The ugly six letter word that can trump even world champions

Let’s get started with the champion:

He is an Indian chess Grandmaster and a former World Chess Champion. Prominent in the extensive list of accomplishments is the fact he won the World Chess Championship five times (2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012), and was the undisputed World Champion from 2007 to 2013. He also holds the distinction of being the only player who won the world championship playing in all different formats (Match, Tournament, and Knockout). He has won the Chess Oscar six times (1997, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2007 & 2008). This person was also the FIDE World Rapid Chess Champion in 2003, and is widely considered the strongest rapid player of his generation.

Suffice for you to recognize that the champion that we are referring to is Vishwanathan “Vishy” Anand.

Vishy lost to Carlsen in the recently concluded World Chess championship held in Sochi, Russia. In the post-match press meet, responding to a question about the ghastly mistake that cost him dearly the penultimate match and the championship, Anand said “I was under stress — I wasn’t thinking clearly and it was a nervous decision”. This coming from a champion who has been practicing the game for the past 38 years. Makes me wonder whether it was Carlsen who truly beat him in that game or was Vishy “check-mated” by stress?

STRESS. The ugly six letter word that rears its head time and again in our lives.

And did you know that there are two types of stress — good and bad? I didn’t, till I stumbled upon this reference which defined the “flight-or-fight” mechanism that is imprinted in our instinctive adaptation to survive. This syndrome was defined by Canadian biochemist Hans Selye of McGill University in Montreal. He produced his revolutionary findings in a short article in “Nature”, in which he defined two types of “stress”: eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress). If you break it up — Eustress comes from the Greek root “eu” which means good as in euphoria. Distress stems from the Latin root “dis” as in conflict or disagreement.

Stress at play? Pic courtesy Live Mint

But why do we feel the way we feel — when we experience stress — regardless whether it is good or bad?

Do you recognize the feeling of heightened state of arousal when you heard that inspiring speech from the motivational speaker and thought you could seize every opportunity that came your way, that day? Or that sense of helplessness and anxiety when faced with a situation that was spiraling out of your control? What triggers these feelings?

According to Hans Selye, as a response to the triggers, both eustress and distress release cortisol, a hormone in our body that aids in the “fight-or-flight” syndrome. This hormone mobilizes our body into a ready state of action — the important element being that there has to be a physical release in the form of fight or flight. That is how we are genetically coded.

With eustress, since it’s mostly linked to something tangible, the cortisol level returns to normal once the task is achieved or a milestone crossed. The free floating anxiety, that is distress, is the one that causes havoc to our mind and body since there is no outlet to the cortisol. Research has shown that elevated levels of cortisol in the body, on an incessant basis, leads to some of the chronic symptoms such as insomnia, impaired sleeping, health complaints at a physiological level & anxiety and depression at a psychological level.

With increasing digital lifestyle that is largely sedentary, coupled with aggregated feelings of anxiety at work we could be potentially dealing with a ticking time bomb.

But there is good news. While one cannot stop the triggers and the resultant production of cortisol, popular research has come up with ways to manage our responses to stress. Here are the top 10 choices that have been listed on the web:

  1. Regular Exercise — set up and follow through on a fitness program. 3–4 times a week of regular activity is recommended.
  2. Time Management — develop an organizational system that suits you and works for you. Achieving tangible tasks and striking off items on time, in the things-to-do lists, releases stress
  3. Support Systems — to listen, offer advice, and support each other. Stress due to situations and events that are perceived to be tougher than it is in real terms, gets clarified in these activities.
  4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation — loosen tense muscle groups. Sure, Yoga comes to everyone’s mind.
  5. Journal Writing — putting pencil on paper and expressing true emotions and feelings on important issues and the act of self-reflection eases stress.
  6. Stress Management in the Workplace — “Eat the frog first” can be a way of life — The ugly, distasteful things that need to be done, but tend not to, if attended to on priority eases the pressure for the rest of the day.
  7. Guided Imagery and Visualization — create a relaxing state of mind. Pick and choose from the several of meditation techniques.
  8. Assertiveness Training — work on effective communication. “Wish I could have said No” is one of the greatest triggers of stress.

Did I say top ten choices and have listed only 8?

Here is where YOU, my good friend and trusted network connection, come in to play a crucial role in filling the gaps & completing this post. May I invite you to share your top choices of how you have dealt with this ugly six letter word — STRESS? Request you to share your perspectives, ideas and valuable thoughts that could be of immense help to me and importantly to the readers of this post who in their lives could be potentially dealing with stress. Appreciate that very much.

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