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Stress Management: Some Strategies for Performing Under Pressure
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Author :ROOSHIKUMAR PANDYA
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STRESS MANAGEMENT:
Some Strategies for Performing Under Pressure
 
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© Rooshikumar Pandya, 2009
 

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Rooshikumar Pandya is a master trainer in all aspects of communication and behavioural sciences. He has trained over 100,000 employees of Fortune 500 companies in the US and Canada. He has also conducted sessions in some of the best organizations in India. His workshops have been attended by CEOs, doctors, bankers, salesmen and actors.
 
Described by the ‘Evening News of India’ as a “Communicator par Excellence,” Prof. Pandya is known in the corporate world of India as a “Trainer’s Trainer”, “Master Trainer” or as the ‘Deccan Herald’ put it, as a management trainer/consultant/mentor with an “arresting, rhetorical style, clarity of thought and simplicity of argument.”
 
Born in 1940 and brought up in a middle class Hindu family of Ahmedabad, Rooshikumar aspired to be a teacher and launched his teaching career at the age of seventeen. Since then he has lectured at numerous colleges, universities, institutions and organizations in India, USA, Canada, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, and millions around the world have heard him on radio and CDs on management as well as seen him on TV and in documentary films produced by the National Film Board of Canada, and AVM Studio, India.
 
He left for America in 1964 on a Rotary Fellowship, immigrated to Canada in 1969, and came to India to do “Executive Seminars” at the invitation of the Indo-American Society Mumbai, in 1973. For the next ten years, he divided his time between North America and India, training and doing consultations. In 1981, he left his post as Faculty, Humanities, John Abbott College, and Montreal, Canada, closed his management consultancy firm in Canada, became an Indian resident and settled in Mumbai.
 
Now he spends his time developing the most priceless resource India has: Human Resource. Since 1973, Prof. Pandya has trained over 1,00,000 people in Assertive Management, Stress Management, Negotiation, Team Building and Leadership, at some hundred multi-national and national companies in India including: Abbott Parma, Adyta Birla Group, BPCL, HPCL, SBI, Asian Paints, Unique, Pfizer Ltd., Ranbaxy, Johnson and Johnson, Oil India, CISCO Systems, General Motors, L&T, GEC ALSTHOM, ABB, Godrej Soaps, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Castrol, Deutsche Bank, Shell, Hindustan Lever, RIL, Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Procter & Gamble, UNIDO, and others.
 
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I strongly believe that an average person takes more care of his lifeless possessions than his own body which is full of life.   However, as you are reading this you are probably saying  to yourself: “No, no, this not true”.  
 
So let me ask you a simple question.   If you own a cycle/scooter/car and if the tires of your vehicle have enough air in them, do you pump more air into them? I believe your answer will be, “No, I don’t”. Now let me ask you another question. Suppose you are visiting a close friend at his home and he or his family member offers you some snacks, would you eat at least some of it even if your stomach was full?    Over the years, I have asked this question to thousands of participants in my seminars/lectures and more than half of them have said, that yes, they would eat some.. And then they have given me reasons for it - they didn’t want to offend the person, or that they wanted some business from the person so they couldn’t say “no”, or that they… etc. etc.
 
I hope, now you know what I mean.   You would not put more air into the tire of your vehicle but chances are, if offered, you will eat more food even if your stomach is full.   Let me tell you something else.   We are probably the only animals in the world who eat even when we are not hungry.   
 
You see, Nature has gifted us this wonderful body but we hardly take good care of it. Probably the only time we think about our body is when something is wrong with it.    As a result of poor maintenance/unhealthy life style, our body suffers from wear and tear. We get stressed out and we become prone to diseases.  
           
Please remember that if you want to succeed at anything in life, good health would be an asset.   There is a beautiful Sanskrit saying that “Your body is the medium or the means through which we do all our Dharma and duty”. Also remember the Gujarati proverb: Pahelu sukh te jate narya—First thing needed for being happy is a healthy body.
 
The good news is that you can be very healthy by doing a few simple things.   But before we go into how to take care of your body and how to take care of your health, let us understand how our body works, what is stress and what are the harmful effects of stress. 
 
Let me tell you when I first experienced stress.     I vividly remember that day in June, 1960. It was my first day of teaching. I walked into a classroom. Forty-four teen-agers were staring at me. My university degree had taught me the complexities of Sanskrit grammar but not once was I taught how to impart that knowledge to forty-four teenagers ready to rub their sandals on the bare cement floor, if they found me dry, boring or uninteresting. I could visualize the school principal stalking the corridor for listening to their instant feedback. My heart started pounding and my breathing became rapid. I was under stress.
 
