B S Raghavan

Is there anything called stress?

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on December 27, 2012

Angela Patmore became famous some years ago by writing a book The Truth about Stress by debunking all talk of stress. Her theme was that “stress phobia” was deliberately whipped up by the “stress management industry” as a means of minting money.

She called it a “deluded condition” into which millions of workers, office-goers and householders round the world were unnecessarily pushed to bloat the stress industry’s bottom line or to enable quacks and godmen to get away with touting their nostrums and mantras.

According to her, stress was poorly defined, and the marketing methods of services to manage it were often dubious, especially when there was nothing there to manage. In short, stress and stress management were bogeys par excellence.

There is undeniably a school of thought which holds that stress is entirely self-inflicted in the sense of being the result of one being all the time conscious of it.

One can always find ways of working oneself up if one was determined to do so. Strange as it may seem, there are people in our midst who find great pleasure in wallowing in synthetic misery and self-pity.

Is stress, then, to be dismissed as the figment of a morbid imagination? By implication, is it something, if it is anything, that will go away if we do not make the mistake of thinking that it is there?

GOOD FOR HEALTH

Again, there are millions who will answer that stress is real and will point to umpteen research papers to prove its connection with disorders of the brain, mind, heart and what have you. For them, every place and every function is a source of stress: Home, office, hotel, hospital, airport, rail station, buying, selling. The state of anticipating some thing — travel, marriage, meeting — even when everything is going smoothly is for them the most stressful of all.

Among those who say stress is real are also those who claim that it is actually good for your health. For them, adrenalin is the essence of life, and relaxation atrophies one’s faculties and reflexes. That is the foundation of the doctrine or dogma called eustress.

Management theorists have propounded the concept of “stretch targets”, “pressure cooker” mind, and so on to establish the proposition that solutions to problems become easier to find when the time given to come up with them is less than what it normally takes. That helps one not to get into the pitfalls of “paralysis by analysis” and “activity without action”.

One of the common assumptions is that higher level executives are apt to end up as victims of chronic stress. But no, the opposite, says a paper titled “Leadership Is Associated with Lower Levels of Stress”. (It is part of the proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences and quoted in the Strategy+Business web site.)

“STRESS STOPPERS”

The finding, based on two experiments — one of leaders with non-leaders and the other among leaders of various levels of responsibilities — is that “despite the heightened responsibilities and time demands associated with leadership, managers who oversee other employees experience less stress — as measured by biological and psychological tests — than lower-level workers. And the more power and control leaders have, relative to managers farther down the corporate hierarchy, the less anxiety they feel.”

There are innumerable seminars and workshops conducted, and books published, on stress management techniques. The American Heart Association has formulated the following “stress stoppers”: Count 10 before speaking; take five deep breaths; walk away from likely stress situations; go for a walk; say “sorry” if you made a mistake; set the watch 10 minutes ahead and arrive earlier than the time given; do one thing at a time; drive slow and avoid congested roads; smell a rose, hug a loved one and smile at whomever you see.

I like hugging as the best of the lot. For two cents worth, I may add my own prescriptions as well: Do that task first which you feel like postponing; do not evade, avoid, or escape from, what you consider unpleasant, go for it with supreme confidence in yourself; take time by the forelock — early rising, say, at 4 a.m., ( Brahma muhurtham — Hour of the Gods) as Mahatma Gandhi did, helps you to attend to demands on you in a cool, calm, collected, focused manner without any sort of disturbance or tension.

Published on December 27, 2012

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