Modern societies across the world are characterized by a medical condition that plays a prominent role in sleep disorders, headaches, anxiety, depression, hypertension and heart disease. This same medical condition plays a role in cancer too and is responsible for the loss of creativity and the sense of dissatisfaction that is so obviously present in our day-to-day lives. The medical condition is stress, and it is unlike any other disease. It is a condition that we create by abusing our bodies and minds; not just is it harmful if we allow it to accumulate, it can even lead to early death.
People often think of stress as having a “good” and “bad” component. In reality, stress is always bad. In the book Freedom From Stress, Phil Nuernberger writes, “The great creative discoveries in the arts, science and the corporate office come at times when the mind is at peace with itself.” The good news, however, is that since we are responsible for our own stress, we can slowly eliminate it from our lives. We can do this by learning to think, act and feel differently regardless of the challenging circumstances that life may bring. The regular practice of yoga and meditation can go a long way in creating balance.
Shyam Bhat, psychiatrist and founder of the Mind-Body Clinic in Bengaluru, says: “Stress, particularly in the workplace, has increased exponentially in our modern life. While people know that yoga and meditation can help relieve it, most people aren’t willing to make stress elimination a priority.” He says that everyone is on the treadmill, not acknowledging that stress affects the quality of one’s life, one’s productivity and eventually, via disease, the quantity of one’s life as well.
Since we spend most of our waking hours at work, finding ways to eliminate stress at work would seem to be a good strategy. “Active rest” is the latest idea in occupational health. A study published in the Journal Of Occupational Health in December showed that exercising for just 10 minutes three times a week in the afternoon improved interpersonal relationships and the mood of employees. While the study tailored the 10 minutes to include comprehensive cognitive training, aerobic exercise, resistance training and cool-down, the point here is that exercise is beneficial and we should include it in our work lives, any which way we can.
We also need to retrain our minds so that we accumulate less mental stress while at work. Anna Chandy, chairperson of the Bengaluru-based Live Love Laugh Foundation, created to build awareness about depression and heal those who suffer from it, says: “Our mental backpacks are just overflowing. We don’t know how to say no, or don’t want to say no, and the end result is chronic stress.” She suggests a few strategies for workplace mindfulness. “We must choose our battles at work. Plan our commute timings so that we aren’t stuck in rush-hour traffic. Traffic and infrastructural issues are a reality and we need to learn to work around them with minimal stress imposed on our bodies and minds. “We need to learn to manage our time at work better so that work is prioritized according to importance and time sensitivity,” she suggests.
Other strategies that can be implemented at work include 10- to 20-minute meditation and/or a 10- to 15-minute Savasana, the yogic relaxation practice, writes Vasant Lad in his book The Complete Book Of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Meditation is a tried-and-tested technique that can emancipate us from the stress of modern life while living in it fully. Research shows that regular meditation reduces levels of the physiological markers of stress. In a study published in 2014 in the journal Annals Of Agricultural And Environmental Medicine, Christina Darviri and colleagues from the occupational health department in Athens, Greece, found that simple relaxation training like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can benefit employees.
It’s time you used these simple strategies. Incorporating stress reduction into our daily life is no longer a choice, it’s a must.
Sujata Kelkar Shetty, PhD, is a wellness consultant, life coach, and a clinical scientist trained at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, US.