Learn to handle mental and psychological stress through the art of ‘doing nothing’ Published on: 30 Oct, 2021


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We are all surrounded by the signs of a society under stress. Mental stress is becoming endemic in the modern world. Many of life’s situations may trigger a stress response in the body, problems such as inharmonious working conditions, overload of work, financial difficulties, and relationship problems within one’s family or with a boss or colleagues. 

The majority of us do suffer from mental stress; however, its severity varies with each and every individual. Stress causes a wide range of physical changes in the body. It generally increases heart rate and may accelerate or depress breathing. Stress itself is not an illness, but if left unchecked, it can contribute to major health issues.

Monitor your mind Effectively & Efficiently

Mental stress is exacerbated when we do not monitor and manage our minds in an efficient and open way. We generally don’t know how to prioritize work and time efficiently. Managing intimate relationships and relations with co-workers can be especially stressful. Many stir up tension and harassment for others.

Under stressful conditions, the mind becomes agitated and thoughts may become obsessive triggering a cascade of hormones, including stress hormone, that is, cortisol. It’s secreted by the adrenal gland situated above the kidneys. Increased levels of cortisol in the blood contribute to serious diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Millions of people in India die each year from these diseases and it’s all because we don’t know how to cope with chronic mental stress.

What causes mental stress and where does it come from?

Stress can come from just about anywhere. However, there are two main sources of mental stress; one is from family relationships and the other is from our workplace. A toxic relationship with one’s marriage partner or in-laws is also very common, as are financial difficulties, health-related issues, and childrearing problems. Sometimes even a trivial matter can take an ugly turn between the partners. Relationships are often very complicated, and if both partners don’t handle their issues with empathy and care, mental stress is inevitable. 

Relationships may also be tense in one’s social circle and in the romantic arena. 

Mental stress is especially prevalent in the workplace. In today’s hyper-competitive world, the working class is the worst affected, especially in India. Most people are working in a highly aggressive environment, with pressure to be more productive, efficient, and profit-generating. Long working hours, tight deadlines, and overambitious targets cause an overload of work, leading to mental stress. Unfortunately, senior executives and leaders are far more stressed and create stress for others. Working conditions are therefore unpleasant and unconducive in most of the private- and public-sector enterprises in India. Though the trend is changing, it’s still not encouraging.

It’s a known fact that when we are mentally stressed, disturbed, or worrying about something, then it becomes very difficult to focus on the present. Mind’s wandering increases in those moments. We are not able to concentrate on anything other than the issue which is troubling us. It’s well established that a wandering mind is unhappy while a focused mind is a happy one. Among life’s, most challenging tasks is to control our minds. Managing thoughts under distressing moments is not an easy task.

The more we try to suppress our negative or troubling thoughts, the more forcefully they resurface. Even if we divert our attention to entirely different things, we are not able to focus on the present. This condition leads to ‘overthinking’. The same set of disturbing thoughts come to our minds despite our best efforts.   People are now realizing that meditation is the best tool to train their minds. Meditation studios, brands, and apps are popping up worldwide. Along with a healthy diet and exercise, meditation is being recognized as one of the three pillars of well-being.

A listing of meditation’s benefits on both physical and mental health, validated by research studies, would become voluminous. Therefore, only certain critical areas are being touched upon here. When we meditate, we practice moment-to-moment awareness while observing whatever happens around us. It’s like any other physical exercise. The result is that our mind gradually becomes more focused and attentive.

Be Mindful

Mindfulness is nothing but the ability to stay in the present. When we don’t do anything but observe the present moments non-judgmentally, that’s mindfulness. When we say ‘doing nothing’ that means we don’t even think.  We are not involved in our thought process. As third-person, we watch and observe what’s going on inside and outside of us. This is a form of meditation. We can say ‘do nothing meditation’ or mindfulness-based meditation.

Most of us find it extremely difficult to stay in solitude, all alone in a room or home. We hate to spend even a few minutes alone somewhere. We are conditioned to remain busy. We continue to arrange some task or another to do when we have nothing else. We don’t like to enjoy our own company. We don’t love to silently observe our own thoughts. Sitting all alone in a room and observing our own stream of thoughts or our breathing is a dreadful prospect or experience for many of us. So, to avoid such situations, we keep ourselves busy.

Doing nothing is far more difficult than doing something. Now the question arises of how to learn to stay in solitude, without any work or how to do nothing, the answer lies in mindfulness. By practicing meditation, we can easily stay alone and start enjoying our own thoughts/company.  

What doing nothing is meant here?

“Doing nothing” doesn’t mean that we sit quietly in a room and are lost in our thoughts. We are not required to think or start analyzing or imagining things. What we need to do is to go beyond the incessant stream of thoughts. We should observe our thoughts, let them come and go. Just be aware of those thoughts. We shouldn’t pass judgment on them, nor assign any meaning to them; all that’s needed is plain awareness of thoughts. This is nothing but a state of mindfulness.

By doing so, not only, we increase our own awareness (self-awareness), awareness of thoughts, and ‘Self’ but we become more adept at managing our stress level. The best thing that we can do is to start practicing mindfulness in our day-to-day life. When we become focused, attentive, and start living more in the present, our mental stress will automatically vanish.

Niksen: In the Netherlands, the Dutch people practice a lifestyle concept called Niksen, which means doing nothing.

Niksen is promoting the art of truly switching off our thoughts and mind, it literally means “doing nothing,” or to be idle or to do something without any benefit/utility. During mindfulness meditation, we are required to observe our own stream of thoughts and be present in the moments at hand.

However, in Niksen, practitioners take time out to sit quietly and observe the surrounding environment. They might listen to music or sit near the window and observe the outside environment or take a long walk in their neighborhood or a pretty forest.  These are some of the popular choices. Maybe, people can simply relax in a dark room. The growing popularity of Niksen in other parts of the world has proven to be an effective remedy for stress and anxiety

Take away: No one will dispute that the world is becoming healthier, we, in general, are far more fit compared to what we were 2 to 3 decades ago. Life expectancy has increased, we are living longer. However, the quality of life is consistently deteriorating. Far more older people are dying from cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, obesity, and other lifestyle diseases. One of the most important causes of ‘lifestyle’ diseases is mental and psychological stress. So, this is how the new age maladies like chronic stress are affecting the quality of life. We must learn how to manage our mental stress especially when we face adverse and challenging situations in life.


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