Pop a balloon, fill in those colouring books, run an obstacle course or just get away to a camp—beating stress has never been a more serious business, spawning a whole industry around it .
ON A balmy September morning last year at Connaught Place in the heart of New Delhi, joggers and morning walkers came across an unusual sight. Spread in front of them, making heads turn was a sea of pink and white balloons. Standing near the balloons was 25-year-old Latika Wadhwa, asking people to step up, pick a balloon, write down the things or names of persons causing them stress on it and then pop it with a pin. The idea was simple, says Wadhwa: pop the balloon and feel a lightness of being. Many people stepped up, from children and middle-aged homemakers to retired septuagenarians, and, in a matter of a few hours, more than 4,000 people had participated in the activity.
“The balloon acts like a bubble of stress and when it’s burst, it produces a sense of soothing calmness in one’s mind,” says Wadhwa, whose MaStyle Care, a not-for-profit organisation, conducts events on social issues every month in New Delhi and Meerut to spread awareness. ‘Pop the Balloon’ was a campaign aimed at addressing the issue of rising stress levels in our lives today.
“I run a daycare centre for children,” says 43-year-old Coimbatore-based Jaya Neil. “Sometime back, I came across the Pop the Balloon initiative while browsing the Internet and conducted the exercise for the children at my daycare centre. I encouraged them to write their fears on a balloon and burst it. They religiously did so. Then last week, four-year-old Adwaitha, a child who is afraid of the dark, when asked to fetch something from another room where the lights were switched off, just went and got it without any hesitation or fear. When asked, she said her fear was gone the day she burst the balloon! The activity not only helped the children but me as well in feeling lighter.”
Stress is now an almost constant element of our lives. And it’s increasing every day. Today, it is not enough to be good at what you do, you have to be successful as well. Work pressure, demanding jobs, financial responsibilities, loneliness, competition, etc, are major contributors for increasing stress levels these days. This also has an adverse effect on health: stress and anxiety are known to cause diabetes, weight loss, obesity, high blood pressure, appetite loss, hairfall, etc.
“Everyday we come across news articles about suicides due to stress,” says Wadhwa, adding, “It was the trigger for us to create our Pop the Balloon event.” The activity, Wadhwa explains, was conducted after a lot of research, which included talking to many psychologists on ways to relieve stress.
“We get at least 200 patients daily who are affected by some or the other kind of stress. And the number has more than doubled compared to what it was almost 10 years ago,” says Dr Uday K Sinha, additional professor and head, department of clinical psychology, Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS), New Delhi, adding, “Getting easily irritated, experiencing problems in sleeping, tolerance levels coming down, not being able to perform to the best of your abilities, etc, are all effects of stress. We identify the source and then prescribe solutions in the form of counselling, recreational activities, specific psychological and cognitive behaviour therapies, etc. But if somebody starts experiencing difficulty in day-to-day life—problems at workplace, relationships getting affected—it requires professional help and medication.”
As per ‘Preventive Healthcare: Impact on Corporate Sector’, a 2015 Assocham study, nearly 42.5% employees in the private sector suffer from depression or general anxiety disorders. The occurrence of problems like depression and anxiety has increased by 45-50% among corporate employees in the past eight years, says the study, which is based on the views of corporate employees from 150 companies across sectors like media, telecom, knowledge process outsourcing firms, etc, across major cities of India. Delhi ranks first in being the most anxious or depressed, followed by Bengaluru, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Hyderabad and Pune. Obesity is the second-most common affliction that was observed, with 23% suffering from it. High blood pressure and diabetes occupy the third and fourth spots, with a share of 9% and 8%, respectively. Other health issues ailing corporate employees are spondolysis (5.5%), heart disease (4%), cervical (3%), asthma (2.5%), slip disk (1%) and arthritis (1.5%).
Restoring the rhythm
Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old holistic healing tradition of India, looks at stress as an imbalance of vata, pitta and kapha (the three fundamental bodily humours, or doshas), which can lead to various diseases and disorders, including fearfulness, anxiety, anger, phobias, peptic ulcers, hypertension, diabetes, under-active thyroid function, slow metabolism, obesity, etc. “Stress is considered as a positive factor, which helps us improve and evolve naturally. But when our body and mind are not balanced, stress is left unmanaged and this residue creates tension in our body and cloudiness in our mind,” says Dr Shijoe Mathew, senior Ayurvedic physician, Ananda in the Himalayas, a spa resort in Rishikesh. “The most sustainable remedy for this, as per Ayurveda, is to create a lifestyle routine that contributes to restoring the rhythm in life.”
