Stress can be defined as a form of tension or strain in the body or the mind for which there is no release or outlet. When under stress, one is like a car in the neutral gear with the accelerator on, trying to exert internally, but unable to do so.
Stress is not something that affects us from outside. It is not something acquired only by some unfortunate individuals. It is an integral part of the physical and mental system in each of us. We all have inherited it during the course of evolution. It is an essential, rather a vital, ingredient for the normal functioning of the body and, hence, inescapable. It helps us in our survival on a sustained basis.
Nevertheless, when left unchecked and uncontrolled, it eats into our psyche and erodes our immune system, almost like AIDS. It acts as a silent killer and is a catalyst for several diseases.
Over a period of time, the negative effects of stress make us weak and vulnerable, and leave us an easy prey for all sorts of physical and psychological problems. It has been conclusively proved that stress is one of the biggest threats to our physical and mental health.
As civilisations progress, complications and concomitant tensions inevitably increase, and will increase in future also. Stress cannot be avoided but, yes, it can be managed in a way that it does not become a source of trouble.
In order to understand how the stress factor came into being and became a part of our psychosomatic system, it is necessary to briefly understand the process of evolution of man. In this book, I will first discuss how the stress factor came into human life.
Once we have understood how stress has come into being as an integral part of our system, we will examine its perceptible symptoms. Then we will see how it affects our health. Thereafter, we will discuss the 4-Lane Path to manage our stress.
In the final chapter, we will discuss how to remain happy.
Earlier, we had discussed how the development of a complex body system was closely followed by the development of the central nervous system, which finally culminated in the development of the brain. The brain was an organ of the body, which evolved over a period of time so that the body was in a better position for survival.
Like any other body organ, the brain was not supposed to have an independent existence. But in the case of the highly developed brains of human beings, that is precisely what has happened: The brain has become the controller and master of the body. It can think on its own, and often makes the body act as it wants. The brain s power over the body has gone a bit too far, sometimes more than what is good for the body itself.
The problem is that the instinct for survival is so overwhelming in the human brain that it blows any threat percept totally out of proportion. The brain exaggerates problems and dwells over them for far too long than is necessary. The faculty of creativity in the human mind often clouds reality as well as rationality. Thus, reception of the signal of threat and pain itself becomes a major problem rather than an indicator of the problem.
When we are under tension due to any problem, the worst thing that we can do is to continuously worry about the problem. This is most harmful. The dread of fearsome but imaginary consequences so completely overwhelms us that we are neither able to analyse the exact magnitude of the problem, nor take rational decisions to overcome it. We keep thinking only about the problem and not about the solutions!
On the other hand, sometimes we begin avoiding the problem. We do not want to face the problem, and so do not want to even think about it, as if by ignoring it we will be able to avoid it. We start denying the very existence of the problem. By constant autosuggestion, we succeed in convincing ourselves that the problem does not exist. Unfortunately, such self-denial does not help because we have the problem at the back of our mind and keep worrying about it subconsciously.
Since our thoughts in such a situation have no proper direction, nor an action plan, we remain vague about the problem and bereft of a solution. This not only adds to our stress, but also seriously limits our capability to effectively deal with our problem(s).
What is required is that our thinking and outlook change from negative to positive. The most fundamental purpose of pursuing the Lane of Intellect in stress management is to:
Shift your focus from problems to solutions!
This path is to be followed by way of doing an intellectual exercise. Do this exercise by writing the various steps on paper. Why is writing it essential? Because only by thinking about it we cannot do this exercise. We are so overwhelmed by the emotions generated by our problems that we are never dispassionate about things that are likely to affect us. Hence, we fail to be rational in analysing our own problems. And the human mind is so creative that we are able to imagine problems that do not exist at all. However, when we start writing all that we think and feel, we are able to think more clearly and rationally. Writing helps in crystallising our own thoughts. Only then can we segregate the factual from the imaginary, the material from the emotional.
When you do this exercise for the first time, I recommend that you take the help of a friend. It may be difficult to do it alone. A friend can tender good advice, guide you in pinpointing the relevant issues, keep you focussed, and help you with good solutions, which you may not be able to think of yourself due to your mental commotion. In any case, a partner always acts as a sounding board. He echoes your own words, so that you listen to what you are saying. This helps in clearing your own thoughts.
However, it must be ensured that the friend should not be emotionally attached to you or your problem, because this has to be a cold intellectual exercise that you do, as if the problem that you are going to analyse is not your problem but someone else s.
Rather, treat this as a theoretical or hypothetical problem. For this reason, your spouse may not be the best person to be associated with in this exercise, as s/he would never be able to think dispassionately about your problems.
Step 1: Analyse the Nature of Your Stress
o Is the problem emotional or material?
o Is the problem conceptual or physical?
