While the last few of my articles focused on work, politics and education, this week I want to focus on some critical life experiences each one of us go through: Worry, Stress and Anxiety.
I received a call on a Saturday afternoon from one of the region’s richest entrepreneurs. Apparently, the state of the economy and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic were troubling him. Although the afternoon siesta is one of the few luxuries I have on my weekend, I decided to give it up for my friend.
Benefits of a siesta
A siesta is a short nap taken in the early afternoon after lunch. This is a common practice in several countries where the weather is incredibly hot at mid-day. For the last two decades, I have been following my cardiologist’s advice to take a short afternoon nap because some studies state that siestas reduce coronary mortality by 37%, possibly by reducing cardiovascular stress.
Use of calming environments
I gave up my afternoon nap and headed to TWG, a boutique tea outlet in a popular mall. The prices at TWG kind of stressed me given that my cups of tea are usually not that expensive. I hoped I would not be paying the bill. Anyway, as the environment at TWG is as calming as their Himalayan teas, it must be worth the cost for its regular patrons. Whether indoors or outdoors, a serene environment settles the mind and, in our case, allowed for productive conversation.
Value of conversations
My entrepreneur friend wanted me to join him for a cup of tea and talk about the business outlook. It is always an incredible honour to spend time with such role model entrepreneurs and philanthropists. One learns so much from their outlook towards life. They are self-starters. While I am never sure if I am the one to add value to these discussions, I have found tremendous value and learned much from these conversations. My friend needed to talk to someone, and here I was on a Saturday afternoon with him. All I did over the next three to four hours and several cups of tea was to listen to him.
Challenges of our times
The pandemic crisis today has created massive challenges. Cashflows are strained and the future remains uncertain. There is lack of visibility on the financial radar for most businesses. The freefall in revenue and the inability to reduce costs quickly continue to be major worries. Certainly, each one of us experience worry, stress, and anxiety in some form or the other every day. My late father always reminded us that one can never escape the pressures of life. Each of us experience it in different ways, and my friend, despite all his success, was no exception. The question is: What can we do to relieve the worry, stress and anxiety?
Differences between worry, stress and anxiety
I remember learning in my psychology class that worry, stress and anxiety are not the same. There are subtle differences, and one has to deal with each one of them in separate ways. A 2017 study reported that three out of four people reported feeling stressed. Psychiatrists conclude that people do not know the differences between worry, stress, or anxiety. Worry comes from repetitively dwelling on negative thoughts, uncertain outcomes or things that could go wrong.
Worry affects the mind, not the body
Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist and the author of “The Stress-Proof Brain” (2017) says it is the cognitive component of anxiety. For instance, breadwinners worry about their jobs, entrepreneurs about uncertain outcomes, parents about the future of their children, and students about doing well in their examinations. According to psychiatrist Luana Marques, worry is helpful only if it leads to change. When our brains become stimulated and we take action, our brains calm down. On the other hand, if we obsess with a problem all the time, it becomes serious. I am fortunate that my late father taught me the tools for managing worries. He believed in the power of prayer, the art of journaling thoughts to ventilate worries, talking to a friend and having a ‘worry budget’ – a fixed amount of time to come up with an action plan.
Stress is a normal biological response
Unlike worry, stress is a physiological response connected to an external event or stressor such as the pandemic, an examination, a work deadline or an important negotiation. Greenberg defines stress as a reaction to environmental changes or forces that exceed the individual’s resources. A crisis exhausts our resources and creates numerous stressors prompting a behavioural response, firing up our limbic system and releasing adrenaline and cortisol. This activates one’s brain and body to deal with the threat. Symptoms include a rapid heart rate and sweaty palms which fade off when the situation is resolved. However, chronic stress which lead to health concerns arises when the situation does not get resolved and the body stays in the fight and flight mode. Tools to manage stress include understanding what one can control and one can’t and being oneself. Exercise, music and meditation are very therapeutic.
Anxiety is experienced both in our mind and body
If stress and worry are the symptoms, anxiety is the finale. Anxiety has a cognitive element (worry) and a physiological response (stress). We become anxious when we are dealing with huge amounts of worry and stress. Anxiety can become very much a part of everyday life and anxiety disorders could lead to medical conditions that need attention. We may be anxious about a business negotiation or a performance appraisal discussion. This could be due to several assumptions which may not be necessarily true. In such situations, our senses can help us be distracted from the anxiety episode. Music, talking to a friend or watching a movie helps one get out of the anxious feeling. Technology helps too: my Apple Watch alerts me on my heart rate and reminds me to be mindful and breathe.
Worry happens in your mind, stress happens in your body, and anxiety happens in your mind and your body. While worry, stress and anxiety can be positive forces in our lives, too much of these elements can be harmful. As in everything, balance helps: enough sleep, regular exercise and nutritious meals help one manage worry, stress and anxiety.