Stress is a challenge faced by many professionals, no matter what age, role or industry they’re in. A 2016 survey of 200,000 professionals employed across 30 Indian firms by Optum, a healthcare firm, found that 46% reported suffering extreme stress as a consequence of their work. We live in a very competitive world, where professionals face a lot of pressure in the form of deadlines, targets, and workload and have to make time for meaningful personal and professional relationships. We juggle all of these, carry our work home and cut back on vacation time so that we can deliver our best work. All of this leaves us feeling stressed, and pressurized. When this builds up over time, it can lead to burnout or even the onset of other mental health issues like depression or anxiety.

The amount of stress felt and the reaction to it varies from person to person. There is even a form of “positive stress", the force that prepares us to rise to challenges, and this is resolved when we meet those challenges, leaving us satisfied. However, “negative stress" happens when we feel that the demands of any given situation are greater than our ability to deal with it. From tensed muscles, increased heart rate, fatigue and insomnia to anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and lowered cognitive ability, stress impacts both our physical and mental health. It puts our bodies and minds on alert, causing the body to tense up and the mind to expend more energy.

There’s no avoiding stress, but we can manage it by balancing it with activities that will roll back its negative effects. This should be as important a part of our daily routine as brushing teeth or having lunch. Art therapy, music therapy, pet therapy and even journal writing can help us switch off from problems and focus on creating or playing. Devoting small pockets of time to these activities every day will leave us in a much more calm, collected and clearer mind with which to tackle our challenges again.

Art therapy

Go to any app store on your phone and you will find an abundance of colouring book apps for adults. These apps bring art therapy right into your pocket, so that you can unwind and de-stress no matter where you are. The use of colour and shapes in art lets you subconsciously express and resolve the issues bothering you and help to calm your mind. Don’t worry about whether you’re good at it or not—think of it as a fun, personal activity whose only goal is to make you feel better.

Pet therapy

Anyone who has a pet will swear by the formula that you cannot spend time with a pet and remain stressed out or upset. The companionship and unconditional love that animals give us often helps to uplift our spirits, even at the end of a very bad day. Pet therapy is an activity where a therapist guides you as you interact with a specially trained animal, and this can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Music therapy

If you like music, then singing, playing an instrument, creating or listening to music can be a great stress buster. Through music, you can connect with and express the emotions you feel. This helps you deal with and resolve them in a healthy way, so that your mind can be free of negative feelings that could otherwise build up over time. While music soothes the mind, it can also have a calming effect on the body— slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones. Add more music to your day, or reach out to a music therapist to help you deal with your stress.

Alleviating stress together

Apart from these, there are many other things you can do to mitigate stress. From fitness to laughter therapy and dancing, you can pick an activity of your choice that you can do alone or in a group with like-minded friends. Since work and stress go hand in hand, it will make a great deal of a difference when employers and organizations understand that it is in everyone’s best interest to implement stress-relief measures—from play rooms where people can unwind with art, music or having ‘office pets’ to partnering with licensed therapists in these areas to help employees.

Mind Matters is a weekly column which looks to alleviate the stigma about mental health issues at work.

Neerja Birla is the chairperson and founder of Mpower, a movement that aims to bring about a positive change in the attitude towards mental health.

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