Solutions for tackling stress, the biggest killer today, are not without but within. It is not the situation per se which creates stress but our response to it. There are some very simple concepts which, if internalised, can help us move from the stressful to the stress-free state.
The last century is supposed to have seen tremendous advances in medical science - from heart transplant to cloning - the discoveries seem straight from the pages of science fiction. But if we take a holistic look, has medical science really advanced?
"Medical science has very effectively succeeded in getting rid of certain epidemics but others have appeared in their place. We no longer have polio, small pox and malaria, but we do have cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, degenerative disorders, AIDS, drug addiction and alcoholism," says David Simon in his best-seller "Wisdom of Healing".
Thus medical science seems to be taking one step forward and one and a half step backwards.
Please don't misunderstand me, I am not indulging in a critique of medical science - a truly noble profession. What I am trying to hint at is that somewhere in the process of curing the body, it has lost touch with the equally, if not more important, task of healing the mind.
If I ask you which is the biggest killer today I am sure you will say AIDS or heart disease or diabetes or even drug addiction - you will be right. But then you will be talking about the effects not the cause. The real causes are a stressed out mind, a shrinking soul, and a love-starved heart. These are the root causes of most, if not all diseases. I know this sounds simplistic but if you pause and ponder I am confident you will come to the same conclusion.
Today stress has been widely acknowledged as the biggest killer. It is also a great equaliser - it doesn't distinguish between the bold and the beautiful or the simple and the sensible, the men in black or the woman in red, the housewife or the executive, the student or the teacher, the doctor or the patient. Mister stress like Keats' La Bella Dame Sans Merci has everyone in his thrall. Millions of words are being written on stress. Seminars, conferences and workshops are being held across the globe on how to combat Mister Stress. And yet there seems no David ready to take on the Goliath of Stress.
I firmly believe that solutions to tackling stress are not without but within. It is not the situation per se which creates stress but our response to it. "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us," says Oliver Wendell Holmes.
There are some very simple concepts which, if internalised, can help us move from the stressful to the stress-free state.
Art of Acceptance
There are many situations in life you cannot change so it is best to accept them. For instance if you meet with an accident and are bed ridden for a month you have two choices. Either you can complain, crib, rave and rant and make your life as well as the lives of everyone around you miserable. Or you can accept the situation and embark on a speedier and a far more comfortable journey towards recovery.
Many a time we are hell bent on changing the people around us.
"I am a perfectionist. My husband/wife is so careless. Why can't he/she be like me? You keep thinking and try your best to change the person. In that process you create tension for yourself as well as for those around you. You forget that just as you want to change, modify some quality in your spouse, he/ she might want to do the same. Our efforts to change meet with little success and naturally the frustration grows. We feel stressed out. This doesn’t mean that we should worship the status quo. We should know what we can change and what we can't. The Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr, adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous sums up the difference beautifully:
God grant me the serenity to
Accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Art of being Non-Judgemental
Often when dealing with people we jump too quickly to conclusions and pass hasty judgements leading to all round misery. Usually we are in the habit of analysing each mistake committed and coming up with the results we were originally looking for.
For instance if my junior colleague delays the submission of a report, often your first reaction would be: "Just because I refused to give him leave, he has gone and delayed the report to take spite on me."
If your child breaks your favourite flower vase, you immediately pass judgement, "I didn't let him watch his favourite TV programme so he smashed the vase.
The reasons for the delayed submission or the breaking of the vase might be perfectly legitimate, but as far as we are concerned there action have been done to take revenge or hit back at us. As a result of this thinking we nurture prejudices and create stress within ourselves as well as others.
We should pause and reflect. If the same thing were done to us would we like it? If our smallest errors were placed under the microscope, enlarged and analysed, if judgement was passed on the smallest of our actions and the sentence passed without a trial? Would we tolerate? I am sure we wouldn't. We would hit back, with equal if not greater vehemence.
So the best thing is to accept the action for what it is without getting judgmental.
We should keep in mind these immortal words of Mother Teresa, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Art of Living in the Here and Now
Another reason for increasing stress is that we have forgotten to live in the present moment. Sri Sri Ravishankar, founder of Art of Living says there are two causes of unhappiness - regret over the past and the apprehension about the future. How true! How many times have we not wondered - if only I had married some one else, why did I not accept the other job, if only I had taken my exams more seriously or what if I don’t get selected in the interview, suppose I don't get the bank loan, what if my child does not get into engineering, etc. etc.
Thus our mind is always vacillating between the past and the future. We are either crying over spilt milk or trying to cross the bridge before we come to it. By unnecessarily breaking our heads over what has already happened and fretting over what is likely to happen we spoil the present. Today’s moment is sacrificed at the altar of yesterday’s regret and tomorrow’s anxiety.
One of the best ways of fighting anxiety and stress is to accept that the present is inevitable. We have to live in the present moment to the fullest and give our hundred percent to whatever we are doing.
This might appear impossible but it isn’t really all that difficult. If we carefully look at a four year old child we can learn a lot about living in the present. She is giving her hundred per cent to whatever activity she is indulging in. She is not bothered about whether someone is watching her or laughing at her, she is not concerned about what she has done a few minutes earlier or what she is going to do moments later. She is existing only in the Here and Now. We should all strive to adopt the natural, unselfconscious behaviour of the child and live life in the present moment. We should keep forever in mind these simple, yet powerful, words of Bill Keane, “Yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future, but today is a GIFT. That is why it is called the present.”
Finally it is entirely up to us what we want to do with ourselves. Whether we want to lead a stressful, tension ridden, angst filled existence or a clam, stress free, joyful life. The choice is ours. As Henry David Thoreau says, "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavour."
We can and we should strive to elevate our lives and move from the state of existence to the realm of true living.