Calculate your score for the following questionnaire:
l Feel tired or fatigued even after taking adequate sleep?
l Experience frequent mood swings?
l Face difficulty in taking decisions?
l Face problem in concentration and remembering important things?
l Experience headache, stomach disorders, and restlessness?
l Fall short of time often and have to rush to get the job completed?
l Unable to perform tasks well?
l Observe changes in appetite– desire to binge or loss of appetite?
l Lack the zeal and spirit to deal with the situations in life?
l Even trifle matters annoy you or make you upset?
Today's fast-running life has unfortunately magnified the scores of such questionnaires, thus labelling the present age as the age of stress and anxiety. According to the American Institute of Stress, 75% to 90% of visits made by the people to primary care physicians are due to stress. In America, 78% men are stressed about money, 55% about job stability, 58% about housing costs and 63% for the health problems affecting their families. It is estimated that in the UK, over 13 million working days are lost every year because of stress. In fact, such a shocking state of statistics is prevalent in almost every part of the world today and for all age groups, be it the youth, the middle-aged or the old. These stress statistics undoubtedly present before us a distressed and diseased state of the world.
Someone has rightly distinguished between health and disease by calling 'health' as the phase of life characterised by successful adjustment with the circumstances, while 'disease' being the phase of failure in establishing this harmony. In other words, it's all dependent upon how well a person tunes himself to the challenges and pressures surrounding him. If he is able to work out a successful adjustment for himself, he is said to be healthy, else diseased (or stressed in specific). It is due to this absence of tuning today that we see more and more people falling into the abyss of stress.
The Oxford dictionary defines stress as a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. It is a pressure or tension that has the tendency to cause deformation or damage not only on the outside but also inside, in the form of disruption of the equilibrium state of the body's bio-chemical setup. The biochemical processes taking place inside the body strive to maintain a state of equilibrium called homeostasis. However, stress is the condition that tends to disturb this equilibrium. The moment the setup is thrown out of balance, an instinctive reflex action comes into play in the form of fight or flight mechanism. It's essentially a series of nervous system firings, which release stress hormones in the body. Let's understand it from the perspective of the functioning of an individual's physiological mechanism.
A particular branch of the nervous system is called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which is responsible for many functions in the body that occur “automatically”. These include digestion, blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate. ANS is divided into two parts– the sympathetic and the parasympathetic autonomic nervous systems. When a person faces a stressful situation, the state of equilibrium gets disrupted and the sympathetic nervous system puts him into a state of arousal through fight or flight mode. It triggers this action in order to help him deal with the stressor in a better way. Then the parasympathetic system steps in and tries to calm him down, thus restoring the state of balance and relaxation.
A person lands up in trouble when the stressors go on throwing attacks on him one after the other. This results in frequent triggering of the sympathetic nervous system, which is in 'always on' mode as compared to the parasympathetic nervous system, which doesn't get time and opportunity to restore the balance. The frequent triggering of sympathetic nervous system means that a person repeatedly jumps into fight or flight mode, thereby becoming more aggressive and impatient in responding to the situations. Moreover, frequent disturbances in the state of equilibrium cast an impact on the immune system of the person, thus making him more susceptible to virus attacks and infections. Studies have shown that the hormones released on experiencing stress reduce the rate of neurogenesis– a mechanism of the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus. These new neurons play an important role in absorbing the impact of stress. A study led by Heather Cameron was reported in the journal Nature. In this study, the scientists interrupted neurogenesis in mice and then observed their response to stress. It was found that the level of the corticosterone hormone was elevated, which meant a downfall in their ability to recover from stress.
Experiments reveal that a body's response to a stressful condition consists of three stages, together known as General Adaptation Syndrome (See fig.1).
In the alarm stage, the adrenaline upsurge triggers the fight or flight response in an individual. If the situation persists, the individual remains perpetually aroused, with blood still having elevated levels of glucose. The depletion of inner energy resources of the body continues. The exhaustion stage finally brings a person to a state where all his resources are exhausted and his bodily functions become unable to maintain normal course of action anymore.
Today, lot many remedial measures are being adopted to cope with the problem of stress and anxiety. These include medication, therapies, exercises, along with the offer of other defence mechanisms like rationalisation, passive aggression, etc. However, the stress index still shows a continuous increase. Or, in other words, the happiness index yet fails to show a substantial rise in response to the measures adopted today. It seems as if we are playing the game of snakes and ladders in the name of dealing with stress. The hits and trials made at times make us climb a ladder and take us to a seemingly better state. But, soon the effect gets diminished and the person falls back to square one. The moot question, therefore, is: 'How to relieve or save oneself from the trap of the stress monster?'
