It is a common misapprehension that overworking leads to stress. While I agree that any demanding prolonged activity of the mind or body will lead to some sort of fatigue, I do not believe that this is what causes stress. Such a fatigue can be overcome (unless it is very prolonged and neglected) by breaks, some discipline in life or any activities that help you unwind.
What cause stress? When does it become a real serious issue? How do we know we are getting in to it? How do we overcome it? Here are some thoughts.
Stress is caused by the mind and ego taking over an issue, typically in a relationship where there is some kind of hierarchy. A work place is a typical example; and that will be the focus here. Let’s see some common scenarios.
To start with you have certain expectations on something or someone. You strongly believe that something needs to be done in a particular way and of course, you have your reasons. Now you are asked by your boss to go ahead in a totally different way. You try to protest, but finally have to yield. This creates a conflict in the mind. The ego takes over and you feel wronged. You go ahead with the task but every mind your mind is churning out reasons why it wouldn’t work. Your ego really wants it to fail so that you can have your boss suffer for the wrong decision. Slowly the thought becomes obsessive. You wake up in the middle of the night and before you realize, the battle is already on in your mind. If you are a drinker or a smoker, you tend to over abuse, which aggravates the issue. You vent your frustration to your friends and they readily sympathize with you, which reinforces your feeling of misery. You don’t feel like going to office and secretly nurture a feeling of vengeance in not turning up for work. Before you realize, the stress catches up with your body and mind. And one fine day you wake up with a thumping heart and lump in your throat to realize that you lost the battle badly.
Look at another scenario. You are stuck in a situation where you are accountable but do not have power to solve it. A typical example from the Indian IT industry scenario is the role of a customer relationship manager. There is a fight going on between the customer and the offshore team and things have come in to a deadlock. There are big egos involved, which is obvious to you. But you cannot point this out. The management blames you for not resolving the issue. You are helpless and soon the stress gets it victim. The latter part of the story remains almost the same.
Another common scenario is responding to threat (not those obvious ones like – I will kill you, but those subtle ones). Typically many managers in India try to get work done by inducing subtle fear in the minds of team members. Your conscious mind may not realize this, but your subconscious mind reads the threat and you are preparing for a fight without realizing it. This also happens with intimidation – don’t try to act smart here, we know what to do. It leaves you badly hurt and because you cannot respond directly, you resort to playing those scripts in your mind.
In all the examples above, you can see helplessness, resistance and fear are common themes and I think our inability to deal with them gets us in to trouble. Sometimes we pull through, but to find us again in a fresh trap. It’s like a viral attack, every time the virus changes its structure and the body cannot find a permanent solution for it.
The trap is that we try to solve the issue always, and believe that everything will be peaceful after that. But the real problem is in our mind, which remains there as long as we understand.
So how do we tackle getting in to this mess? Here are some thoughts:
- Speak out when needed. Even if it might be painful and your mind and ego will persuade you to avoid it.
- Whatever be the case, if you cannot solve an issue and cannot escape from it, drop all your resistance and accept the situation
- Don’t let issue based conflicts become people conflicts. Convey clearly to the person that you value him.
- Seek help from someone whom you respect and who has a larger view of life. You are not helpless
- If someone tries to instill fear in you, politely but firmly make it clear that you do not approve it
- Do not respond emotionally to any issue, even if provoked. Stay calm not to feed the other person’s egoYour mind will tell you that the only way you can solve the issue is by getting out of the situation. Don’t believe this, unless you can really make that move. Otherwise, this creates a conditioning that makes you miserable.
- Watch out for early signs, don’t neglect them. Typically the first symptoms are obsessive thoughts and disturbed sleep.
- Finally, always have something that you really enjoy in life. May be a sports or some hobby, which will help you disconnect from the issue.
Escaping from such situations is not a long term solution, because you carry with you what really caused it – your mind and the ego. Stay firm and fight it out, and you have really learned something in your life.