By Sukanya Sharma
It probably is no surprise to any of us, that most adult Indians suffer from stress. Last year, a survey by Cigna TTK Health Insurance, as reported by Economic Times, revealed that about 89% of the population suffers from stress, and 75% of the respondents do not feel comfortable talking to a medical professional about it (citing cost as one of the barriers).
Outside of India, according to this report by Mental Health Foundation in the UK, over the past year, almost three quarters (74%) of people have at some point felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. The survey, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and undertaken by YouGov, polled 4,169 adults in the UK in 2018.
So what happens when we can’t cope, can no longer keep a lid on our emotions and it spills over into anger and aggression? Things start pretty young, it turns out.
Back in 2014, Dr. Manoj Kumar Sharma and Palaniappan Marimuthu from the Department of Clinical Psychology, and Department of Biostatistics, NIMHANS in Bengaluru conducted a study Prevalence and Psychosocial Factors of Aggression Among Youth with 5,476 participants (2785 males and 2691 females) between the ages of 15 to 26. They found that:
- 17.7% of the youth had high mean aggression score on the Buss-Perry Aggression Scale
- Males have high mean score on aggression than females
- Males experienced more verbal aggression, physical aggression and anger than females
- A younger age group (16-19 years) experienced more aggression than older age group (20-26 years)
This 2014 study in fact inspired a follow up study by the same authors, to talk about mindful ways of tackling aggression among youth.
The Health Collective speaks to Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Hozefa A Bhinderwala about our way of life, the stress that comes with it, and how we can better manage our emotions and take care of ourselves. Practising in Mumbai for the past 22 years, Dr Bhinderwala currently works at Global Hospitals, Parel; Saifee Hospital, Charni Road & Prince Aly Khan Hospital, Mazgaon in South Mumbai. He is also an author and a former school counsellor.
Excerpts of our interview follow.
Q. What is the importance of emotions in human development? Both negative and positive emotions?
Being human and having a well-defined cortex, as a species we have the faculties of thinking, feeling and behaving. Thinking and feelings evolve as we grow older. As we know, we become cognisant (aware) and what we already know, we recognise, which explains our cognition. As we grow older, we associate feeling states(moods) with our cognition and we learn to experience and express our feelings.
How we feel and think determines our behaviour. Our society, our immediate environment, our upbringing, and our experiences shape how we learn and modulate our emotions. To call emotions positive or negative is putting restrictions and making our emotions susceptible to judgements. We can experience different emotions to the same stimuli in different circumstances.
Being a hedonistic species (pleasure seeking and pain avoiding), we tend to favour those emotions that give us pleasure and label them as positive. And conversely those emotions that don’t give us pleasure (sadness, anger) are perceived as negative, when in reality, they often are very essential for survival and so often motivation. The important thing is not to get rid of the so called negative emotions, but have the ability to balance and manage both the positive as well as the negative emotions.
Q: What role does anger play in human psyche?
Anger has been a very old and (the) most life-saving emotion, more like an instinct that has prevented our extinction on this planet. Right from the time before humans became civilised or acquired language, anger has been guarding the species from danger and threats. After the acquisition of language, the expression of anger has received more variety in (how it is) being executed. From being merely protective it has acquired the role of being intimidatory.
An expression of too much anger on minimal or no provocation is also seen as a symptom of many mental and medical disorders. Trying to suppress anger has also been studied and found to put people at risk for various health conditions like diabetes, blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks.
The ability to be aware of one’s own anger and of those around, and the ability to deal with it without hurting people around is one of those fantastic attributes of successful people.
ALSO READ: LONELINESS AND US
Loneliness itself can put a person at risk for anger. (When there is) … more than one person it becomes a recipe for ‘convenient’ anger when any serious work … has to be accomplished. To feel good, we are reluctant to accept our own mistakes and are always on the lookout for other people’s shortcomings or misdeeds to blame for the anger we experience.
Anger is less a state of mismanagement, and more a state of one’s own emotional, psychological and physical homeostasis and balance. As we always say, “I wouldn’t feel the need to be so angry if other people would manage their stupidity better.”
Q: With time, our lifestyle has also evolved and changed…stress seems to overwhelm us – how do we keep a check on our emotions?
One could easily equate anger and stress. We are all as if running a rat race, and no matter how fast we run there are always more rats to overtake.
When machines were first invented, the objective was to have the machine work so that man could rest. Unfortunately, the man is now working faster than the machine and getting no rest in place. This is putting is at risk of burnout and breakdown and the first symptom of these is our uninhibited expression of anger.
The key is to accept our existence as humans and to know that we will have limitations. If we can add the ability to be content and be willing to do the other part on another frame of time, it will make it so much more easier for us to be aware of our emotions. If we have to be in check of our anger the first thing that is required is an awareness of what we are feeling at the present moment.
As simple as it sounds it is one of the most difficult things for human beings to be aware of their emotions in the present moment. Another very important factor is our inability to remain in the present moment. We are either regretting the past or worrying about the future but seldom acknowledging and appreciating the present moment. A very, very tiny percentage of the population has learnt the ability to focus on the present moment without getting distracted by the past or the future. Mindfulness is one of those things that if people understand and acquire they can be in a better position to handle their emotions.
Q: You’ve been practising for 22 years, what are some of the changes you’ve seen in urban anger/ stress levels? Do you think we the need for anger/stress management is more today?
Over the last 2 decades, we have been hosts to the Internet in our lives. Our overall social interaction has also changed from being personal to digital and in the last 6-8 years, our world has been influenced by the invasion of social media. Anger has found a new medium, the screens. People who would not confront an individual are now expressing their views not just to the particular individual, but on social media groups, without the apprehension and sometimes concern of the subsequent outcome.
Emojis have replaced many of our genuine expression of anger. Lacking genuine physical social interaction has put us at risk for becoming more impulsive and in a hurry, leading to shorter fuses for tempers. The anger and it’s expression are definitely on the rise, putting a premium on relationships and predisposing to depression, further worsening of anger.
Certainly, the levels of stress and the pressure that the society faced at large is more because there is a perception of wanting and being more, where resources and abilities haven’t proportionately increased. Yes, there is a need to sensitise the people about the need to better manage anger and stress both.
Q: What are some lifestyle changes you can think which are triggers?
- Increased expectations from self and others
- Lack of recreation
- Lack of physical activity
- Lack of me time
- Irregular eating habits
- Looking for quick fixes rather than sustained solutions.
- Substance Abuse – resorting to Nicotine, Alcohol, Cannabis and other illicit substances to relieve stress
- Reduced socialising
- Increased Digital Social interaction and reduced physical in person interaction
- Reduced time spent with family
ALSO READ: WORKPLACE STRESS AND THE NEED FOR ME TIME
Coming Up Next: Tips on Reducing Anger and Stress
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal. Material on The Health Collective cannot substitute for expert advice from a trained professional.
Feature Image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash