Feature: Listen to the Poet
As new forms of stress keep mutating, it really is time to press the pause button.
So. Listen to the poet.
Which poet, you ask? Why, the one who asked us to stop and smell the roses. To which, we shrug and say, “All very well, but who has the time?” Or we smile in assent and then plunge straight back into that carousel we call life, the one th at goes round and round and never stops.
Today’s stresses come in entirely new forms, linked to gadgets such as the Net, blogs galore, newsgroups we all belong to whether we have the time or not, the Blackberry, the notebook computer, the i-pod in its latest avatars and new cars with dashboards like an aircraft’s.
To manoeuvre our way around them, we need to jog hard just to stay in place. It’s a hard life; even as we get used to the stresses of yore, and almost feel nostalgic about them, along comes a whole new set of new ones, which we have to negotiate without a reckoner.
However, the baseline remains the same: stress is stress. Dangerous for the body, dangerous for the mind, putting us on the fast track to ailments and maladies. We need to bust stress speedily, rout it completely or at the very least, keep it well under check.
In the US, they have already coined a term for this generation’s harried denizens: stress junkies. Which presumes that we are somehow addicted to and getting our kicks from stress. This is hard to credit but nevertheless, true.
We take on much more than we can handle, then collapse mid-way. We insist on doing things just so and then get into a flap about that ‘just so.’ We are so used to being on the quick-moving treadmill that we don’t know how to get off or worse, what to do once we get off.
Adrenaline, compulsive anxiety, the wheel of life, experts categorise all this as stress. With accomplishment, success and progress, comes stress.
And to top it all, now psychologists have found that we are in competition with ourselves, forever driving ourselves to do better, aim higher, become Top Gun and stay Top Gun, whatever it costs.
We are so busy staying connected that we don’t realise we have actually become wired the wrong way. So we are on the PC all the time. We need to stay in the information loop so we read at least three newspapers in the morning and four during the week. Being busy is feeling important about ourselves and we think stress is a small price to pay for that.
Except, it isn’t. Stress in small doses can actually help an individual. It can motivate, energise and propel one. But stress in unadulterated doses leads to a pounding heart, accelerated breathing and the human body is just not made to sustain that kind of adrenaline rush for long.
Not without something giving. What usually gives is our health: we find it increasingly difficult to remember things, to concentrate, to sleep well, to perform our tasks efficiently; our bodies ache, we tire easily, fat accumulates in our abdomen (now we know where stress settles!) and our immune system becomes weakened.
We need a plan to tackle stress. We need to breathe slower, deeper, better, for which pranayama is wonderful.
We need to move at a measured pace instead of rushing around. We need to stop being so compulsive about most things, be it checking e-mail six time a day, wiping down the kitchen counter every hour, make three trips to the grocers when one — with a list — should do. We also need to turn down what we just can’t handle…learn to start saying ‘no,’ in fact.
Stress makes us eat more, so we need to keep a check on what we ingest. When stressed, we should take time out to do something relaxing — like spending a few happy minutes with the dog, taking a leisurely bath, maybe reading the gossip pages of a film magazine.
Some people chant for a while, some meditate, others sing out loud, still others call up a good friend and vent. Whatever works for you, you just need to do it to stave off stress.
This ran in THE HINDU of 27 Jan 2008.