K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: By qualification I am not an expert in stress management. But as a physician I think I see stress and its results on people more often than what most people think. Day in and day out I encounter patients who come to me and complain straight away that they are too stressed up and need some prescription for it.
But for every such patient who knows what his or her problem is, I meet at least ten more who simply do not know that every one of their physical complaints are related to the abnormally high levels of stress they build up as they go about their daily lives.
This stress in disguise can be very detrimental to a healthy and comfortable life and is the cause of many psycho-somatic problems where an over-burdened mind begins to induce disorders like insomnia, hyperacidity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes in an otherwise healthy body.
From the days when I started practice soon after post-graduation, just about 25 years ago to the present day, I have been seeing and treating these stress related problems and I have found that their incidence is increasing by leaps and bounds every passing day.
That is because, from the days when we were cavemen and just hunters and gatherers to the present day where we have become hunters, gatherers, usurpers and accumulators, our life style has gone through a full circle of change.
Now even the most independent and affluent amongst us have just become bonded labourers who work ten times harder than necessary for a nonexistent boss to live just one life. Most of us till we reach the time to retire still continue to slog, trying to create more and more wealth which we will eventually be unable to use to make ourselves happy.
By the time you discover that you have made enough money to start spending it for your pleasure you discover that there is simply no time for you to do it in good health. So in the end you only end up making some doctor or hospital wealthier by it.
When you really come to think of it, we need not really work so hard and burn ourselves up in the process because what we really need to go through this life comfortably does not require so much effort.
I have seen hundreds of people around me who have made millions but who have ended up exiting this world as miserable paupers with their wealth intact and unused. If only they had worked a little less and had taken time off their slogging for a little leisure or to see the world around them they would have been happier and in better health although with a little lesser wealth.
Our obsession with building a cyber world of instant connectivity and communication too, without which we seem to be ill-equipped to survive, has certainly added much to our misery.
I know of many software professionals in metropolitan cities who after a hard day at the office come home tired and weary with a much harder time in the peak hour traffic. They come home not to put their feet up and relax with their loved ones but only to perforce open their laptops to be available online when their counterparts on the other side of the world wake up to interact with them professionally.
When the much-awaited weekend comes they find that they are either too tired to stir out of their homes or too deterred by the weekend rush at every tiny source of recreation.
Many cyber-professionals, as if in response to a conditioned reflex, simply rush to resorts with their families during holidays only to communicate with them in monosyllables without looking up from their laptops while they try to catch up with their work.
However much a person gets paid to work like this, it is all a very brief and pointless game.
It is no different from burning a candle at both ends to get more light but this way we only end up getting darkness twice as fast. Therefore, this game is certainly not worth the candle.
Very recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to an article on the net where a nurse who was in charge of looking after terminally ill patients had revealed what most of them expressed as to what they would have liked to do instead of what they did during their lifetimes.
What she says makes very revealing reading.
She says: “For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who were destined to die as they were suffering from incurable problems. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. People grow up a lot when they are faced with the prospects of their own death. Each experienced a variety of emotions like denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient when questioned about any regrets he or she had or anything he or she would do differently, invariably came up with these five answers again and again.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not fulfilled even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. But the moment you lose your health, it is too late to do this. Health brings a freedom and opportunity very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had then not been bread-winners. All of the men deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a me-diocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react sharply when you speak out your mind honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases you from this unhealthy relationship. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Often people would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.
It is common for anyone in a busy life-style to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. It all co-mes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions as well as their physical lives.
Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their own selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful it is to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.”
But although very revealing, these last wishes and much belated flashes of wisdom usually do not make sense to most of us until we realise that it is almost time for us to go.
If only we remind ourselves that the whole purpose and happiness of this life lies not at the end of the journey but all along the road, we will all find a completely new meaning and purpose in living. This calls for a new and completely different way of looking at life from an altogether new perspective, perhaps with our feet up and our heads down !
(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)