Stress Rampant in India: A wake-up call for action

By Dr. Manoj Sharma-

Dr. Manoj Sharma

Dr. Sharma is a Professor and Chair of the Social and Behavioral Health Department and an Adjunct Professor in Internal Medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). He is a global expert in health promotion.

Last year a study done by a major insurance company in India, ICICI Lombard General Insurance, reported that 77% of Indians are experiencing at least one symptom of stress regularly. World Health Organization defines stress as, “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.” In simpler terms, stress is how our body, mind, and behaviors respond to outside events by interpreting them, and making judgments about controlling or influencing them.

If these responses are negative, then harmful effects can occur. Indians are experiencing a lot of stress but what are the reasons?   Let us look at it from an Indian philosophical perspective. According to Samkhya yoga, the cause of stress is avidya, or a faulty interpretation of reality, that results from:

  • Asmita or incorrect appraisal of one’s body or mind’s abilities.
  • Raga or incorrect outcome appraisal due to attachment to the objects.
  • Dvesha or incorrect appraisal of how much one dislikes the outcomes.
  • Abhnivesha or fear of death.

While this philosophical perspective is age-old, what does it mean at the ground level in contemporary times?  With the growing advent of social media, people are comparing themselves more often with others and are being more critical of themselves. One is not satisfied with what one has and is looking at other people’s possessions or achievements and wanting them. There comes an incorrect appraisal of one’s body or mind’s abilities. People are becoming more materialistic than ever before and that is giving rise to raga (likes) and dvesha (dislikes) which is adding to the stress. In the Indian culture, which used to be karma-oriented where life after death was more important and people used to do good karma to prevent narak, the Western influence has made focus on living life king-size no matter what the means one uses or what price one must pay. Such a lifestyle is also adding to the stress.

Whatever may be the cause of stress, wisdom lies in finding solutions and managing stress. So, what can one do? Research has identified two primary modalities of dealing with stress: (1) emotion-focused coping in which the body and mind are made calm through techniques such as meditation, relaxation, social support, hobbies, creative activities, etc. and (2) problem-focused coping in which the mind is used to alter thinking and particularly controllability of stressors with techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy, rational emotive therapy, learned optimism, introspection in yoga, etc.

For emotion-focused coping, meditation can be done on the breath, on a syllable like Aum or Amen, and so on. It can also be done on a mantra or at various points in or outside the body. Relaxation can be done by shava asana (corpse pose), progressive muscle relation, or visual imagery, or other such techniques. Social support can be obtained from friends and family by sharing what is bothering oneself. It is important to have some people in your network with whom you can share your feelings without getting judged. Hobbies and creative activities are also very important as stress busters.

For problem-focused coping, cognitive-behavioral therapy entails replacing negative thoughts with positive ones and focusing on the present. Rational emotive therapy involves disputing the irrational thinking process. We all fall into the trap of awfulizing or catastrophic thinking or thinking about extreme outcomes.  All this is irrational and must be replaced with a moderate assessment of badness, statements of tolerance, acceptance of fallibility, and avoidance of extreme terms. It has been summarized as the ABCDE technique: A=Activating system identification (stressor), B= Belief system identification (irrational ones), C=Consequences (thinking about outcomes of engaging in irrational beliefs), D=Dispute irrational beliefs, and E=Effects (enjoying the benefits). In learned optimism, we must (1) think of problems as temporary and optimism as permanent, (2) failures as specific rather than general, and (3) not blame oneself for failures but attribute them to circumstances. Introspection in yoga entails classifying worries into those to be faced, those to be tackled immediately, those to be deferred for dealing with later, and those to be ignored.

To sum up, it is the individual responsibility of everyone to identify what is causing them stress and take preemptive measures to reduce it. There are various methods available, and one can choose one or more of those to enjoy a fulfilling and stress-free life.




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