The hectic lifestyle that we lead, knowingly and unknowingly, has a big impact on not just our psyche but our physical and mental wellbeing too. In the drive to do more, do better, and get ahead of the competition, we are often left exhausted and completely burned out. In the bestselling book Thrive, Arianna Huffington talks about how to shift focus away from striving desperately to attain the traditional and often empty societal measures of success (money and power), and instead, focus on thriving – a process of building a rewarding, stimulating and healthy life that opens the door for more meaning, purpose, joy, peace and well-being. Here, psychologist Karuna Kunwar and neurologist Dr Pankaj Jalan talk about some issues that can plague us if you don’t take time to listen to our bodies and continue to lead stressful lives and how we can change that.
Finding a balancing
“Life is an art of balancing all your responsibilities and juggling them in such a way that you give some time to every important aspect of it. From work to maintaining friendships and relationships, there is just so much to do that most find it hard to relax and catch a breath,” says psychologist Kunwar.
With most offices being rigid and inflexible with timings, not to mention weekends constituting of just one day, one responsibility often overshadows another and people spend less and less quality time with their loved ones. As big a strain as it puts in the relationships, whether it is with your parents, your children or your significant other, a much bigger strain falls on your own mental wellbeing. And when you are stressed, you can’t function well on the professional front either.
The key here is finding a balance and knowing when to give yourself a break. Kunwar insists that it really isn’t as difficult as we make it out to be, and that with a little bit of practice and understanding of priorities, we can actually do it with ease.
Dealing with stress and anxiety
Stress, anxiety, insomnia are some of the new-age disorders that have been brought about by the change in our lifestyles and women are more affected by these disorders than men. The numbers of families where conjugal roles are shared are still significantly low and it usually falls on the women to do all the household chores on top of keeping up with the workforce.
Anxiety is often seen in women who have high pressure, inflexible jobs with unfriendly work environment and household chores on top of that. Stress is a state of emotional or mental tension or strain that is the result of a demanding and adverse circumstance and most of the people chalk it off as ‘just stress’ not knowing that it is a psychological condition.
Kunwar mentions that there are certain types of people who are more prone to stress than others. If you have a Type A personality, that is if you are more competitive, ambitious, impatient or aggressive then you will most likely have higher stress levels than someone with a Type B personality who is laid back, relaxed, and flexible. All these result in psychosomatic symptoms like headache and body pain. Psychosomatic disorders are physical illness induced by and aggravated by stress or internal conflict. All of these, more often than not, culminate into insomnia where the person finds it hard to fall asleep no matter how tired they are.
There are a few things you can try at home to overcome insomnia. Try having a fixed time that you go to bed and be as relaxed as you can. Kunwar suggests taking a warm bath. Avoid caffeine and dinks with high levels of sugar after three in the afternoon and try to completely avoid alcohol as it messes with your sleep system. Also, the deep sleep that the body gets from after 10 pm till midnight cannot be compensated for by sleeping till late in the morning. Early morning sleep is only light sleep and won’t make feel as rejuvenated as nighttime sleep.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is used to tackle anxiety and insomnia. It tries to help you deal with problems by breaking bigger chunks into smaller parts and by helping you modify the way you think. “Since this therapy focuses on the present rather than the past unlike other therapies, it goes a long way to help improve your sense of wellbeing,” explains Kunwar.
Tackling the physical impact
Dr Jalan highlights how the change in our lifestyle over the years has had a direct impact on our physical health. Nepal has the highest case of back problems in the world. This results from the amount of time we spend commuting on motorbikes and how bad the roads in the country are. “People who work on their computers all day and photographers with heavy equipment often have poor posture which results in back aches and other problems like numbness in the legs,” he said. Even the way we ‘relax’ and watch TV puts a strain on the back that results in backaches.
The psychological factors sometimes affect physical wellbeing as well. When the levels of stress go up, there is a chronic activation of the neurological pathways that results in the production of neurotransmitter chemicals and hormones that have the ability to alter some of the functions of certain cells. These cells can either be over-responsive or under-responsive to allergens, parasites, viruses and bacteria. When the immune system has been compromised, the body is left defenseless against a wide variety of diseases. High level of stress has also been linked to high blood pressures, liver cirrhosis, respiratory diseases and even a drastic increase in accidental injuries.
While Dr Jalan suggests paying attention to posture and our lifestyle, Kunwar suggests taking off some time for yourself during the day. “Close your eyes and just relax and try not to think about anything. This works as meditation and helps you not get overwhelmed by stress,” she says adding that this simple trick has profound impact on your overall wellbeing.
Kunwar also advises people to take mini vacations to recharge and get rid of all the stress factors in their lives. “Give yourself the break you deserve every once in a while and not just once a year in Dashain or New Years like most of us tend to do,” she says.