One sure-shot and the simplest way to restore this rhythm, say experts, is to indulge in any form of recreational or leisure activity that ensures some quality time spent with, and on, yourself. “The rule of thumb to beat stress,” says Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist, PD Hinduja National Hospital, and Sir HNRF Hospital, Prathana Samaj, Mumbai, “is to do something different from the norm. That is, if one basically does intellectual work through the day, then one should indulge in some physical hobby and vice-versa.” These activities could be anything under the sun—physical exercise, meditation, sports, yoga, music, dancing, sketching, etc—which help you focus on your physical and psychological well-being.
Mumbai-based PR professional Isha Doshi, for instance, turns to jigsaw puzzles to beat stress, going on solving them for four hours at a stretch sometimes. Till date (she started two years ago), she says she has solved four 500-piece puzzles and one 1,000-piece one. “Solving jigsaw puzzles to beat stress was not a planned move,” says 27-year-old Doshi. “I tried working out, but with all the stress, there was no energy left in me to follow it religiously. One day, I walked into a toy store and saw a 500-piece puzzle there. I don’t know what pushed me to buy it, but I did and I’ve been solving puzzles now for the past two years. I find them very challenging. They distract me from all the stress and involve me completely. When I am solving puzzles, my only focus is on putting the pieces together and I forget everything else.”
There are also some who like to play virtual reality games like media company Chrome India’s Eshita Dharia (who, along with 11 other colleagues, plays CounterStrike after work every day) and e-commerce company eShopbox’s founder and director Mayur Karwa (who has been playing Lumosity to beat stress for a year now). Mumbai-based Zafar Rais, CEO, digital outreach company MindShift Interactive, on the other hand, loves to destress with his Nespresso machine and playing with his cats after work every day. “I was gifted a Nespresso machine sometime back because of my love for coffee and the fact that I love to experiment with various concoctions. Making a cuppa not only for myself, but for friends and colleagues, too, adds to the fun. For me, the mere act of making and serving coffee is quite a stressbuster,” says Rais, adding, “Another way I destress is by playing with my two cats, Dino and Casper, who love to listen to my stories!”
Another popular outlet for stress relief these days are colouring books. Designed for adults, they are available in a variety of themes, with designs ranging from mathematical patterns and sceneries to landscapes. “I like the sketches and it relaxes me to fill those with colour,” says Kasturi Patra in the customer review section on Amazon.in.
While we all feel the heat at some time or the other, our efforts to beat stress remain solely focused on ourselves. But this is changing now, with some people actually going the extra mile to curate unique events to help others beat stress. Take, for example, New Delhi-based Zorba the Buddha, a multi-cultural art centre, which organises the three-day residential festival, Tattva. People from different walks of life—homemakers, artists, musicians, office-goers, expats, facilitators, diplomats, etc—come together to celebrate and relax, bonding over a whole array of workshops and activities like pottery, singing, meditation, yoga, painting, cooking, gardening, calligraphy and much more. Participants are encouraged to bid adieu to all negative emotions/attachments with a ceremony in which everybody writes about things they want to get rid of and then throw the chits of paper in a huge bonfire. “This festival is for creative self-expression and demasking ourselves,” says 56-year-old Ashwin Bharti, founder and director, Zorba the Buddha, adding, “Participants aspire to shed their inhibitions, reveal their true selves and, at the same time, accept people for who they are without any judgements.”
A sentiment echoed by Tattva’s past participants: “In this world of insulated lives, it is an incredible experience to live together as a community. Badges, titles, designations, bank balances hold no meaning at Tattva. You connect with each other at a human level and gift each other your time and love,” says Vandana Katoch, who runs an ad agency in New Delhi.
Companies, too, have now begun to recognise and correct the issue of stress in employees. So while Bengaluru-based online travel start-up iTraveller has a cafeteria in its office (besides an activity room where employees can play table tennis, darts, cards, basketball, etc), where any employee who wants to cook for themselves or others is welcome to do so, Gurgaon-based PM Relocations, a packers and movers company, organises group painting and drawing competitions, and even screening of cricket matches on projectors to help its employees beat stress. New Delhi-based Tirun Travel Marketing, the India representative of global cruise company, Royal Caribbean Cruises, organises luxury cruises and getaways for its employees routinely.
