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Issue of April 2005 

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Out with it

As an increasing number of vaccines and medicines treat the body's physical ailments, the mind-particularly that of the urban corporate worker-is plagued with inexplicable uneasiness. It is mental strain, psychological decay, and we call it 'stress.' To it we attribute fatigue, headaches, backaches, depression and many such problems that occur at the most inopportune and unexpected moments, but we tend to ignore it once the physical symptoms are dispelled. Nevertheless, the effect of stress lasts far beyond its initial manifestation as it plays havoc with the hormones in the human system. Vinay Joshi, Chairman of Medstream Pharmaceuticals and author of Stress: From Burnout to Balance, details the nature and degree of damage that stress hormones can inflict. He also weighs in on how we can control this process.

Despite being the head of a drug company, Joshi says very honestly, "Most stress cases cannot be treated by medication." In his book he therefore suggests many ways to counter the production of stress hormones-exercise, deep breathing, yoga, massage, control on food and a balanced approach to everything else in life. These recommendations, however, comprise but a small portion of the book. The bulk of it deals with causes of stress and the biological phenomena that spring from it. At certain junctures, the book gets a little technical with all the scientific names and functions of elements that make up the human body. When asked why he chose to explore the finer biological details, Joshi's reply is simple, "If someone told me to run a mile everyday I wouldn't do it unless I knew exactly why I was doing it and how it would help." Point accepted.

Understanding stress and its effects

Title: Stress: From Burnout to Balance
Author: Vinay Joshi
Publisher: Sage Publications India
Price: Rs 185

If you are on the lookout for an explanation of how and why stress can cause a heart attack or why stress may result in the onset of diabetes or stomach ulcers, this is the book for you. Its premise is that the brain rations hormones and that stress causes the brain to send the wrong signals. It prepares the body for a 'fight or flight' situation. Imagine your state of mind if you were standing in front of a hungry lion; this is the state an average business head lives with all the time.

The book also deals with sickness due to an immune system that is weakened by stress, and the impact of such strain on memory and aging. Joshi asserts that stress can bring on depression and lead to suicide.

Uncertainty = stress

An interesting point that Joshi brings out in the book is that uncertainty induces more stress than predictable stress situations. Given that uncertainty is a surety in any IT-related job, particularly that of a CIO or IT head, being alert and dealing with such tension is imperative. A commonplace example of stress triggered by uncertainty is the traffic light. At least in Mumbai, you see cars inching forward well before the light goes green. Ask yourself, does your foot twitch or do you start tapping your steering wheel with your fingers when you stop at a traffic light? "They have now started putting timers on traffic signals to prevent road rage. This is pure psychology at work," notes Joshi.

Pressure's OK, stress kills

Some amount of pressure is a necessity for good management, but today's levels of stress make it a silent killer that hits people past their 30s the worst. It cannot be diagnosed by a medical test, and is often overlooked. It is therefore essential for one and all to understand it as a concept, be aware of the symptoms to watch out for, and take proactive measures to keep trouble at bay. Joshi's book makes a good starting point.

- Deepali Gupta

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Indian Express - Business Publications Division

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