Stress, as defined in technical terms, refers to any circumstances that threaten or are perceived to threaten one’s well-being and thereby tax one’s coping abilities. Stress majorly influences our lives in the form of hampering our ability to take efficient decisions by sapping our mental energy, creating mental blocks, and in case efforts are not made to relieve one’s mind from stress, it can lead to a burnout situation, complete physical and mental exhaustion. Stress can either be caused due to major life events like transferring of place of residence/schools etc or some chronic illness, death of a loved one. Apart from these big events that may occur once or twice in a person’s life, instances of stressful situations also abound the everyday life. Traffic snarls, arguments with friends or family, deadlines, financial pressures, all add up to stress in a person’s life. Although it may be widely held that stress is caused only due to such events which have a negative connotation, but in fact, a lot of positive events like marriage, birth of a baby, travelling also bring with itself challenges which may result in the feelings of stress.
In addition to it, the modern life presents us with some new set of challenges and causes of stress which are unprecedented. The heavy dependence on gadgets and technology has started to replace the need to socialise with people in real time, however, this has led to weakening of social relations and with the lack of a healthy social support, people find themselves more susceptible to feeling of loneliness and stress. Also, in this age where we all are addicted to social media, there comes a lot of additional pressures. Seeing the filtered moments of people’s lives, where everyone posts about the highlights of their lives, puts us in a pressure to also present the best versions of ourselves. However, more often than not, comparing our everyday lives with someone else’s best moments creates unattainable standards of success/happiness in life, often leading to feelings of stress and an associated sense of inadequacy and lack of self-worth. In today’s capitalist economy, one is constantly bombarded with the feelings that gaining materialistic possessions will lead to feeling of satisfaction and consequently happiness. There are industries, like beauty industry, which profits off one’s feelings of insecurity and the media and advertisements constantly send us these messages.
The causes of stress may also vary from culture to culture. In the Indian culture, for example, excessive violence against women and related threats are one of the biggest sources of anxiety and stress for women. There goes meticulous planning into what to wear, where to go, when to go and other such tasks which may seem mundane to a man. There is a constant fear at the back of the mind in every woman which is the source of extreme levels of stress.
Similarly, in a country like India, where other marginalized groups are also in a constant lookout for threats and danger, there is an added stress in the form of ensuring safety of one’s own life. Unhealthy competition in schools and workplaces are normalized to an extent where in an attempt to outshine others, people neglect their mental health and the excessive burden to outdo others is so much so that it may be expressed cumulatively in a form of a complete breakdown. To deal with these stressors, people these days usually resort to an escapist route of depending on momentary pleasures like smoking, drinking, drug-abuse. This further depletes a person’s mental resources to deal with the problems and puts them in a vicious cycle.
Apart from these environmental factors, one’s personality also plays a major role in determining the extent to which one experiences stress. People who are perfectionists, overly-critical of themselves, have poor sense of time management or are procrastinators are more prone to stress. The effects of stress are serious, ranging from physical symptoms like muscular tensions, digestive disorders, emotional symptoms like irritability, anger to psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, increase in isolation.
However, apart from these negative effects, when it is properly managed, stress can also have a good side. Indeed, it can be useful to increase one’s concentration, it contributes to creativity, increases productivity and helps develop new skills. But for that, one must learn to control it and better manage it.
Thus, it is important to find an antidote for this ‘illness’ of stress which has diseased every other person in today’s modern world. One way to deal with it to cultivate mindfulness by focussing our mind on the cause of stress and trying to reach the root of it. Only once we know what triggers us is when we are able to actively work towards eliminating the root of the problem. This can be done through engaging in meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, or any other spiritual activity. Especially in today’s time when people are lacking a strong foundation in life which makes them succumb to feelings of stress and hopelessness, it is all the more important to have a spiritual anchor. Along with knowing the root cause of stress, it is also important that the built up tension in mind gets an outlet for healthy expression. One can write a journal, move their body (In the form of dance, exercise etc), draw or paint so that the energy is not expressed in a form of anger or irritability, rather, in a creative way. It is equally important to prioritize your mental health and not thrive on performance, competition and perfection and to remind oneself that our worth is not determined by our productivity. In case one is not able to function in a normal way for a prolonged period of time, it is important that we do not shy away from seeking help from a therapist or health professional.
However, it is equally important to not ignore our responsibilities, strive for balanced time allocation between work and break, and try not to procrastinate. One must also spend considerable effort in building a healthy and positive social network.