THIRTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD RADHA is your typical middle-class working mother. Mother of two children studying in the third and fifth standards, her worst fear in life is the milkman or the maid not showing up in the morning.
“I have so many things to do in the morning. Cook, clean, dress up the kids, pack lunchboxes, put the kids in the school van, send my husband to work and then myself go to work. I just lose it when something goes wrong,” she says. That is if the milkman or the maid fails to show up, the utensils, the kids and the husband pay the price for it.
Twenty-two-year-old Richard passed out of college a year back. He now works on night shift in a call centre. After a long night dealing with irate credit card users, he longs to get some sleep in the morning. But morning is the time when his house is buzzing with activity.
“I just can’t get sleep in the morning. There is so much noise. Everyone wants to do everything in the morning. So I end up sleeping just five hours a day,” he complains. His workload and lack of sleep have ensured that his temper is always on a short fuse. But anger is the least of his problems; he suffers from everything, indigestion to anaemia.
Meanwhile, 28-year-old Amit, an art director with an advertising agency, has problems of a different kind. Married for two years, his wife was unable to conceive. Worried, Amit and his wife went to a fertility clinic where doctors found that Amit had very low sperm count, coupled with erectile dysfunction.
All three mentioned above — Radha, Richard and Amit — suffer from excessive stress. And today on World Health Day, it is America’s number one and Bangalore’s growing healthcare problem.
There are no reliable numbers available for people suffering from high stress levels in the city, but it is believed that over 75 per cent Americans have “great stress” once a week.
High stress levels lead to a range of health problems in addition to accompanying psychological problems. And the number one source remains job stress, though stress levels have increased in all sections of the society. “We cannot live without stress. Our body is always stressed but it is high levels of stress that lead to various problems. We are stressed while running, but the stress is anticipated. When you have emotional upsets or suppressed anger, then you start doing some real damage to the heart because the strain lasts for a longer time and is repeated over and over again. It hastens build-up of cholesterol in the coronary arteries and weakens the heart muscles,” warns K.S.S. Bhat, Consultant Cardiologist, Manipal Hospital, and President of the Indian College of Cardiology.
Though the heart is one of the first organs to be affected by excessive stress, symptoms are first noticed when the behaviour of a person changes. Classic symptoms include insomnia, low energy levels, feeling of inadequacy, decreased concentration levels, social withdrawal, excessive anger, self-pity and tearfulness. Marital relations are often the first to be affected by this drastic change in behaviour.
“Often people come back so tired from work they are reluctant to have sex. But it is interpreted as not liking the partner. Also, as stress levels increase, it leads to impotence. About one-third cases of erectile dysfunction are due to stress. So sex takes a backseat and the relationship suffers,” says Vinod Chebbi, psychotherapist and sex and marriage counsellor.
He also points out to another interesting source of stress that prevents people from enjoying sex:
“In India, there is great stress to become pregnant after marriage. The pressure from relatives often becomes so unbearable that sex becomes an act for just having a child. If it fails, the couple go to the extent of even seeking donor semen or fertility treatment,” says Dr. Chebbi.
Both Dr. Chebbi and Dr. Bhat prefer to relieve that extra stress without medication. Exercise, regular food habits and good time management is the mantra, they say.
“There is nothing like a brisk walk in the morning or evening,” says Dr. Bhat.
And to solve marital stress, Dr. Chebbi advises: “The couple must spend time together. They must get used to each other and enjoy time together. About 95 to 97 per cent of stress-related sex can be treated with just non-drug therapy.”
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Fast lane to perdition
IF YOU’RE one of the lucky few who’ve coped well so far, here are some wicked tips to help you join mainstream society:
Eat anything you want
Take plenty of stimul-ants (nicotine, caffeine and alcohol)
Get rid of your social support system (friends)
Personalise all criticism
Throw out your sense of humour
Males and females alike — be macho
Become a workaholic
Discard good time-management skills
Worry about things you can’t control (tsunamis, earthquakes and Osama Bin Laden)
Become not only a perfectionist but also set impossibly high standards for yourself