I knew the 405 will be packed at this time in the morning, But I had no choice. Need the paycheck to pay the bills. Not sure how long my current job will last. My health also is not what it used to be. I begin to notice I’m short of breath more often. Traffic is, as the people in Los Angeles proudly proclaim, “stop and go”. The traffic doesn’t “creep”, “flow” or “slow move” but it is “stop and go traffic” as in it stops and moves in spurts. It stops for what seems to be an eternity and then makes a sudden burst of movement for the whole of an inch. This is a traffic pattern where the stress level actually shoots up. I’m compelled to be continuously alert to not to hit the car in front or get hit by the car behind. Crazy life indeed! I’m part of it. Because I have no choice. Need the money.
Stress is a BIG problem in the USA. “Stressed out” is a phrase I hear often, especially among the youth. I’ve never used this phrase. I heard it for the first time from my daughter when she was growing up here. Stress seems to be a pervasive problem in Australia, China and Europe also. Global Organization of Stress reports
- Stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens between 9th and 12th grade …
- China’s workplace stress levels are increasing at 86%…
- High-income consumers in the US, Australia, and Japan are the most stressed out…
American Stress Institute says we get “stressed out” mostly because of childhood trauma, death of a loved one, divorce, money, job, health, personal relationship, chronically ill child, pregnancy or danger. See Livestrong for more info.
My sense is, like most things, life is both a trap and a tool. Lived well, it is a beautiful experience. “Stressed out”, it can be hell. Continuing to be “stressed out”, it can lead to depression itself, a state of hopelessness and helplessness. What can be more cruel than this to the throb of one’s life?
75 % of the $ 3.8 trillion annual health care costs in USA are due to chronic illnesses and the number one driver for chronic illness is stress! Work-related stress alone costs $ 180 B in health-care expenses in the States, according to Forbes.
Many brilliant brains are working to solve the stress problem and provide relief to people.
Stress is caused by the sustained release of “fight or flight” syndrome hormones, says Mayo Clinic. The three most common stress hormones are adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine. These hormones go to bat every time for us without fail. But they need rest too. When they continuously work without a break, as it happens in our daily lives nowadays, stress – feeling of frustration, dejection, hopelessness and being out of control – occurs, proving my grandmother’s wisdom “too much of anything is poison”.
Stress relief and management industry is a booming business today. Experts say yoga, positive thinking, counselling, coaching, outdoor physical activity, a kind and timely word of encouragement, medication, meditation etc – all help. The yoga industry alone is estimated to be $ 80 B worldwide !
But people continue to be stressed-out and suffer. More than half do not know what to do, how to decouple from the claws of stress. Some take up unhealthy habits such as smoking, overeating, under eating, eating junk food, watching too much TV etc
The Bhagavad Gita points to a practical way to manage and relieve stress. This has been a consistent helper in my life. A few nuggets of what I learned and practice::
You have a pure heart… Listen carefully… Engage in the battle of life treating pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat the same… Engage in this battle at all times in all places keeping the company of God… Practice keeping the company of God…There is no wasted effort or undesirable result from this practice… Even a little bit of practice protects from the greatest of fears…
[anagha … imaam shrunu … sukha dukkhe laabha alaabhow jaya ajayow same krutvaa tato yuddhaaya yudhyasya… tasmaat sarveshu kaaleshu maam anusmara yudhyascha … abhyaasena tu vairaagyena…na iha abhikramanaasah asti pratyavaayah na vidyate… swalpam api asya dharmasya traayate mahato bhayaat ]
(Bhagavad Gita 2.38 – 2.40, 3.3, 6.35, 8.7)
The Gita gives the stress-relief medicine to a most “stressed-out” patient, Arjuna. The doctor who gives the medicine is the one who cures all illnesses, Sri Krishna Himself. The medicine is given in an assortment of packages so the patient can select the package he/she likes and consume the medicine. The cure is guaranteed. Krishna told Arjuna, “Chill, don’t stress-out!” . Then He taught him how to do that!
Stress happens when we resist and do not accept a happening. Stress happens when our default modus operandi is to control others’ behavior and the happenings around us.
Stuff happens. Let it. Accept it. Accept everything that happens as a divine blessing- including the harrowing “stop and go” LA traffic, a bad boss, money worries, health problems, praise, humiliation, success, failure or whatever. Accept them lovingly.
This acceptance attitude is not a passive, helpless and impotent reaction to what happens. It is not a call to inaction and to throw in the towel so to speak. On the contrary! The acceptance I’m talking about is a vibrant and joyous attitude of meeting divinity itself in the form of the stuff that happens. Receive the infinite possibilities of this Magnificent and Wondrous Cosmos that one is part of, without murmur or the slightest resistance. Accept the happenings with the strength born of humility and hope.
Accept it without resistance and lovingly. The acceptance does not negate the happening itself. It does not remove the difficulty or eliminate the loss that has occurred. It does not make the traffic I’m caught in to move any faster. It does not make my lifestyle caught in this traffic any easier. Acceptance does not make the loss of a loved one less painful. But it prevents, as a first step, the generation of stress. At the least, it lessens and relieves it.
