09 Mar 15 Stress – Can it be good for you?

People are very stressed and this has led to many health problems especially chronic physical illnesses, mental disturbances and depression.

Some time back, I read a WHO report that 53% of deaths in India will be due to chronic diseases. So, why are chronic lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes on the rise? The main reason is of course stress and the doctor you consult with, also tells you this. So what is stress? And is it bad for you?

Stress is the feeling of urgency to act. The dictionary describes this as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.

So all stress is not bad for you. For eg. While driving if someone crosses the road suddenly or someone comes towards you, driving on the wrong side of the road (as it is possible especially in Pune), you need to maneuver your car or two wheeler to avoid an accident. So stress such as this is inevitable and you need to experience this if you have to survive. This is a reflex that all animal life has, so that they can avoid and deal with dangerous situations. When the danger passes, the human body is built to let go of the stress and go back to equilibrium. The other kind of stress is that which arises from a demanding situation. If you want to be good at anything you do, it is inevitable that you will face some level of stress in doing your work. Again, it is your attitude to the job at hand that will determine whether the stress harms you or energises you. If you approach any job with confidence and enthusiasm you are likely to get it done and with no harmful effects experienced.

So as I said, the body has the capacity to go back to normal after facing a stressful situation. The para sympathetic nervous system calms your body down. But this can only happen if you can keep your mind away from some other stressor. In modern life, stressors are coming at us from all directions and constantly. And if they are not external they are caused by us playing competitive, stress inducing games on our phones, watching violent TV or listening to loud music. All these are known to increase stress in your body. This constant stress is what keeps our bodies pumping with adrenaline and keeps us on high alert even though the body is not in danger.

What are the signs that you are being adversely affected by stress?

  • Some mental signs of stress are:
    •  worrying constantly, feeling dread or anxiety when you think of the future, not being able to concentrate on the task at hand and having trouble making decisions.
  • Some emotional signs that you could look for are:
    •  irritability and a short temper, feeling overwhelmed by life, feeling lonely and isolated, feeling under the weather most of the time and moodiness.
  • Stress can manifest into physical symptoms too such as:
    •  aches and pains in the body, diarrhea or constipation, bowel problems, nausea, dizziness, vertigo, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, pounding of the heart, loss of your sex drive, frequent colds.
  • Then you can also recognize it through some behavioral indicators though these are easier seen in others than in yourself. Some of these are:
    • changes in appetite, sleeping too much or too little, remaining aloof from others, procrastinating or neglecting life’s responsibilities and using alcohol, tobacco, or drugs in excess. Like I said easier to spot in others!

What have we lost in these modern times? We have lost the ability to “stop and stare”. Societies across the world are moving into more ‘doing’ and less ‘being’. We feel guilty if we are not doing anything. We need to be moving and bustling and when we have nothing to occupy our mind, we play games, send messages or watch television.

So take some time off for yourself, put off your phone, and spend some time in nature, start meditating even if it is for just 10 minutes, find a hobby that does not involve staring at another screen. Just ‘be’ instead of thinking that stopping ‘doing’ is the worst thing that can happen to you!

Sangeeta Ganapathy

As a founder member of ValueNotes, I head the HR function, along with finance and technology. During my 25-year career, I spent almost a decade with Citibank India handling technology and operations, and helped set up their custody business. You can reach me on sangeeta@valuenotes.co.in or through my LinkedIn profile.

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