Dr. Shyam Bhat, Psychiatrist, and Mental Wellness Expert at Curefit
I often hear people say “I am stressed out” with a tinge of pride. In a culture that values hard work and success, a person who is relaxed is often seen as one who is not productive, and a person who is stressed is seen as a role model.
But the truth is that chronic stress is toxic and hurts mind and body. Stress affects the individual and hurts the organization.
Stress decreases quality and quantity of sleep, decreases memory and concentration, depletes energy and creativity and increases the risk of depression and anxiety.
Due to its effects on the brain and hormone system, stress affects the body as well, causing muscle tightness, and physical pain, impaired immune system elevated heart rate and blood pressure, weight gain and an increased risk of such diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
In a recent study, more than 40% of people working in corporate India were found to be suffering from significant stress and this chronic stress causes decreased productivity, absenteeism, accident proneness, employee tension, conflict with coworkers, and high attrition. Although we don’t have data from India, it is estimated that stress decreases the bottom line in corporate USA by at least $300 billion annually and the effects is probably similar in our country. So why is stress so common and how does corporate life increase stress?
Evolution has ensured that our brain is designed for survival – there is a part of the brain called the amygdala that detects threat and ensures that we evade the threat by creating what is called the “fight, flight or freeze response”
This is protective when you are physically attacked – so if a tiger is going to attack you, your brain immediately senses the threat and sends signals to the body, releasing stress hormones increasing heart rate, tightening the muscles and preparing the body to fight or flee from the threat. If either is not possible, the body then freezes in response to the threat
But in our modern lives, these same brain mechanisms are causing us needless pain and suffering. Most of us are fortunate enough not to face physical threat. Instead, it is our identity our emotional self that is challenged and threatened by modern life.
And the same brain mechanisms that are deployed when we are physically attacked are deployed when we feel the subtle emotional threat of day to day life: A boss criticizes you, a partner ignores you, someone cuts you off in traffic, you are behind on your EMI payments, you have an impending appraisal -the brain perceives these just like physical threats and generates the fight, flight or freeze response
Many, if not most, people are in this chronic state of stress , and since the threat is not as clearly defined as the tiger attacking you in a forest, the stress is subtle, long lasting, and pervasive. Indeed, stress has become so common that many people are unaware that they are facing stress.
Note: In his upcoming article, Dr Shyam will list out measures to handle stress and prevent depression
About the Author: With a rare combination of two specialties – Psychiatry (American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology) and Internal Medicine (American Board of Internal Medicine) Dr Bhat is an American Board Certified psychiatrist. A board certified in Psychosomatic Medicine (ABPN subspecialty), he studied conditions at the interface of body and mind. Dr Bhat combines these qualifications with a deep study and understanding of eastern philosophy and healing practices, and has been called a pioneer of Integrative Medicine and holistic psychiatry in India.