Remember, some of the biggest problems of our life are merely emotional in nature. Major conflicts and devastating wars that have taken place in this world have been fought for conceptual reasons, not material reasons. Alexander the Great left Macedonia to conquer the world, not because there was any shortage of food in his country, but because he had a concept in his mind to be the conqueror of the world.
Why are there so many wars, bloodshed and conflicts because of religion? Has god told anyone to fight for his cause? Would god need human beings to fight for his cause? Is any god so weak and ineffective that he needs men to defend him? Has god told anyone to do such things on his behalf? Why do certain religions, even while saying that all are children of god, still believe in converting people to their own religion? Do they feel that god will be happy only if people have the stamp of a particular religion? Do they mean to say that their god is prejudiced and unfair? Are there many gods fighting for supremacy over earth?
These are very difficult and embarrassing questions that no one would like to answer. There can be no rational answers to these questions. The standard answer is that these are matters of trust and faith. (Hence, the term non-believer.) In fact, these are matters of concept or imagination. Religion is a concept, a thought. Yet, today it is the cause of many of the world s problems. Someone else not believing in the type of god you have been conditioned to believe in is an uncomfortable (life-threatening) situation! Hence the religious conflicts!
If someone deprives you of your money or causes you bodily harm, then it is a material problem. Something leading you to starvation, loss of shelter or clothing is a material problem.
But someone not showing respect to you, not appreciating your achievement, not accepting your point of view, not loving you such situations are emotional in nature. Should we call them problems at all?
You feel comfortable in certain situations (the ones that are favourable to your survival) and uncomfortable in certain other situations (those that you perceive as threatening your survival). Therefore, you want situations to be comfortable to your existence. That is your concept. So, if the situation turns out to be otherwise, which is not to your liking, your survival instinct treats it as a life-threatening situation, and triggers stress. Even the most minor and harmless changes in the situation, which may have no actual element of threat, can also be categorised as a threat by our survival instinct.
Unfortunately, the survival instinct does not easily treat situations as neutral situations. It is always either for or against you.
Whereas material problems have a solution (the hungry man simply needs food), conceptual problems have no rational and amicable solutions, because you cannot reason out a solution to a problem that has its origins based not on reason but on imagination.
Conflicts created out of imagination
cannot be solved by reason, unless
you realise that the nature of
the problem is conceptual, not material.
In emotional or conceptual conflicts, one party always wants the other party to surrender their concept in favour of the former s concept (accept my god and give up your god!). Since there is no control over imagination, there are no solutions to conceptual conflicts, like those related to religion.
When you are beset with tension, first analyse the nature of your problem. Once you have come to the answer to this first question, regarding whether the problem has any material basis or is only conceptual in nature, you will yourself come to the conclusion about how much significance it deserves. You will realise whether the problem is only in your mind, or it has a solid basis.
One is not saying that emotions do not matter. They do matter. Situations that attack our sense of pride, love, affection, justice, status, ego and the like do matter in life. Acknowledge these emotions, do not deny them, but always analyse them. The question is not whether it is an emotional issue or not. The question is, to what extent would you like such emotional issues to affect your life.
Later in this book, we will discuss in more detail how to manage our emotions. Here, suffice it to say that you should be very clear in your own mind about the nature of your problem, while doing this exercise. Then you have to ask yourself the following question:
Do you want emotions and imaginary concepts to spoil your health, affect your working and deprive you of your happiness?
Be your friend:
Do not let imaginary and emotional issues
spoil your life.
Emotions like anger, envy and vengeance, thoughts about settling scores and the like are the root cause of all your problems and unhappiness. Emotional problems often lead to real material problems also. Would you like imaginary problems to turn into real problems? The answer depends on whether you are being your own friend or your own enemy. If you let your own thinking cause you grief and stress, then you are not being your friend.
Step II: Analyse the Precise Cause of Your Stress
refer page no. 55
Step III: Write Down the Consequences
refer page no. 55-57.
Step IV: Look for Solutions
refer page no. 57
Improve Your Luck Through Work and Friends
Ultimately, it is your own hard work and the friends that you have made in your life that will help you solve your problems. Albert Einstein said that success is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. If you work hard, with proper thoughtful direction, and develop a fair circle of right-minded friends, you would be indirectly improving your own luck. These are matters of attitude. The inclination to work hard is a matter of attitude, not intelligence.
The habit of cultivating a circle of good friends is also a matter of attitude. Ultimately, success depends more on attitudes than on talent or intelligence. Talent and intelligence are potentials for success. It is attitude that turns this potential into success. And attitudes can be developed by constant self-appraisal and conscious efforts. The exercise suggested in this chapter helps you in your self-appraisal.