We live in an age of stress. Managing or defusing it
makes life happier, peaceful and worthwhile.
The current era that we live in is termed in various ways by different scholars belonging to different disciplines. Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, describes it as 'the age of discontinuity.' An eminent economist, John Galbraith, calls it age of uncertainty.' Alvin Toffler, the author of two celebrated works, namely, Future Shock and The Third Wave, refers to it as 'the age of future shock.' These different descriptions are acceptable, as they come from the excellence and erudition of celebrities in different branches of knowledge. But the one offered by Dr. Karl Albrecht, an organisational development consultant from San Diego, California, seems to be the most appropriate. He describes the present age as 'the age of anxiety' - the age of stress.
Whosoever you happen to meet - at your workplace or at home or in the market - be he rich or poor, mighty or meek, superior or subordinate, educated or illiterate, adult or aged, male or female- is suffering from stress of one kind or the other. An airconditioned chamber does not ensure peace to the executive seated in it; he is found constantly strained and stressed by a host of organizational problems.
An eminent behavioral scientist Hans Selye in his book The Stress of Life defines stress as a 'non-specific response of the body' to any demand made upon it. Stress is widespread. It is estimated that 75% to 90% of visits to doctors are stress-related. In a study undertaken by Byrum & Robinson in 1993 (San Diego, CA), it was found that insurance claims for payment of stress-related illnesses were about twice those paid for normal physical injury and cost about $200 billion annually!
The causes of stress are not always very serious. Stress emanates from the day-to-day dealings and disturbances. A petty issue in a family creates altercation amongst the members and causes stress. A small skirmish between husband and wife makes both of them jittery, which when oft-repeated, result in divorce.
For parents, their children's disobedience and their falling prey to bad habits like drug addiction, alcoholism and other vices are major causes of stress. Waiting for a bus, train or a plane for long hours can become a cause of stress. As school exams approach, both parents and children start developing anticipatory stress. Once the results are out, they are again worried about admissions. Even during festivals, if the arrangements are ill-provided or inadequate, people who attend it get upset and angry.
The causes of stress may be minor or trivial, but if not properly handled, their consequences could be grave. On the basis of some global studies, evidence shows that stress is a major factor causing ulcers, heart attacks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, migraine, kidney failure, digestive disorders, etc. Even mental faculties are impaired by stress.
Classification of Stressors
Behavioral scientists have tried to classify the stressors. The classification suggested by them is as follows:
(a) Organic Stressors
Nutritional factors, genetic factors (metabolic, allergies, etc.), physical fitness and level of resistance, etc.
(b) Personal Stressors
Marriage, new job, transfer, change of occupations, retirement, etc.
(c) Family Related
Marital discord, harmony-disharmony amongst the members, problems with elders, children, siblings, in-laws, etc.
It occurs in situations which are threatening and wholly or partially beyond one's control. For example, when stuck in traffic one becomes increasingly irritated as the delay lengthens. Exams and interviews are also situations which raise stress levels.
Formula I racing drivers tolerate much physical discomfort and forces many times g as they negotiate turns at speeds of upto 200 mph. However, when questioned they felt more stressed during their seven to eight pit stops - despite being stationery. The reason - in the pit, they are not in control, they are dependent on their crew.
(e) Encounter Stressors
This emanates from dealings with individuals or groups of people who are perceived as potentially unpredictable or unpleasant.
(f) Time Stressors
It stems from the general feeling that time is running out or an anxiety of meeting deadlines.
(g) Workplace Related
Relationship with subordinates, superiors, colleagues, office politics, rivalry, lack of support, insecurity of job, lack of status, job dissatisfaction are the prime stressors.
Air pollution, noise pollution and congestion are some of the environmental stressors.
(i) Change Related
Keeping pace with rapid technological change, acquiring newer skills are also factors that cause stress to people.
(j) Anticipatory Stress
When unexpected things happen, stress is raised.
During World War II, the Germans regularly bombed London. Each time there was a raid, sirens sounded to warn the public to run for shelter. A survey shared that one particular area was always bombed, whereas another part of London was only occasionally bombed. Surprisingly the people of the latter area felt more stress since they did not know what to expect. Whereas in the former area, they knew what to expect and were mentally prepared for it.
This type of anticipatory stress is experienced when people watch their favourite sports teams in action. In tense matches, where the outcome is in doubt or contrary to expectations, they resort to nail biting, gum chewing, smoking, alcohol and other sinister habits to calm their nerves.
There are ways and methods to manage stress. Behavioral scientists have developed various strategies to cope with stress:
(a) Design a low-stress lifestyle
Try to strike a balance i.e., maintaining a proper proportion of work and play, challenge and ease, stress and relaxation, exercise and rest, self-restraint and self-indulgence. Design your lifestyle in a manner that your needs and wants are fulfilled in a balanced way. Be content, otherwise there is no end to desires and greed.
(b) Raise Your Adaptation Level (ADL)
In difficult or discomforting situations try to tolerate and bear as much as you can. With such repeated effort, you will learn to live with it. Raising your ADL will make you less distraught and more composed and comfortable. Imbibing Yogiji Maharaj's oft-repeated message of learning to put up with situations, no matter what they are or wherever they be, will help raise your ADL. Once you have raised your ADL, even gross inconvenience is incapable of shaking you.
