Stress has become an integral part of our day to day life. And the worst thing is that if we don’t take corrective measures, we start remaining under stress for longer durations which causes lot of health issues later on in life. So let’s try and understand what stress is and how can we overcome stress in life?
Stress is a reaction by an organism to a disturbing or dangerous situation.
Robert M Sapolsky, a Stanford University neurobiologist has penned down his research on stress in a great book “Why Zebras don’t get ulcers”. Sapolsky explains that in humans and other animals, body’s response to stress is the same. When Zebras runs for their life from chasing lion, basics are all that matter. Lungs work overtime to pump mammoth quantities of oxygen into the blood streams.
The heart braces to pump that oxygen to throughout the body. So muscles respond instantly. You need your blood pressure to deliver that energy. You run for your life. Body turns off anything that is not essential, be it growth, reproduction, tissue repair or any other repair to a later time if the zebra survives. But as soon as Zebra escapes his death, its stress response shuts down.
Sapolsky explains that problem with human beings is that we turn on the same exact stress response to situations that actually are not life threatening as in case of Zebra. These situations are actually psychological states. But our body fails to differentiate. The result is that stress response is more damaging than the stress itself because stress is some psychological nonsense that we are falling for. And we are doing it non- stop.
What causes Stress
Let’s try to find out causes of stress in our lives. The biggest problem with us is that we are out on a mission to change others. We are busy criticizing others, pinpointing faults in others unnecessarily without focussing on ourselves. We want others to become the way we want them to be. We believe this will give us happiness. But actually this process gives us stress because we are unable to change others. Our actions are guided by our expectations in return. And non fulfilment of expectations from relationships is biggest cause of stress and disappointment these days.
As parents, we want to control our children. We want our children to pursue a career of our choice. When our teen aged child wants to go out for party or movies, we are the first one to lecture him. We want to influence him. And when our Children refuse to mend their ways, we feel stressed.
We feel stressed in relationships because as a lover, either we want to influence our partner or we want to please our partner. And either ways in all situations, whenever we fail to achieve success, it causes immense stress.
After son’s marriage, mother feels stressed. The reason is she fears she will lose control over his son who had loved and followed her mother unconditionally for nearly twenty five years.
The wife feels stressed because she feels that unless her mother-in-law stops controlling her son, how she will influence her husband.
The son feels stressed because he is trying to maintain a delicate balance to please both his mother and his wife. And despite his best efforts, he is neither able to please his wife nor his mother.
As a subordinate in office, we want our good work to be noticed and we want to please our seniors to come in their good books. But there are half a dozen other colleagues who are out there with similar motives. The result is the fear of competition gives us stress.
Comparison with others and constant desire to be better off than our peers is another habit that causes stress. Gaining knowledge is not our motive. But getting top ranks in Class 12th and in entrance exams thereafter is our aim. And when we fail to achieve this target, we feel stressed. To add to this, the guilt of not meeting expectations of our parents, our relatives, our teachers and our neighbours takes its toll.
How to overcome stress
Sapolsky says that No Zebra on earth running for life will understand why speaking in public would cause you to secrete the same hormones that he is doing it at that point of time to save its life.
Now that we understand what stress is and what causes stress, we can find ways to reduce unnecessary stress.
The first thing we need to understand is what is the purpose of life? And William Arthur Ward puts it in such beautiful lines.
The adventure of life is to learn.
The purpose of life is to grow.
The nature of life is to change.
The challenge of life is to overcome.
The essence of life is to care.
The opportunity of life is to serve.
The secret of life is to dare.
The spice of life is to befriend.
The beauty of life is to give.
The joy of life is to love.
When God has sent us with such holy purpose on this earth, then why are we wasting time with unnecessary psychological thoughts which is creating stress?
As a parent, we should try to guide our children, we should coach them. We can share our apprehensions about things our children should avoid. Let them be what they want to be. Let them take their own decisions based on your inputs. But why do we want to control them?
Why do we need to please our partner or to influence him? We just need to have the warmth in our relationships and sincerity towards our partner. Why cannot we trust each other and give space so that relationship flourishes.
God had created mother to shower unparallel love, care and affection. Nobody on earth can match her sacrifices. Then how can she get so weak that she is afraid of another woman who God has only created to carry her legacy. Why these pull and push for control.
Similarly as a wife, why you need to influence your husband? You are going to become a mother in time to come. God sent you with great hopes and responsibilities.
As a subordinate, why do I need to impress my boss. My job is to work hard, contribute in achieving the goals of the department and the company, helping the colleagues overcome their shortcomings, to learn from colleagues and seniors, to share what I am good at. If this is my purpose, then where is the space for stress?
Gaining knowledge should be our motive. Have you ever thought that the more the time passes by in your professional career, the lesser is the significance of our rankings in Class 12th or in entrance exams? Then why do we need to stress ourselves by comparing ourselves with our fellow classmates or neighbours or colleagues in office?
So let’s be thankful to God for what we have in life. Negative thoughts will always bring stress and anxiety in our life. So be positive and never allow negative thoughts to hack your mind and your life as such. Never forget the purpose of your life and try to lead a spiritual life.
You will find lot of talk about body relaxation exercises like breathing techniques and guided imagery for reducing stress. Physical exercises like Yoga and work out routines are also helpful. Meditation also plays a major role in reducing stress. We should make these habits also part of our life.
But I sincerely believe that if we work to change our life style keeping our larger purpose of life in mind and make the above said universal principles a part of our thought process, we will be able attack the root cause of stress.
A certain amount of stress may be necessary for an organism to survive, but the stress which is bothering human mankind the most is the one that is self created by internal perceptions that cause an individual to experience anxiety or other negative emotions. So let’s keep away stress for actual external life threatening situations rather than using this mechanism for handling psychological problems.