I have been under stress many times since 1960. And I have learned to handle it. I imagine you too have experienced stress in your life and probably come up with some strategies to deal with it. It is also possible that some of these strategies for relieving stress are ineffective or even harmful such as your smoking or drinking alcohol.
 
In this article, I would like to share some useful findings of my research on stress and its management. I would also like to give you a two part plan of action for preventive health care.
 
The term stress is borrowed from the vocabulary of physics and engineering meaning a force of sufficient magnitude which when applied to a system will deform, compress or distort the system.
 
However, there is a fine distinction between stress among inanimate systems and human beings. The force applied to a system is external while for us humans the force may be external or from within due to our ability to feel. And thus, to us, the word stress connotes fatigue, tension, pain, discomfort and pressure. The external or internal force/stimulus/agent causing stress is known as the "stressor".
 
People mistakenly look at stress as something harmful but some amount of stress is necessary for our very survival. The human organism is always adjusting and adapting to even the simplest internal or external demand such as digestion of food or change of temperature in a room. A state of no stress would simply mean a straight line on an EEG recording and a death certificate by a doctor.
 
In 1936, Dr. Hans Selye, University of Montreal, Canada, introduced the term stress in medicine while discussing what he called the "General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)" a three phase reaction of the body to any stress producing stimuli:-
 
1)         The alarm reaction, when the body is in a state of shock.
2)         The stage of resistance, when the body's defenses are mobilized and adaptation occurs.
3)         The stage of exhaustion, if the stress producing stimulus is severe and persistent.
 
Dr. Selye’s theory of stress is by no means comprehensive and there are other viewpoints. Dr. Walter B. Cannon, the Harvard physiologist referred to stress as “an emergency reaction” or the fight or flight response”, Dr. Goldenson describes stress as “a condition or situation, internal or environmental, that imposes demands for adjustment on the organism,” while Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School points out, “stress can be usefully defined through its physiologic correlates, particularly elevations in blood pressure.”
           
A survey of various theories and approaches suggests that:
1.         Stress is inevitable.
2.         We have finite amount of resources to deal with stress.
3.         Impact of stressors varies among individuals.
4.         Individuals react differently to the same stressor.
5.         Excessive stress may lead to a breakdown of organized functioning.
6.         We should be sensitive to our body’s signals.
7.         For bettering the quality of our life and health, stress needs to be monitored and managed.
 
When we think of stress management with the above findings in mind, it is important for us to be aware of various stress producing factors or stressors which are typical of our organization, our profession, our culture and our personality. These stressors are capable of overtaxing our organism and the limits of its adaptability.
 
So let us look at some of the stressors typical of an “organization person” in Indian environment:-
 
1)         Occupational/Professional stressors:
Heavy workload - Role conflict - Job interfering with personal life - Poor working environment (noise, congestion) - Lack of authority needed to carry out responsibility - Lack of job security - Deadlines - No feedback from the superiors about your performance - No information about the opportunity for advancement and promotion.
          
2)         Physical stressors
Frequent traveling - Long drives - Long working hours - Air, water and noise pollution.
 
3)         Psychological stressors
Negative attitude - Internal conflict - Low self-image - Need for being in control - Obsession with perfectionism - Passivity/non-assertion or aggression - Pessimistic outlook - Distrust of others' motives - Chronic sense of time urgency.
 
4)         Family_&_socio-cultural_stressors
Crowded living condition - Conflicts in the family - Expression of one's feelings discouraged resulting in repression of feelings - Unhygienic conditions - Socio- economic mobility - Urbanization.
 
Any of the above stressors would tend to evoke adaptation activities on the part of your body. When your body and its finite resources are overtaxed, its harmful reactions may take the following forms:-
 
1)         Cardio-vascular Disorders:
Blood pressure or heart attack (cause of approximately 20% of all deaths in India).
2)         Emotional Reactions:
Anxiety, depression, insomnia, restlessness, irritability, forgetfulness.
3)         Use of drugs:
Alcohol, pain killers, sleeping pills, diet pills.
4)         Gastro-intestinal problems:
Colitis, digestion problems, acidity, ulcers.
            Allergic reactions:
Hay fever - allergies - skin disorders - respiratory problems.                
5)         Sexual Dysfunctions:
Impotency - premature ejaculation - low interest in sexual activities or frigidity.
 
Furthermore, the individual may be inefficient on the job, be prone to accidents and may have poor overall performance.
 
