Most people today are stressed, but few of them realize that they are. Many of the stress symptoms are subtle in nature, and its impact can be seen in one's emotional (anger, frustration etc), psychological (fear, depression, irritability, forgetfulness etc) and physical (ulcers, lack of sleep, loss of apetite) behaviors and attitudes (lethargic, laziness etc). Most stress related behaviors and attitudes are known to significantly impact one's physical health as well.
Even though stress can be caused by numerous factors, I broadly classify stress sources into three(based on Upanishadic and Vedantic teachings): Adi-Bhautika (inflicted by others around us; humans or otherwise), Adi-Atmika (self-inflicted), and Adi-Daivika (celestial or meta-physical or divine aspects). It is usually some level of interaction between these three aspects that results in stress.
Self-Inflicted Stress is a significant source of stress. A good proportion of people put themselves under undue stress for several reasons. Example: a) setting unattainable, impractical goals and expectations, b) working against one's nature, c) making multiple commitments, d) fueling endless desires (kaama), e) developing attachments to objects (moha), f) qualification or availability of resources or skills, g) Individual attributes (maatsarya or jealousy, lobha or greed, modha or pride, kroda or anger), h) personality traits or types (introvert/extrovert, Type A/Type B etc).
Next, individuals are equally impacted by people around them: family, society, friends, foes, colleagues, strangers, animals etc. Stressers are either inflicted by others or self-inflicted due to association with others. For example, one may be stressed that someone close may not be doing well, or doing too well. At workplace managers or colleagues can act as strong sources of stress. Interestingly, others can stress us to the degree that we let them. In many occassions we are stressed because we feel helpless, due to lack of appropriate skills or opportunities outside. When we supress our feelings due to these helpless states it creates an internal state that is highly stressful and unhealthy in the long run.
Finally, individuals are stressed due to aspects that are beyond one's control, for instance situations. Often Adi-Daivika stresses are those that are due to natural elements and our interactions with them, but they can also be situations that we are subject to. Many times uncertainty of the future states and outcomes are biggest reasons for stress.
People are stressed and live in a stressful environment. Stress could soon be the number one killer. But why are people stressed? Why do we live in a stressful environment? In order to understand stress and ways out of it we need to first understand the sources of stress. When I say 'sources of stress' I don’t mean the external objects but our internal nature. We may have to first understand our physical, psychological, phsyio-psychological nature.
Let us first try to understand our selves first. Upanishads say that at the physical level we are covered by five layers or sheets called the khoshas. Annamaya, praaNamaya, manomaya, vijnyaanamaya, and aanandamaya. Annamaya khosha pertains to the senses, the layer that sustains on some sort of food or intake. The eyes crave for light or sight, ears crave for sound, nose craves for smell, tongue for taste, and skin for touch. At an even more gross level the body craves for food to sustain itself. At the next level is the layer of activity, the praaNamaya khosha, the life air that keeps the animate being moving and active. The actions of the senses are controlled by this layer. If this stops then action in the body ceases to exist. The next layer which separates animal life from plant is called the manomaya khosha, the layer of the mind or thought. This thought is the indiscriminate thought, i.e. those that are based at that the instincts level. This layer supports the basic activities of all animal life – eating, mating, sleeping, and defending. This layer supports and is supported by the praaNamaya and annamaya koshas. If the latter two cannot exist then this cannot exist. What differentiates humans from animals is the ability to differentiate, discriminate, contemplate and work at moral and intellect levels. This layer is the layer of the intellect, which is above the layer of the mundane mind. Finally, what supports
Trying to do things that are not natural to us creates stress. For example, are you more tired when doing things you like or doing things you don’t. We always want to be in a state that we are by nature tuned to, for example we want happiness because we are by nature “ananda”, bliss, so we do not want anything to do with being sad. Being sad stresses us out because it is not our nature. When we do things that are not part of our nature then there is an unseen, unperceived resistance within that stresses us out. We try to push against our nature and we stress out. When people push us against our resistance we stress out; when we push against time we stress out. What can we do with the stress? Either avoid the sources of stress or learn to better manage them. Reduce the resistance from within and without and you will see less stress. Stress is like fire, more you fuel it more it flares.
All our attempts in life are to attain our natural state, the state of eternity, knowledge and bliss. We want to live forever because it is our internal nature. We constantly seek some knowledge or the other whether we want it or not, it is our internal nature. And, we live and work and everything for the sole purpose of attaining “happiness”. Above all, we are dictated by our “guna” – true nature. For example, some people are businessmen, some engineers, some doctors, some philosophers by nature. It is their inherent character. We are best served by following the path that goes with out true nature. But, how do we know our natural states or true natures?
When we do things that do not draw us towards out natural state we exert more pressure, more pressure leads to more stress. When you drive with the wind, the winds aids the movement and results in less stress. The true nature or guna is what people feel passionate about.
Strangely, when we are stressed we tend to attract more stressors. For example, people take to Alchohol or drugs as a way to manage stress. These do not eliminate stress but temporarily mask the symptoms but the problem deep within gets fueled further. Once such crutches are used, such suppressors are used, they become habits. We became slaves to, dependents of, such supressors.