According to this interesting infographic, 77% of people at the workplace today regularly experience physical symptoms and a 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms all caused by stress.
In the past 10 years, I have observed an increasing number of colleagues reporting ailments like heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, obesity, hypertension, fibromyalgia, and depression to name a few. What’s alarming is these ailments are not restricted to the 40 plus age groups, but a significant number of people in the 25-35 age group. A majority of them are either caused or aggravated due to a variety of reasons ranging from poor lifestyle choices, bad habits, overwork, to work-life imbalance. If we could summarize most of these reasons, we could call it STRESS.
What is stress?
Stress is our body’s way of responding or reacting to a disturbing stimulus in a way that causes imbalance. Stress is usually something that is triggered by unpredictable events, and threatens the peace of mind. Imagine walking through an unknown forest in the dark where you have no idea what might happen, or whether you are going to be safe. Your nervous system might help you for a few hours or days, but after a period, you will become a mass of nerves so acutely stretched and ready to defend yourself, that you lose all focus on anything that is positive or peaceful. I will not step into scientific territory here, but simply say that stress completely upsets our physical, mental, and emotional balance, leading to a lack of control of our lives.
Unfortunately, most of us resort to medication that only alleviates outward symptoms without treating the root cause. This is also the reason we are driven to pursuits such as shopping, partying, alcoholism, expensive treatments, and other superficial activities that provide instant gratification, which lasts for a short while, leaving us hollow and empty later.
Recognizing the causes of stress
A few years ago, I was battling what I then thought as mid-life crisis. I had gained weight. I started complaining of headache, body ache, hair loss, and fatigue as a result of hyper-acidity, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. I was very negative in my thinking and I had several lapses in my judgement. I didn’t realize stress was the culprit.
Stress is triggered by our body’s emotional response to external circumstances. Unfortunately, we don’t realize the adverse impact of stress until it manifests itself in the form of illness and unhappiness. How do you recognize, acknowledge, and deal with stress proactively? It all begins with understanding unconstructive emotions that lie at the root of it all.
Fear is one of the fundamental unconstructive feelings that we block and bury inside. Ask yourself: What do I fear? If this job is making you insecure, what is stopping you from leaving it? If your boss is your source of stress, what stops you from confronting him or her? Do you really look forward to working with your client, or does the thought of interacting with them scare you? Are you afraid of being laid off or humiliated? Unacknowledged fear causes overall weakness in your bones and muscular system, and also weakens your immunity. Courage is the answer to fear. The first step is to face those fears and acknowledge their existence. Think of all things in your life that will stay with you no matter what. Drawing strength from our loved ones or things of deep meaning to us, rebuilds our sense of security.
Guilt is another slow poison that slowly but surely destroys our morale. What are you guilty about? Does your job make you do things that go against your conscience and values? Do you feel guilty about your child in daycare? Are you blaming yourself for delivering a poor product to your client? These manifest as problems in your lower back, elimination system, or reproductive organs. Acceptance is the answer to guilt. Think of all the reasons you feel guilty about, and then release yourself from the blame. Think of what you could do to remedy the situation and to assuage the feeling of guilt.
A lack of self-esteem and shame eats into our confidence and awakens the negative self-talk inside of us. Some of us even go to an overdrive burning ourselves out with worry of becoming second best. What are you ashamed of? Do you find yourself at a disadvantage when it comes to interacting with your team? Does your inner voice tell you things like – “I don’t look good”, “I’m not that smart”, “I’m so stupid”, or “I’m not good enough”? This unconstructive thinking pattern results in chronic digestive ailments and other liver and pancreatic problems like ulcers, diabetes, hepatitis, to name a few. Self-acceptance is the answer here. Accepting and loving yourself despite your shortcomings, is the only way forward from here. Surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good is another way of restoring your confidence. Offering support or contributing to the needy is another way to build positivity and inner confidence.
Lack of Love
All of us like being appreciated and cared for. Sorrow, resentment, jealousy, or hatred, are huge reasons for unhappiness. Have you lost someone dear to you? Do you feel lonely and unloved by your peers? Do you crave appreciation? Do you harbor deep resentment against a colleague? Are you a target of emotional abuse? Have you been hurt too deeply in the past and still holding on to the hurt? These repressed emotions affect the heart, arms, lungs, or our circulation, besides causing allergies and asthma. Compassion and forgiveness is the answer to this. Believe in the law of karma and let go of resentment and forgive those who have done you harm. Forgive and move on. Appreciating and recognizing others around you helps you receive love from others. Note that the word Forgive has the word Give within it. Does that give you a clue? Think of the blessings in your life. What else are you grateful for?