In order to minimize the above reactions, an individual must learn to manage stress. With this in mind, next I suggest a strategy for stress management and preventive health care.
 
We noted that any stress producing agent/stressor would put demands on our body and evoke adaptation activities. Since there are limits to body's ability to adapt, when its resources are overtaxed body's defenses will break down and a state of exhaustion or sickness would result.
 
In to-day's competitive environment, it is impossible for a person to have no stress. So what he must learn is to manage stress and increase his resources for combating stress.
 
As I pointed out earlier, it is ironic that people generally take more care of their inanimate belongings than their body. I strongly believe that unless you take an active role in taking care of yourself and be responsible for your well-being no stress management strategy would help you. Furthermore, faulty methods of coping with stress such as smoking, excessive use of alcohol or drugs would lower your resistance to stress.
 
For increasing your resistance to stress, I offer you a two-part Stress Management Strategy (SMS) or a Preventive Healthcare Program (PHP).
 
Preventive Healthcare Program: Part- I.     
 
If you want to keep your mind and body healthy for long years and enjoy a quality life, I suggest you follow the following eight fold path.
 
1.                  Have a good night sleep for six to eight hours.
You might be surprised to know that with the invention of Electroencephalography (EEG) during the last century, we know much more about sleep than we did until 1930,  but we still don’t know what is sleep and why do we sleep.
 
However, we do know that natural sleep is necessary for maintaining good mental and physical health. On EEG natural sleep will display predictable patterns of brainwave activities that occur till you are awake. 
 
The amount of sleep required may change as you grow older, however, I suggest that you sleep for six to eight hours every night.
 
Your unhealthy lifestyle may cause sleep disorders. For example, if you drink a lot of coffee or tea to remain awake or drink a lot of alcohol to fall asleep, you will be disturbing the pattern of natural sleep.   
 
I also suggest that you sleep with all the lights off.   “Why do I have to put the lights off?” You may ask. So let me answer it. A Happy Messenger called Serotonin is responsible for your sleep. In 1958, Dr. Aaron Lerner at Yale University, USA, discovered that Serotonin is chemically converted into a related compound called Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland.    The pineal gland is the time keeper of the body which secretes the hormone Melatonin during darkness ( and that is why I want you to keep the lights off).   The Serotonin-Melatonin-Serotonin conversion cycle in turn helps regulate the internal clock and natural rhythm of the body known as the circadian rhythm and induces peaceful sleep.
 
2.                  Have a nutritious breakfast
Breakfast is an essential meal of the day. You see, when you are asleep, your heart still has to pump blood and you still have to breathe. For maintaining these essential bodily functions, your body requires energy, that is, calories. When you are asleep you require about 100 calories for every 80 minutes of sleep. So, if you sleep for seven hours you burn up over 500 calories.    Furthermore, now that you are awake, your daily activities will require more energy.
 
You might ask: How much breakfast should I have?   And what should I have for breakfast?
 
If you are a male who lives sedentary lifestyle, you are burning approximately 2500 calories per 24 hours, and 1900 to 2000 calories, if you are a female. To replenish this, I suggest that during breakfast you may consume 500 to 700 calories. I recommend that for breakfast, you eat items like idli, dhokala, cereals, whole wheat chapatti or paratha, that is items containing complex carbohydrates. Sugar is processed carbohydrate and therefore not recommended.   You may also include some nuts and cheese which will give you proteins. Let me add that our Gujarati favorite jalebi and fafada constitute the worst breakfast.
 
Avoid eating sweets during breakfast, which means jams, biscuits etc. are out. If you want something sweet you may have fruits. Speaking of fruits, eat three different colors of fruits during three different times a day. That is one color fruit at any one time.
 
Have three nutritious meals a day including breakfast unless advised otherwise by your physician
What is a nutritious diet? Your total intake of calories  per day should include approximately 20 per cent protein (milk, eggs, cheese, fish, poultry without the skin), 30% fat, (traditional cooking mediums like ghee, mustard oil along with poly-unsaturated medium for less cholesterol content), 50% carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables and fruits). Please restrict your intake of salt and sugar and allow approximately two hours between your last meal and your sleeping time. Avoid fast food and fried snacks in between meals. Snack on fruits.
 
3.                  Maintain your weight (within 5 per cent)
Remember that your body is a machine in which the calories taken in must equal the energy used up for it to maintain weight. As I pointed out earlier, a professional male living a sedentary life style requires about 2,500 calories per day, and a female professional about 2000 calories.  
 
