagement, priority, training, systematic approach, rational schedule, environment, equipment, resiliency, self- efficacy, work load, pace, organizational culture, interpersonal relationship, organizational role, career development and closer home-work interface. Individuals too can also do a lot to reduce self stress. Such measures include setting realistic deadlines, better time management, self improvement, professional communication and quick off/ on habit. All such actions at work place pay very high dividends in the shape of creativity, higher morale, satisfaction, self esteem, less attrition, reduced absenteeism, better health, increased production, less insurance cost and enhanced safety. Stress is epidemically universal and unavoidable.
It is easy for stress to come and go, with us accepting it as an unavoidable part of our lives instead of overreacting. One can start planning for applicable treatment, needed body care, dealing with emotions and making life better while deciding upon reaction and inability to deal with. One just needs to exercise plethora of options available.
Colonel Shiv Choudhary (Retd)