A Talk on Stress
The Arya Samaj hall in the suburb of Basavanagudi in Bangalore was almost full when CRC arrived to give his lecture. The crowd comprised mostly of middle aged and elderly people. Perhaps the realization that they needed to do something about their mental health was more than that of youngsters, who were few in number. The talk was on improving mental health. His Powerpoint presentation had text in both Kannada and English, but he spoke mostly in Kannada. Following is a brief transcript of his talk.
Life today presents many challenges, much more than it did earlier, and the world has become very competitive. Everybody has to compete with others to fulfill his or her needs and desires, achieve prosperity or position. So the first challenge is competition in education, in occupation and in any calling in society.
Competition induces stress. Ask yourself if competing with others is essential or not. It is not always necessary. When you have enough for your basic needs, it is better to be content than aspire for more. When competing is essential, then one should understand the level of competition and assess oneself against other competitors, and prepare oneself accordingly. When the result comes in, accept it with equanimity, even if you failed. Do not feel guilty or ashamed if you fail; learn from the experience and prepare for the next examination or competition.
The second challenge in life is the lack of family support due to smaller size of the family and lack of time. Expectations within the family have increased. Husband expects more from wife, and so on. You have to tell others what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them. By discussing expectations, unrealistic expectations can be handled, thus avoiding frustrations and anger.
Make time to spend time with your family and engage in activities with them. Understand the good and bad points about your family members, and try to praise the positive things about them. Avoid criticism, for it hurts the relationship. A loving family will be your support when you face adversity.
The third challenge is loneliness. You may live alone. In work and outside, people do not have time for social interactions, or to maintain privacy, avoid interacting with neighbors or colleagues. To prevent loneliness pursue a hobby, do not sit idle.
The fourth challenge comes from the nature of society today. Disparities are increasing, there is greater disorganization and discrimination in various forms. It is difficult for an individual to overcome these. Rather than get stressed, tell yourself ‘I will not commit a crime. I will not discriminate against anyone, or cause harm to anybody. If I practice these, there will be one less person in society who does wrong things.’ Motivate others to do the same. You can join groups which fight social evils. You may not be able to change society, but you will have the satisfaction that you made an effort.
The fifth factor is sickness. Illnesses are increasing due to various reasons every year. Most of the illnesses are non-communicable and are stress related, like diabetes, hypertension and depression. Cost of treatment in private hospitals is prohibitive for the lower and middle classes, while the government hospitals are inefficient. When you suspect you are sick, seek treatment immediately. Early diagnosis leads to better outcome of treatment at a lesser cost. If you develop what are called socially stigmatizing diseases like HIV, depression, leucoderma or epilepsy, do not feel ashamed or guilty. In our country, people attribute these to past bad deeds or evil spirits and the patient is made to feel guilty. All of these illnesses are treatable.
The next challenge is handling desires and aspirations. All of us have material and emotional desires. Classify your needs into essential and non-essential. You need to identify desires which are beyond your resources or are beyond your reach. Do not seek to fulfill or crave non-essential needs. Wealth and luxurious things are believed to bring happiness, but actually they give temporary satisfaction and bring unhappiness ultimately. Do not compare yourself with others and seek what they have. Simple living leads to contentment and happiness.
The next issue is your response to norms and rules. There are ethical, legal, moral norms – written and unwritten. Many people get pleasure by breaking norms. But this causes unhappiness to others and ultimately, themselves. From a young age, we have to train ourselves to follow essential norms willingly.
How you deal with life events affects your mental health. There are expected and unexpected life events; they can be positive or negative. Common ones are birth and death, moving from your home, achieving a goal, accidents, falling ill, getting or losing a job. These cause stress. One has to prepare oneself to deal with life events. To face them, one needs support of family and financial security. One should not blame oneself or others when something bad happens; blaming increases your distress.
Finally, what should the goal of your life? Most people drift in life. They think that amassing wealth and attaining high position should be their goal in life. They seek to be happy all the time. But instead, their thirst is never fulfilled; they are always dissatisfied. To achieve happiness, limit your material needs and as the psychologist Maslow says, seek to fulfill your meta needs – which are need for knowledge, beauty, or creativity. You can set a goal to acquire knowledge and pass it on to others, to remove their ignorance and improve their lives. Social service is another meta-need – the need to serve people. The loftiest goal is self-actualization, the need to feel one with the universe or God.
Set yourself short-term, long-term and life goals and plan to reach them. Achieving your goals will make you happy, but also learn to enjoy the path you take to reach your goal. Set yourself achievable goals and enjoy the effort you put in to reach them.
As we say in our culture, ‘loka samastha sukhino bhavantu’. May everybody in the world be happy; let me contribute something to make others happy.
We do not know why we are born and when we will die. But we can plan what we will do in the period in between. As long as you are alive, take care of your needs and help others. A mentally healthy person is defined as one who is comfortable in all situations at all times, and who makes others comfortable at all times in all situations. All of us should make efforts to be mentally healthy, because mental health is the basis of physical health.
The session was open now for questions. An elderly man wanted to know how elders should take care of themselves in old age, given that children no longer thnk themselves responsible for their parents, and many are actually usurping their parents’ wealth and sending them to old age homes. This touched a chord with many in audience, who nodded vehemently or added related questions. CRC replied that parents should plan to be independent in old age; they should not give away their wealth to their children, and instead make a will to bequeath their property.