If you are overweight, lose weight sensibly by a diet plan plus an exercise program in consultation with your doctor. If you plan to lose weight by just doing exercises without cutting down your food intake, it would be an uphill task. Remember that a kilo of fat has 7700 calories and you would lose only 100 calories by about 15 minutes of tennis playing, or 20 minutes of gardening or walking.  You would gain approximately 100 calories by having one fried egg, or six potato chips, or two biscuits, or an ounce of cheese, or one half cup of tomato soup, or a five ounce glass of milk!
 
4.                  Avoid smoking or tobacco in any form
Smoking or consuming tobacco in any form is the worst thing we can do to our body. The ammonia, the carbon monoxide and the nicotine damage the heart, the arteries and the lungs. As Dr. Wasco of University of Massachusetts Medical School puts it, "If two of us are sitting in a room 15' x 15' and you light up a cigarette, my carbon monoxide level will be half or 60 per cent of yours. And 5 hours later I will still have carbon monoxide in my blood stream." 
 
Medical research suggests that tobacco constricts the blood vessels and causes cancer,   pulmonary   and cardio-vascular diseases. 
 
5.                  Moderate amount of alcohol, if any
If you drink alcohol, restrict it to two pegs, 60ml. per 24 hours. Remember, you cannot make up for the days of the week you don’t drink by drinking more on the week-ends. 
 
Once I asked one of my patients in Canada,
            "How often do you drink?"
            "Only twice," he replied. 
            "When?", I asked, 
            "When I am alone or when I am with somebody." 
 
So if you cannot control the intake, avoid alcohol completely since excessive drinking will ruin your liver, brain, heart, health and relationships.
 
6.                  Do physical exercises regularly
Henry Ford once joked "Exercise is bunk, if you are healthy you don't need it. If you are sick you shouldn't take it." But I have noticed that about 85% of the population takes him seriously and avoids exercising.
 
Remember that good health and fitness are two different things. Health generally means no disease while fitness has to do with your ability to meet the demands of your environments. And exercises keep you physically fit. Dr. Morehouse in his best seller Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week points out: "Fitness means the development of these components: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardio-vascular endurance and flexibility."
 
A word of caution - If you are over thirty and if you have not exercised recently then get a medical check up done before you start exercising and avoid any crash program of exercise. Remember doing exercise for being fit is not the same as doing exercise for becoming a champion. And no matter what your age never overdo exercise. Start slowly and work up gradually. 
 
I remember three friends of mine. One, 55 years old always said "I play squash like I am eighteen." Another, 53 years old, claimed, "I play tennis like I am seventeen." The third, a 50 years old, maintained, "I jog like I am sixteen." They have one thing in common. They are all dead.
 
Research suggests that doing exercise makes you more productive, fit, and efficient and lessens the depressive states often found in older people. So next time you go shopping, walk instead of taking a cab or driving, and climb a staircase instead of using a lift.
 
7.                  Relax or meditate regularly for 20 minutes a day 
Poet Ovid once said, "What is without periods of rest will not endure." Your body too needs rest. So spend approximately 15 to 20 minutes a day by relaxing through Shavasana, or TM, or self-hypnosis, Yoganidra, or Sudarshana Kriya etc. Research by Dr. Benson of Harvard University suggests that relaxation produces certain physiological changes which are opposite to the "fight or flight response"/stress response.
 
If you do not know any technique of relaxation, I suggest that you lie down comfortably on a bed, sofa or floor, or sit down comfortably on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and you arms gently resting on your lap. 
 
Now take five deep breaths and mentally talk to yourself as per the following outline for self induced relaxation:
 
I am lying very comfortably on my bed (sitting comfortably on the chair) and relaxing. Both of my arms and legs are unlocked. I am looking at a spot on the ceiling at about 45 degree angles and concentrating on that spot.
 
As I am concentrating on that spot my eyes feel very, very heavy and I feel like closing my eyes. My eyes are closing now and I am relaxing more and more.
 
My eyes are comfortably closed now and I feel very relaxed. I am enjoying this relaxation and going deeper and deeper into this relaxation. Every breath I take makes me feel more and more relaxed, calm, and comfortable.
 
Now I am going to count mentally from one to ten and at the end of the count, I will relax even more than I am relaxing now.
 