Another venture that helps corporate executives beat stress is New Delhi-based Volano Entertainment. Founded in 2011 by Zeba Zaidi and Adnan Adeeb, Volano aims to entice corporate professionals back to the playing field with its Devil Circuit, an obstacle running series. The challenge has been conducted in cities like New Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad, with more than 500 corporate professionals across sectors, ranging from infrastructure, banking, information technology to healthcare, taking part in it.
“We, at Volano, strongly believe in the power of sports to beat stress in everyday life. It’s a scientifically proven fact that regular physical activity goes a long way in preventing lifestyle-related diseases, of which stress is a major contributor,” says Zaidi, adding, “I personally believe it is very important for everyone in today’s world to pursue at least one hobby of their choice. Be it reading, travelling or playing a sport, everybody should be able to take some time off for their personal interests. Indulgence in such activities keeps an individual on top of his/her mental faculties besides breaking the monotony of daily routine.”
What Zaidi does through sports, 23-year-old Sanaa Vidyalankar aims to achieve through dance and Pilates!
So while the Zumba dance class at her Soul to Sole fitness and dance studio in New Delhi is an hour-long, energy-packed session, which promises to make you forget all your worries, her Pilates class teaches participants selective relaxation of muscles—that is, muscles not required for a particular task at hand. It reminds people to experience life in the moment, allows them time to recognise distress and choose an alternative response. “I have learnt through studying and teaching Pilates that stress reduction is a profound benefit of a regular Pilates practice,” says Vidyalankar, adding, “It helps to ease the effects of stress through the implementation of its central principles: breathing techniques, body awareness, relaxation, concentration, mindfulness, balance and harmony.”
Explaining further how Zumba and Pilates help lower stress, Vidyalankar says, “Zumba and Pilates stimulate the secretion of several hormones responsible for mood enhancement and raised energy levels, including serotonin, dopamine and nor-epinephrine, which enable stress relief. The energetic movement and rigorous exercise routine release endorphins, which counteract the cortisol and adrenaline hormones that cause stress. This uplifts your mood and makes you feel good.”
Vidyalankar has recently started classes for children as well, who, she says, experience stress too. Agrees Dr Samir Parikh, director and head, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, New Delhi: “There is an increasing trend of both children and adolescents showing symptoms of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use, eating disorders, etc,” he says. The reasons children experience stress could be many. Studies, parental pressure, exams, peer pressure, wanting to look cool, etc, are some of the drivers behind children complaining of stress these days, as per Dr Sayantani Mukherjee, consultant psychiatrist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Pune.
An alternative way to beat stress in adults and children alike is to be aware of what you eat, says Dr Mathew. A suggestion backed by 43-year-old Vijayant Rawat, executive chef, Mosaic Hotels, Noida: “Gastronomy has a direct relation with stress. Food helps to build immunity to fight against diseases caused by stress. Spinach, salmon, green vegetables, etc, are advisable. Also, orange, lime and mint juices are good stressbusters. One should also eat food rich in magnesium to beat stress.” Three cheers to a stress-free existence.
We get at least 200 patients daily who are affected by stress. And the number has more than doubled compared to what it was almost 10 years ago. Getting easily irritated, experiencing problems in sleeping, tolerance levels coming down, not being able to perform to the best of your abilities, etc, are all effects of stress.
Dr Uday K Sinha, additional professor & head, department of clinical psychology, IHBAS, New Delhi
There is no getting away from the fact that there has been an increase in stress. Colouring, cooking, laughter clubs, gardening, etc, are all known to reduce stress. The rule of thumb is to do something different from the norm. That is, if one does intellectual work through the day, then one should indulge in some physical hobby and vice-versa.
Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist, PD Hinduja National Hospital, and Sir HNRF Hospital, Prathana Samaj, Mumbai
Stress is considered as a positive factor, which helps us improve and evolve. But when our body and mind are not balanced, stress is left unmanaged and this creates tension and cloudiness. The most sustainable remedy for this, as per Ayurveda, is to create a lifestyle routine that contributes to restoring the rhythm in life.
Dr Shijoe Mathew, senior Ayurvedic physician, Ananda in the Himalayas, Rishikesh
It’s a scientifically proven fact that regular physical activity goes a long way in preventing lifestyle-related diseases, of which stress is a major contributor. It is very important in today’s world to pursue at least one hobby. Be it reading, travelling or playing a sport, everybody should be able to take some time off for their personal interests.
Zeba Zaidi, co-founder, Volano Entertainment, which organises an obstacle running series for working professionals