Managing stress and anxiety – the biggest problem of our time?
Climate change, food security and poverty are arguably some of the biggest challenges ahead of us in the coming decades. And most debates and discussions from school classrooms to global forums focus on these challenges. However, I would argue that there’s an equally important problem facing our society today – managing emotions, particularly stress and anxiety.
Why do I want to solve this problem?
I became fascinated with stress a few years back when I started conducting workshops for individuals and corporates on personal growth and self-actualisation. I soon realised that everyone strives to be better and grow personally and professionally. However, the biggest roadblock on a day to day basis for people is actually managing their emotions with stress and anxiety being the hardest to manage.
From college students to CEOs – no one is taught how to manage their emotions and from interacting with over 500 people I’ve worked with in workshops and small sessions, it is something that almost everyone seemed to struggle with. This convinced me that there’s no bigger problem that I can help solve today. Large studies and data confirm this. In India, numerous studies have estimated that 85-90% of working adults report high levels of stress with around half of those translating to prolonged anxiety and poor mental health. Globally, it is estimated that stress and anxiety causes an impact of over $1trillion to the world economy each year. This is largely due to lower productivity and per capita output caused by stress in the form of health issues, absenteeism and burnout. In 2019, the World Health Organisation officially recognised burnout from stress as a medical condition.
We’ve not evolved to deal with constant stress
While these large numbers show the magnitude of the problem, the real impact of stress is always at a micro level for every individual. As society has evolved over the last 1000’s of years from hunter gatherers to farmers to the industrial age and now the technological age – our bodies haven’t evolved as well. 10,000 years ago, when our ancestors were farming or herding livestock, the threat of a wild animal released cortisol and adrenaline in our bodies which allowed us to respond to the threat with heightened senses, focus and strength allowing us to fight back or run away quickly. Humans evolved to have this hormonal response because these events did not occur continuously. The moment the threat subsided, our cortisol and adrenaline levels would come back to normal.
Today, when we have a conflict with someone, have a deadline to meet or see upsetting news, our bodies trigger exactly the same stress response. However, in our lives today, these are not infrequent events. The average person goes through multiple such ‘stress’ inducing events on a daily basis both in their personal and professional life. This means that there’s a continuous flow of cortisol and adrenaline in the body, which is not what these hormones were designed for! In the short run, these hormones increase our heart rate, dilate our blood vessels and increase blood sugar level. But continuous cortisol in the blood means that these symptoms continue, which if left unchecked become the perfect recipe for heart and cardiac related issues in the long run. Ever heard of a stress-induced heart attack?
Here’s what stress does at a micro level:
On a day to day basis, continuous stress will not lead to heart attacks. But there are numerous other effects cortisol has on our bodies. Ranging from low energy to digestive issues and immunity problems.
But it’s the effects these symptoms have on individuals and their lives which really bring out the impact of stress. Let’s look at a few scenarios.
- Imagine someone coming home stressed from work. The stress in the body may lead to a headache or fatigue. Due to this, this person is unable to spend quality time with their family or loved ones. Over time, this has a significant impact on their relationships and also how their kids may be brought up. Over generations, the cost of this one person’s stress will be compounded!
- Someone is extremely passionate about the environment and apart from their day job, on weekends they run regular beach clean ups and awareness drives. Suddenly, due to a few weeks of hectic work schedules and deadlines, stress starts to kick in and on weekends, all this person now wants to do is curl up in bed and catch up on sleep. Imagine the loss to their local environment and the knock on effect on fellow volunteers who looked up to this person’s leadership and drive.
Everyone facing stress has a similar story where their stress leads to a domino effect on either their lives and in most cases someone else’s as well. Now imagine billions of these stories and the total effect this has on the world. That is the magnitude of the problem.
How are we at Evolve solving this problem?
At Evolve, one of our fundamental beliefs is that one must constantly ‘balance’ themselves and manage emotions like stress proactively. And our app helps do exactly that.
Evolve is free to download and a section of the app is free forever.