(c) Develop the ability to unwind
In any adverse situation, if you try to unload the burden caused by it, you feel relaxed. Of course, it calls for the ability to monitor your immediate reactions in such situations. The ability to let provocations pass away is the ability to unwind. It helps one, to a marked extent, to cast off the effects of the episodic stress.
Once, in the village of Chachana, Yogiji Maharaj and his associate sadhus were beaten severely by some wayward local sadhus. They were also verbally abused, "How could you dissidents dare enter here?" The local devotee, Darbar Jilubha, came to their rescue. Despite all the commotion, Yogiji Maharaj defused the situation by saying, "My body has been blessed by their blows."
Once, Yogiji Maharaj was travelling with a group of sadhus in a horsecart enroute to the village of Malia Hatina. On the way, the wheel broke and the cart toppled and turned upside down. Everyone inside turned heels over head. Yogiji Maharaj abruptly stood up, shaking off the dust he happily said, "Oh, it is a miracle. Maharaj has saved us." And, truly, it was as stated by Yogiji Maharaj, because each one of them came out unscathed- nobody had even received a bruise.
(d) Appraise your own strengths and weaknesses
Mostly, we wink at our weaknesses. Our anxieties are mainly due to our own identifiable weaknesses. Once we become aware of them and make sincere efforts to remove them, we will experience our anxieties diminish.
(e) Behavioral self-control
Once you decide to undertake a major step, you should do it with full knowledge about its implications, focusing on long term objectives to be served by it. You can accomplish this task with self-control, self-restraint and self-discipline.
The social psychologists suggest 'networking' as a strategy to cope with stress. Networking means forming close associations with trusted, empathetic workers and colleagues who may share your pains and pleasures and help build up your confidence.
The importance and stress-reducing effect of networking is emphasized by Pramukh Swami Maharaj. He has advocated daily ghar-sabha (family assemblies) to discuss and share troubles and worries among family members. This helps reduce one's mental burdens. Also, regular attendance to weekly satsang assemblies is a form of networking that has helped many to tackle their problems.
(g) Thought Stopping
When you are confronted with some troublesome thoughts, you can apply the technique of 'thought stopping' to calm your mind. When such thoughts occur, simply 'hear' the word 'stop' being shouted in your mind. This will cause your mental machinery to come to standstill for a moment or so. Immediately substitute a new, more productive thought for the old one. Shift the subject in your mind to something more constructive and meaningful.
The technique of visualisation will enable you to reduce the anxiety you feel about certain impending situations. Say, for example, you have to make a speech in school or presentation before the board of directors of your company. A mental rehearsal of every step from preparation to entering the board room, presenting your topic and answering queries, will dissolve your fears and boost your performance.
(i) Prayer and Meditation
Prayer and meditation has the effect of calming the mind. Such faith in God relieves one of unnecessary tension and burden. In Vachanamrut Sarangpur-18, Shriji Maharaj says, "(when a person becomes depressed) he either goes to sleep, cries, takes his frustrations out on someone else, or he may even fast... And if he becomes severely depressed, he may even resort to committing suicide." Having described the classical symptoms of the person under stress, He gives the solution to the problem by prescribing spiritual understanding. Through faith and spiritual understanding an individual becomes happy.
Living With Stress
In this age of anxiety, with newer and newer causes of stress being added every day, the list of stressors continues to increase. Coping strategies do work, but to a limited extent. Once you know that it is not possible to alter or avoid a stressful situation, at the best, what you can do is to change your attitude towards that situation.
Hans Selye in his book Stress Without Distress says, "Stress is the spice of life, complete freedom from stress comes only in death." Therefore, by effecting change in your attitude, raising your adaptation level (ADL) and following the precept of 'simple living and spiritual thinking' as preached and practiced by our gurus, then, even if we can not resolve it, we would certainly be inspired to learn to live with stress.
In his capacity as the President of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, Pramukh Swami Maharaj encounters many situations which would make others tense and anxious. However, Swamishri is able to negotiate all his duties to remain stress-free and at ease. The secret, he says, is that he places all his problems in the hands of God and believes staunchly that whatever happens in any given situation is due to God's will and is ultimately beneficial.
An example of this is the case for the proposed mandir in Harrow. Before the shikharbaddh mandir in London was built in Neasden, many suitable sites were considered. One was in Harrow. However, several problems made the task of getting the necessary permissions difficult. Much time, effort and money was spent in getting these permissions. However, when the final decision came, it was a disappointing refusal. Many were dejected when they heard the decision. Swamishri, who was in Bochasan, heard the disappointing news as he prepared for his rest at night. Convinced that it was the will of Shriji Maharaj, and that the eventual outcome would be beneficial, Swamishri promptly fell asleep. Thus, Swamishri's faith in God is the key to his ability to remain stress-free.
Though we live in an age of anxiety', it is upto us to manage and defuse our stresses and create a life of joy and happiness.