Over the last couple of weeks, my conversations with colleagues have centered around living a stress-free life. COVID is obviously on people’s minds. But work, family pressures, an uncertain environment – it all adds up. One colleague, normally very composed, told me she had been on the verge of a break down.
A few years ago, I came across a tiny powerhouse of a book by Swami Dayanand Saraswati. It teaches us how to live stress-free with some compelling yet simple ideas. It’s a book that has been a constant friend for me over the years – I trust you’ll find it a very supportive companion too.
The Swami starts by looking at why stress happens. Take a minute to reflect on the areas that are most stressful for you now. You’ll realize they all result from our expectations from those in our circle.
I find that it is these significant people who count in my life, whom I cannot take them as they are. I wish they were different.Saraswati, Swami Dayananda. Stress-free Living . Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust. Kindle Edition
The set of “significant people” is not just limited to our close circle. We have expectations not just from our family but also about all the other causes we identify with.
You might be a genius at math; you want your son to be one too. But he likes the arts. You support one political party, but the other one looks to be winning. You expect everyone to join the meeting at 9.00 am sharp, but your team members prefer working late.
All this causes stress for us – because the other person is not doing what we want him to do.
To become Stress-free, you have to understand one more thing
But it doesn’t stop there. We want them to do what we want – and do it in a way we approve!
If you woke up at 5.30 am every day to study, you expect your children to do the same. If you worked 20 hours every day in your apprentice years and were always available to help, you expect the new interns to do the same. This leads to a second powerful insight.
I have agendas for everyone who is related to me.Saraswati, Swami Dayananda. Stress-free Living . Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust. Kindle Edition
We not only have expectations but detailed agendas for everybody. This makes it doubly hard. We have expectations of people and how they should act upon those expectations. Stress inevitably occurs.
This is not to say that you should not have expectations, but you should be aware of your expectations. And ensure that you care enough about them so the resulting stress is justified.
But can we change people? No, and the resulting helplessness says the swami is the key reason for stress build up.
The truth, however, is that nobody can change another person.
The unfulfilled desires, the demands, the expectations leave me helpless that turns into frustration. This becomes a permanent source of stress.Saraswati, Swami Dayananda. Stress-free Living . Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust. Kindle Edition
It is well-neigh impossible for anyone to change others completely – indeed, it may not be warranted either. Once we understand this web and list all the people, teams, and organizations we have expectations and agendas on, we can plan our next step of action.
So what is the answer?
The answer starts with acceptance. You accept the other for who he is – you don’t let his background or history bother you. And on the same lines, you accept your background and history too. Unless you are at peace within yourself, there is no way you can influence others in any way!
Once this becomes clear – here’s what you do:
You can avoid stress by keeping all the people outside by granting them the freedom to be what they are.Saraswati, Swami Dayananda. Stress-free Living . Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust. Kindle Edition
Of course, you also should give yourself the freedom to be who you are – without guilt. If you like something (say ice cream) but feel guilty about it – stress will inevitably result. In a way, you are losing control to gaining sanity!
And finally, we need to watch out for one more thing. Let’s say you want to take a break from work but believe you are working to keep your family going – you may be falling into the “victim” trap. Sacrifice emanating from love dosen’t feel like a sacrifice. Victim identities, on the other hand, make one feel superior and unhappy at the same time. Not fun or productive at all.
This full acceptance of yourself and others – and guilt-free acceptance removes a massive weight off your back. And should you have questions, you can open a channel for healthy, empathetic dialogue.
This one truth of letting people be the way they want – and giving yourself the freedom for the same – can be super energizing.
But being stress-free doesn’t imply you should be a doormat!
To live a stress-free life, one has to learn that one has the capacity to live in harmony, and also, one needs to command enough space within to protect oneself from being an emotional victim to others’ disturbing actions and behavior.
You draw a line, and you operate within the line. You do not allow yourself or the other person to cross the line.Saraswati, Swami Dayananda. Stress-free Living . Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust. Kindle Edition
This is the last piece of the puzzle. Allowing people to be who they want does not mean allowing them to infringe upon your time or energies needlessly.
I remember a colleague who was starting her professional career. She was comfortable telling her bosses what didn’t work for her. She would listen and respond to all requests brilliantly, but she would not stand being shouted upon. When she shared this with her leads, they were first a little stunned, but when they saw how professional she was, they realized her standard was higher than theirs. Many elevated their standards over time!
Alertness is key
Alertness – what we call mindfulness today, is vital to ensure we don’t slip up. We quickly get into agenda-setting if we are not careful. Unless the mind constantly watches, it can go out of hand very soon. And similarly, we can allow titles, designations, and relationships to trick us. We’ll then retire to a corner as a victim! These behaviors often slip in unnoticed and hence the need for vigilance.
The good news is that empowering behavior catches on like wildfire. Once you set these in motion for yourself, you’ll see others in your group adopt these too. True Empowerment is never lonely!
How do things look in the endgame?
Here is Swami Dayananad Sawaraswati summing up:
In a healthy dialogue, you can say what you feel, but with an honest acknowledgment that you may be wrong: “This is how I see, I may be wrong .”Saraswati, Swami Dayananda. Stress-free Living . Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust. Kindle Edition
This sort of adult-adult conversation sets for a stress-free life even amidst very critical timelines. When we start adopting many of the wonderful recommendations in the book, our circles allow us to have such trusted, open conversations. I wish you a stress-free life.