Stress has become a very important aspect of our daily lives and because it is so intrinsic, it has also unfortunately gotten normalized i.e. we do not pay the attention it requires. I went through a course about Stress Management by my employers. It opened my eyes about the dangers of stress, plus got to know various simple and applicable solutions for it. I also share some personal thoughts about the source of this problem near the end of this post.
Stress is an internal mechanism of the human body that readies you for action when we face difficult or challenging situations. The heightened energetic but unpleasant feeling that we get from inside, is what is telling us to fight the situation or escape it (You must have heard: Fight or Flight). This is important for our survival.
But just like everything else, nothing is good in excess. For a person of generation earlier than ours, say our grandparents, they had intermittent moments of tremendous stress but in their otherwise generally relaxed lifestyle. What we are facing however in our modern lifestyle is a continuous stream of regular stress, with only rare moments of relaxation. Sometimes it makes you think, “What’s the point in doing all this if I don’t feel comfortable or relaxed or happy?”
There is this entire horror show about how your brain sends signals and these chemicals called hormones, especially cortisol, get released which then damage your heart, suppress your immune system, reduce your good life driving juices and overall affecting your health. I don’t want to get into the technicalities so it is just best to know that it has serious biological effects on your body, akin to “slow poisoning”. And if you are living a city lifestyle, then you have this problem for sure! So you better get this handled.
I understood that there are two branches of handling stress. It is our own bodily function so it is not all bad. It is a necessary tool which helps us choose our battles.
So first things first, recognize if it is the right type of stress which is gearing you up for a challenge that you will like. If that is the case, then take up that challenge and go for it, it will reward you well.
Simple as that! Not much to see here. If you have a big backlog, clear it up. Stop procrastinating. Try to match the speed of clearing that backlog with the speed in which work comes in.
And second, if it is not the right type of stress (for e.g. problems which are out of your control but continue to make you feel stressed) then use mechanisms of taking care of your mind and body. Within this, there are two categories:
First is intrinsic, in which you do certain exercises for your mind and body which have proven to be fantastic for handling stress. There are a lot of methods that come from West such as belly breathing, Mindful Meditation, and whatnot but they are all just derivatives of Yoga and Dhyana (Meditation), so it probably best if we look at the original sources directly.
The key here is to stimulate all your nerves in the body (Yoga), and for the mind you try to be as conscious and aware about itself as possible (Meditation). My take on this is that Yoga is to activate all your muscles thereby waking up all dormant nerve cells of your body, and Meditation is to make you aware of your own mind. I don’t think Meditation itself relieves your stress, but instead gives you the ability to observe yourself. With that your actions are not subject to your emotions, instead, your emotions are under your control and your actions are conscious.
And the other is extrinsic solution where you look for human connection. It turns out that stress has direct relationship with looking for finding a meaningful connection with another human.
Our trainer was proficient and that is why from day one he sent us in these “breakout sessions” where we could connect and find solace. He also invited guests who shared their wisdom and whom we could ask questions from our end. We essentially got to practice the human connection requirement as a stress response.
Exploring the Cause
I felt the high level of stress that we have incorporated into our lives is because of a lifestyle we have chosen. I get a certain salary which can feed me and my family, it can put a roof over my head, can even buy me luxury sometimes and occasional recreational travels as well. Then why should I need more? Yet, I must have more! Even if it causes me severe discomfort! Why is that so? What is this obsession?
This comes from the simplistic understanding that we must be “successful”, an umbrella term for someone who has a lot of materialistic possessions, fame, capability to fulfil various desires, fantasies and vices, because of course they can exchange all of that for money, which they possess a lot of.
This definition of human fulfilment has however has proved to be a failure as we see people unhappy, depressed, anxious, with high cholesterol levels, heart disease problems, drug addictions, with suicide rates skyrocketing.
Is Success the Answer?
Ever since we have officially accepted “success” as a measure of fulfilment, we as a human race have started going downhill. We are seeing an increasing wealth gap between rich and poor, as the rich want to keep getting successful forever unsatisfied, and the poor are told to struggle to succeed, as you must “Get Rich or Die Trying”.
Clearly, we have gone wrong in making this consensus that “success” is the ultimate goal. So if not success, then what is the measure of a life well-lived? For that matter, should we look at only “one” thing? Why must human fulfilment be reduced to one word? Where is this “reductionism” mentality coming from?
The dominant use of reductionism to solve a problem comes from West because of their various philosophies that are fundamentally based on dichotomies such as Right vs Wrong, On vs Off, Left vs Right, Black vs White, Good vs Bad, Heaven vs Hell, etc. which I cover in this post in the context of politics. Because of this binary thinking, there is a need to “reduce” every problem towards a sharp pointed target (solution) so that we arrive at the “right” thing avoiding the “wrong”.
Science is a positive example of it’s application. Without reductionism, we would not have been able to send astronauts into space nor do heart surgery. If there’s objectivity, reductionism is king!
However, the understanding of the human experience through the lenses of reductionism (that being successful is your ultimate goal) has proven to be a disaster and needs to be looked into. The human condition is very vibrant and cannot be reduced to any single word such as “success” or “money” or “freedom” or “peace” etc.. Human life is a big spectrum of experiences, it could be multiple things! The measure of a life well-lived can be (for e.g.) a combined vector of duty, money, pleasure, and spirituality.
I choose a vector of duty, money, pleasure, and spirituality because I am just lazy and I picked up what is written in our indigenous Hindu philosophy about dharma, artha, kama, moksha. They had thousands of years of pattern recognition, sure that amounts to a goldmine of human understanding.
May be that is why most of the World is now looking towards the East to understand human well-being because our cultures seem to have the answers. This calls for further exploration of what is written in our indigenous knowledge. For now, I got a workable understanding that first Stress needs to be recognized as good or bad. If it is good, trust yourself to fight it. In case it is bad, look for that good old human connection, and practise some Yoga and Meditation.