Stuff happens. Or it doesn’t. It is all temporary. “This too shall pass”, said a wise person. Stress is part of life, but “stressing-out” is not. When I stand up on the ground, for example, there is stress on both my feet and on the ground I stand on. But I don’t get “stressed-out” about it.
Live life with the confidence that it will get better. Because it always does.
(This blogpost actually ends here, but the “nerd” in me wanted to say a few things. So read on, if you are adventurous!)
My sense is there is more to understanding why we feel stress and “stressed-out” than what the results of Mayo Clinic studies and other surveys reports provide.
The truth is my world is a reflection, reaction and resound of myself. Your world is a reflection, resound and reaction of yourself. Manomoolam idam jagat – mind is the cause of all this, say our sages (see page 2 in this reference).
Based on this, here is a take.
From the formula, we can see that
- Stress ↑ when Force ↑ and/or Area ↓
- Stress ↑ at constant Force when Area ↓
- Stress ↑ at constant Area when Force ↑
- Stress ↓ when Force ↓ and/or Area ↑
- Stress ↓ at constant Force when Area ↑
- Stress ↓ at constant Area when Force ↓
When I stand on the ground, for example, I exert my weight on the piece of ground I’m standing on. My weight is the force, The area is the area of the ground covered by my feet. The stress the ground feels is my weight / area. If the ground underneath my feet is firm, it withstands this stress and allows me a free stand. If the ground is not firm but muddy or sandy for example, it is not able to withstand the stress, crumbles and gives way. I’m unsteady and may even fall down.
In this example, we know from science that the body by itself has no weight and cannot exert any force at all on the ground by itself (ignoring the negligible attractive force the body exerts on the ground, for simplicity). Its weight is what is given to it by the ground it is standing on. We call this gravity, the force with which the ground attracts the body.
Science tells us that if you weigh 68 kgs on earth, your weight will be 11 kgs on the moon, 159 kgs on Jupiter, 26 kgs on Mars, 4 kgs on Pluto. The weight is what the attractive forces give. The greater the attraction, the heavier the weight. The weight of your body is about zero in space, away from the ground surface of any planet including the earth. That is, the farther my body is from the ground surface (on earth or any other planet), the less its weight is and less the force the body exerts on the ground surface.
When I stand on it, the ground invites the stress on itself from the weight of my body by keeping my body close to it.
The ground crumbles under the weight of the body or not based on three factors: a) weight of the body b) area over which the weight is exerted c) firmness of the surface on which the weight is exerted
A similar thing happens as our mind interacts with the external world, developing stress and causing “stress-out”s.
Consider the mind as the “ground-surface” and the external happenings as the “body” in the above example. Then a good understanding of stress and “stressing out” emerges.
Reduce stress by reducing “The Force” component
It is the mind that gives the weightage to the various happenings like fear of job-loss, congested traffic, money worries, one’s own anger, jealousy etc. They all exert their weight on the mind because the mind keeps them close to it. The closer to the mind they are, the heavier their weight and greater the Force in the stress equation. The farther the mind keeps the external happenings from it, the less weight they have, less heavy they are and less Force they exert on the mind.
When the mind keeps the company of God, it accepts the worldly happenings as divine blessing. When it does that, the mind thinks divinity and not the various happenings per se. At this point, these happenings move far away from the mind, impress the mind only lightly and exert only small weight on the mind, if at all.
When the weight on the mind is less, stress is less.
That is, think God and love God in your mind. The worldly happenings decouple instantly and you will not be bothered by them.
Reduce stress by increasing “The Area” component
The weight of the external happenings act on the area of the mind. But then, what is the area of mind really? It is as large as you want to make it. It can extend beyond the edge of time and space. It can also shrink to the size of an ant, a grain of sand or even smaller than an atom. If I’m narrow minded and limit myself to only myself and my family, then the area of my mind is small. Recall from above that the smaller the area, the greater the stress! The weight of the external happenings acts on this small area which is the denominator in the stress equation and therefore the stress level becomes high. If I enlarge my mind to include the whole universe as my family, if I’m truly broad-minded, then the area of my mind becomes large. Weight of the external happenings acting on such a large area produces very little stress only, if any at all. The larger the mind, the less the stress.
That is, reduce selfishness. The less selfish one is, the less stressed one is.
End “stressed-out” suffering through sharing your Love
“Stressing out” is like the ground crumbling under my weight in the example above.
Just as a firm ground is able to bear the weight of my body while an un-firm ground like a muddy or sandy ground cannot, the mind can also be made firm to withstand the challenges of life. The strength of the mind increases dramatically with the increase in one’s ability to share one’s innate Love. With the practice of sharing Love, one’s Love muscles become progressively stronger just as one’s biceps become stronger with exercise. The more loving I am to myself, to fellow beings and to life, the stronger I’m able to withstand the challenges of life, and the less stressed-out I become.
A very approximate graphical depiction of the mental stress equation is shown below. In reality, the effect is much more pronounced, dramatic and instantaneous than the exponential relationship shown in the graph. It is like turning on the light switch in a dark room. That one action does two things instantaneously and simultaneously – brings light and removes darkness. Likewise, thinking of God lovingly in a stressful situation removes stress instantaneously by giving comfort, hope, strength and a confidence that everything will be right.