We live in an overexposed world thanks to social media, which ironically causes us to wear masks. Like the proverbial ostrich that has buried its head under the sand, we actually start believing in the world of make-believe so much so that we don’t want to hear the truth. What are the lies that you’re telling yourself and to others? Or rather, what is that truth that you are evading? Over a period you find yourself suffering from problems in the neck, jaw, thyroid, sinuses, and other dental and oral ailments. Facing facts with honesty helps you speak and act with conviction, providing you that much-needed clarity in your thought.
Lack of Insight
Once you have opened and exposed the layers of unconstructive emotional patterns, you hit the next roadblock. Been feeling restless and irritable lately? Are you unable to come up with ideas for your new project? Do you feel you have been making mistakes too often and seem to lack foresight? Do you feel your life lacks purpose? Do you feel like you’re caught in a rut? You find yourself suffering from chronic headaches, sore eyes, and neurological problems. A lack of insight prevents you from coming with innovative solutions. All your experience, skills, and talent come to a naught when your intuition is blocked. But how do we overcome this really tricky one? Albert Einstein quoted, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” There is no cure better than nature to relax and soothe our senses. Changing our daily routine and introducing new creative tasks makes us feel fresher. Learning a new hobby, working from a different place, or playing a sport, help tremendously in approaching our thoughts from a different angle.
Materialism and attachment
Now that we have dealt with tangible emotions, we come to the trickiest one of them all. Now assume that you don’t have any of the emotions described above. You are fearless, confident, and capable of creative thinking. Yet, you feel something is missing. You have read about spirituality and God, and find most of the stuff to be mumbo jumbo. (By God I don’t mean religion, but the sense of awe we feel about this universe and this world.) Most of things you value are either possessions or people you have full control over. You are so caught up with being in control that you consider yourself separate from others around. An excess of this causes brain toxicity leading to disorders like depression, anxiety, delusions, and other mental ailments. When was the last time you felt overcome and awed by something larger than you? Believing in a higher power makes us humble. “Faith moves mountains”. There is a lot of truth to this. Letting go of materialistic pleasures and attachments, makes us stronger from deep within. This does not mean that we don’t need wealth. What this means is that wealth does not define us.
Coaching and Healing
Tried and tested traditional and ancient healing concepts that were scorned and shrugged off in the last century, are now slowly being re-established and advocated across the world through Yoga, Tai chi, Reiki, Pranic Healing, Ayurveda, and meditation. Despite having different techniques and procedures, all of these have one single fundamental belief. Well-being is all about being healthy at a holistic level that includes physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual level. These holistic theories have one fundamental philosophy. Our thoughts and our feelings have a strong influence in our actions, behaviors, and our immunity against diseases. Our thoughts and feelings have the ability to channelize or disrupt the energy flow within our body. For the skeptics, here’s a very interesting and scientific explanation about this phenomenon. You could also read The Biology of Belief by the excellent Dr. Bruce Lipton.
A few years ago, I went through a bit of upheaval at home and my career that impacted my overall health. Around that time, I turned to coaching and found it a life-changing experience. I also enrolled for Yoga sessions and have been practicing it regularly for more than a year now. Apart from a positive outlook towards life, I have also developed a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for the people around me, and express it on a daily basis through prayers. I feel blessed and content. And my headaches? They do come up once in a while, but overall I feel that I am in control of my health and mind.
Embark on a journey within
Identifying a life coach would be a great starting point to identify and find ways to overcome your stress. Coaching works because you get to look at your unconstructive emotions and roadblocks objectively with someone facilitating the entire exercise and working with you. While your coach would help you in identifying goals and constructing a concrete action plan to help you move forward, you could also consult a Yoga practitioner or a healing therapist to bring your health and well-being in order. Meditation makes a huge difference. Initially it helps to work with an expert who will guide you. Thereafter, you find yourself looking forward to that journey within. Because whatever happens in the external world, you always find answers within yourself.
Note: A few readers have requested that I provide links substantiating the above points. I’ve attempted to list a few useful resources and references.