The phrase ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ may just have a deeper meaning than one would think.
Work-related stress has been a pressing issue for decades and, surprisingly, not many people really make an effort towards addressing the matter.
A survey conducted by Cigna TTK Health Insurance this year indicated that 79 per cent Indians do not feel the need to or feel comfortable talking to a medical professional about stress.
Stress levels are high in India compared with other developed and emerging countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, France, China, Brazil and Indonesia, according to the 2018 Cigna 360° Well-Being survey.
About 89 per cent population in India admitted that they are suffering from stress compared to the global average of 86 per cent. It appears alarming that the majority of those respondents were millennials.
How to know you are stressed?
Most respondents in the Cigna TTK Health Insurance survey believed work and finances to be their source of constant worry.
But there are many sources of stress – small or big – sometimes you may not even understand the cause of stress.
“In urban professional life, whether employed or self-employed, there are external and internal sources of stress. External sources include family dynamics, parenting struggles, relationship stress, financial security, commuting, deadline pressure, information overload, sub-optimal health, office politics,” explains R Anand, author of recently published book “Happiness at work” and senior vice president (human resources) at HCL Technologies.
Some internal sources of stress are - fear of harm to self, fear of harm to near and dear ones, fear of falling short, feeling excluded, being bullied, subjected to unwanted attention, bitterness and regret about the past.
Our internal modes are a product of our early history and the first map we made of our self and the world, Anand says.
“We tend to stick to this map and see everything in its light. This is an understandable shortcut and instinct when we were helpless and desperate children needing other people to survive. However, we carry this baggage too long after the rationale for it has perished.”
“These biases are unconscious to us. Our helpless selves had buried this deep in our unconscious to overcome the immediate and overwhelming anxieties we were beset with. This is why these unconscious processes drive us significantly but we are unable to recognise the magnitude of their manipulations,” Anand unravels.
Decision making under stress
Stress plays a major role in decision making – be it every day or major professional and personal choices. Many decisions are made under stress, and many decision situations elicit stress responses themselves. Thus, stress and decision making are intricately connected, not only on the behavioural level but also on the neural level.
All of us, just by being human, distort the way we perceive and decide.
The field of behavioural economics has documented these distortions very well. For example, all of us are loss averse and some are much more than others. We would forego opportunities so that we don't take the risk and exaggerated pain of a loss.
When we are stressed and need to make a decision, we are more likely to bear in mind things that have been rewarding and to oversee information predicting negative consequences.
“We also confuse the intensity of the event with the frequency of the event. If an event has large consequences, we somehow tell ourselves that it must occur often. This way the big worries drive us crazy, even though they are improbable,” Anand says.
Happiness – finding the meaning and finding ‘it’
We know that stress is linked to physical and emotional problems, strained relationships, and serious mental health issues. But stress also affects health, well-being and happiness. And when we are unhappy, we often become disengaged, cynical, and toxic to others.
Many people fall for the ‘follow this and everything will be okay’ advice. What many do not talk about is actually finding happiness within oneself. Moreover, happiness, as a subject, has not been studied thoroughly.
There’s a lot of philosophical debate over what it actually means to “be happy,” but if you’re looking for concrete answers, it can leave you wanting. We all know what it feels like to be happy, but the actual source of our happiness has always been hard to pinpoint.
“Happiness is a shallow word used for lots of things. The Eskimos had 350 words for snow! Our words to describe happiness, by contrast, does not even scratch the surface of the many nuances that are possible.” R Anand says.
“Contrast this with the vocabulary for happiness in Tamil - Sugam (like sun on skin in winter), Santhosham (feeling happy), Sowkhyam (I’ve got what I need and in fact a bit more), Trupti (feeling satiated in a higher order manner, it is happiness with a connotation of feeling complete), Negizhchi (when your children do well or when someone praises them), Magizhchi (a childlike happiness at receiving an applause or after being artistically entertained),” he further elucidates.
Finland tops the global happiness index, according to the World Happiness Report 2018, closely followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
But some of the world’s richest nations, including the US and Japan, are found much further down the list. Although the US ranks highly for per capita income, it is only ranked 18th out of 156 countries, substantially below most comparably wealthy nations. Subsequently, it may be true for some that wealth can lead to happiness but on a broader perspective – it doesn’t. It is possible to own many possessions, yet still be unfulfilled. That is because you may be lacking happiness and contentment with your own life.
Then again, a great number of people apparently have given up on happiness in this life over a learned or conditioned mentality of scarcity, sacrifice or resignation. The attitude to push away and degrade happiness as a form of selfishness, self-preoccupation and uncaring for others is predominant for many. Since happiness is so elusive for lots of people, some simply find it easier and more expedient to place their focus on their daily travails and challenges.
Attaining well-being – the tools
"You do not need ‘sign-up’ programmes to help you get there. One can achieve happiness, higher emotional, mental fitness through self-analysis and mindfulness," Anand advises.
"One can use analysis of our errors and inadvertencies, analysis of our transaction patterns with others and analysis of our dreams to uncover the long-buried sub-conscious hangovers. Once uncovered and when we non-judgmentally accept these parts of ourselves, we begin to heal and they cease to have the same hold on us,” Anand suggests.
“This non-judgmental awareness of ourselves if we are to incorporate frequently and then permanently as a mode of being, we would become mindful. Similarly, if we are able to use tools like meditation to examine the filters with which we process the world, to create space between ourselves and our reactions, we build on this clarity a fine edifice of well-being,” he further proposes.
Other lifestyle practices, hobbies, social associations, the balance between boredom and excitement, physical health - all take us to emotional and psychological well-being.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)