·                     The muscles of my face and my jaw are very relaxed as this relaxation is going down, down over my body.
·                     The muscles of my neck are very relaxed and so are the muscles of my shoulders.
·                     Both of my arms and my hands feel so very relaxed now.
·                     As I am breathing deeply and heavily, the muscles of my chest are relaxing.
·                     This relaxation is going down over the muscles of my back, stomach, and my abdomen.
·                     I feel so very beautifully relaxed now as this relaxation is going down over the muscles of my thighs.
·                     The muscles of my legs are so very relaxed now.
·                     The muscles of my ankles and my toes are very relaxed now as I feel so wonderfully at ease. Feeling so calm, comfortable and peaceful.
·                     I am drifting deeper and deeper into this relaxation.
·                     As I am breathing deeply and heavily, I am going deeper and deeper into this wonderful relaxation.                                                                                                                                                                                         
 
After you have counted up to ten and relaxed your entire body, keep your eyes closed and enjoy the feeling of relaxation for about fifteen minutes.   Then say the following:
 
At the count of three, I will open my eyes feeling relaxed, refreshed and wonderful. (1) I feel so good and comfortable, (2) I am about to open my eyes feeling great and (3) My eyes are open now, I feel alert and wonderful.
 
Now let us look at the second part of our stress management strategy:
 
Preventive Healthcare Program: Part –II
 
"There is no human activity, sleeping, drinking or sex which some doctor somewhere won't discover leads directly to cardiac arrest," exclaimed John Mortimer.
 
Two San Francisco cardiologists Drs. Friedman and Rosenman would agree. In their book Type A behavior and Your Heart, they noted that at least 50 per cent of the people "who get heart attacks can be linked to none of the known and suspected causative factors - smoking, diet, exercise habits, other contributing diseases, and so forth." And that a special composite of personality traits -- Type A behaviour, characterized by aggressiveness, competitiveness, impatience and continuous struggle with circumstances and time -- is a major cause of cardio-vascular diseases. Type A people also "frequently exhibit a free-floating, well-rationalized form of hostility, and almost always a deep-seated insecurity."
 
The doctors also observed that a Type A person who perceives life as a chronic struggle exhibits "(1) an increased blood level of cholesterol and fat, (2) a marked lag in ridding their blood of the cholesterol added to it by the food ingested, (3) a pre-diabetic state and (4) an increased tendency for the clotting elements of the blood (the platelets and fibrinogen) to precipitate out."
 
Research by Dr. Williams of Duke University, USA, also suggests that people who
         -- harbor a cynical mistrust of others' motives and
         -- frequently experience and express anger
are "five times more likely to die going from age 25 to 50" than those without these traits.
 
This means that your psychological perception and your attitude about yourself, your life, and everything around you have an impact on your body and its well-being.
 
            With reference to these findings here are the   Dos & Don'ts of our  Preventive Healthcare Program  Part II.
 
1. DEVELOP
·                     a personal stress profile by listing all the things that cause you stress: occupational, social, cultural,   physical etc.
·                     some hobbies as well as spend time with family and friends.
·                     a positive and healthy self-image. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Remember you are fallible and prone to committing mistakes. Look at your mistakes as additional data and learn something from them.
·                     an alternate reaction to the stressors by being aware of them.
 
2. CULTIVATE
·                     a sense of humor -- Gandhiji once said, "If I didn't have a sense of humor, I would have committed suicide long time ago."
·                     what Indian sages call "Drishtabhav" or "Sakshibhav"...an observer within yourself or a witness within yourself, who is aware of your actions, motivations, strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and motives...listen to the inner feedback and learn to pay heed to that inner voice.
 
3. AVOID      
·                     perceiving every task as a challenge.  
·                     leaving several tasks incomplete.
·                     aggression and hostility.
 
4. LEARN
·                     to share your problems with somebody who is caring and non-judgmental.
·                     to compartmentalize...avoid taking your work problems home.
·                     to be kind to yourself. Instead of looking for perfection in life, learn to enjoy beauty and simple pleasures of life.
·                     to manage your environment, e.g. your appointments, the demands on your time by others, telephone calls etc.
·                     to practice being patient and doing one thing at a time. As the Chinese proverb says:
                    "In walking just walk
                    In sitting just sit
                     Above all, don't wobble."
·                     to start the day leisurely...not with a fight against time.
·                     to relax and to visualize yourself in stress producing situations and your dealing with them positively and rationally.
 
In the final analysis, stress management is a complex and on-going process. My Stress Management Strategies and Preventive Healthcare Program are meant for the health and well-being of every member of your family, organization, community and nation. It might be difficult but not impossible for you to make the suggested changes in your lifestyle but let me assure you that once you have made them, you will assert with Robert Frost -
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
 
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