To understand the answer to this question, consider a spider web. A spider sits in the centre and keeps on weaving a web around it. Now, if someone pricks the web or even ruptures it, the problem remains unsolved. Reason being, the root cause is still alive and remains unharmed by any number of attacks on the web. The attack needs to be targeted at the core, where the spider sits; because, once the spider is killed, the web ceases to exist forever. Likewise, the web of stressors in which we often get trapped, keep troubling us despite our sincere attempts to overcome them. In order to seek a permanent relief from this painful trap, we need to launch an attack at the core, i.e. the mind. It is because all our actions and reactions are carried out under the commands of our mind, which itself is unstable or lacks wisdom. Whether a particular situation is seen as a stressor or a challenge to be won– all depends on our mind. It is essential to snatch the decision-making power from the unstable mind and give the charge to the enlightened soul. An awakened soul is the storehouse of wisdom. Every thought, before being manifested in the form of action, when filtered through wisdom gets rectified and purified. In this manner, the incoming signals from any stressor undergo a complete flip-over on coming in contact with the divine rays of the soul and are perceived judiciously. Hence, a person opts neither for the fight mode nor the flight mode; instead he chooses for himself the wise mode of action which saves him from getting trapped in the labyrinth of stress and anxiety.
Besides being a preventive measure from getting attacked by the malady of stress, soul's awakening also works as a powerful remedy for those who have unfortunately got slipped into the stress-trap. A well-known example comes from the age-old stress management book– the Holy Gita. Arjuna was a great warrior. However, on seeing his near and dear ones as his rivals on the opposite side in the battlefield, all his strength and vigour got vaporised in a flash and he was doomed in stress. At that time, Lord Krishna took Arjuna through extensive counselling sessions and procedures such as behavioural and cognitive therapies, as termed by the modern day psychology. But, no appreciable outcome was observed. Results were seen only when the Lord imparted the ultimate and time-proven technique to Arjuna. He initiated Arjuna into the eternal science of self-realisation, where after Arjuna realised his true nature and potential to deal with the challenging situations in life. The same Arjuna, who had met with a severe state of stress, was set free from its terrible clutches on becoming self-attuned. Today, the Bhagavad Gita is referred to as the ultimate guide for stress management. It clearly highlights the crucial need to seek refuge of a Perfect Master and attain the practical technique of Self-realisation from him. It is because a Perfect Spiritual Master alone is entitled to bestow this ultimate panacea upon the seekers and inquisitives and save them from the maladies like stress and depression. That's why, he is said to be the Supreme Psychologist, the Supreme Therapist, and the Supreme Doctor of the times.
This ultimate remedy works wonders for an individual as it brings a complete revolution in his mindset and his perception for the situations confronting him. Thereafter, whenever a challenge or obstacle comes in his way, he crosses it with full vigour and vitality, just like the military people do when they undergo their trainings. Obstacle trainings form an essential part of stressful fields like military, army, police, etc. Each obstacle poses a stressful challenge to the trainee. And, crossing the obstacles or crushing them marks his victory, which certainly gives a strong boost to his confidence and enthusiasm. The succeeding phases of trainings bring to him still bigger and tougher challenges/obstacles. But, the trainee does not perceive those bigger obstacles as a threat to his potential; rather, to deal with them, he braces himself up with even bigger levels of energy and vitality. We need to adopt the similar approach when confronted with challenges and hurdles. On seeing the stressors coming your way in the form of obstacles, you don't have to surrender before them or become stressed. Face them with a spirit and cross them or crush them forever, and maintain this zeal till your training to become a perfect warrior is accomplished. Remember, carbon turns into a sparkling diamond only after facing the heat and pressure for years together without giving up. Likewise, by knowing the correct technique, you can turn the heat of challenges and pressures of deadlines and targets in your favour, making you strong and brilliantly shining like diamonds instead of crushing you.
Once a disciple asked his Master, “O Master, how many moons does it take to light up the earthly night sky?”
The Master replied– "One".
Disciple: O Master, how many moons does it take to light up the Mars' night sky?
Disciple: O Master, how many moons does it take to light up the Saturn' night sky?
Disciple: O Master, how many moons does it take to light up the solar night?
Master: None, because there are no nights there!
So, why not be like the Sun (which signifies the effulgent Self), where no single trace of darkness of stress exists! The very term loses its existence. Then, no trifling moons of antidepressants or counselling or therapies are needed and one basks in the brilliance of the divine rays of enlightened soul.