A city is a place where you find a large aggregation of people, living in a certain amount of proximity to one another. The presence of other people is a ‘mixed blessing’ in a way, as the people may either get in each other’s face, or get along in a way that is mutually enhancing to their well being. Stress, at a basic level, may be described as ‘anything that leads to a perception of sustained unease, or ‘wear and tear’ on an individual’.
Life is inherently stressful. Living in a city, in proximity to a large number of other people, with whom one is obliged to interact at a certain level on a constant basis, is even more stressful.It is common to hear people speak of wanting to live a stress-free life. That, unfortunately, especially for the city dweller, is an oxymoron.
At a basic level, the experience of Stress may be said to be ‘the spice of life’. It is responsible for the zest, the ‘get up and go’, the ‘mix it up’ factor that makes city dwelling so attractive to those who are ‘locked’ into it. There are many people who are so used to the ‘excitement’ of Lagos, for instance, that they cannot contemplate the possibility of living anywhere else, despite the fact that they complain daily about the traffic, the noise, and countless other things in the city.
Of course, Stress, left to run rampant, is dangerous, not just to good quality life, but to the sustenance of life itself, eventually. It exerts detrimental effects on the physical and emotional health of the individual.
The question is – what is a reasonable attitude for the city dweller to take to Stress? How, for instance, may one make it work for one, rather than against one?
A REASONABLE STRESS AGENDA
A reasonable agenda for Stress is to keep it at a level at which it is ‘bubbling under’ rather than ‘boiling over’. When Stress, in its commonly experienced form as Anxiety, is ‘bubbling under’, it is associated with the positive excitement to get up in the morning and run down a crowded list of things-to-do. The difficulties, and even frustrations, that litter the way – the traffic, the other fellow that fails to show up on time for that important meeting – these are brushed aside as the individual pushes himself to go down his list of ‘to-do’ items. In the end, perhaps from a list of ten items, he is able to accomplish – say six or seven. He finds cause to feel good about himself, and perhaps even to celebrate.
WHAT MAKES STRESS WORSE
Perhaps the single worst of many possible culprits is The Unpredicted (or Unpredictable). Nothing is more stressful for the human person than an inability to see what is coming. It is paradoxical that Uncertainty is part of the human condition itself. However, a first step in learning to develop a reasonable, implementable agenda concerning stress is learning to Predict and Control as many variables in ones life as possible. A basic example would require that when going to a meeting with a person who has a reputation for being difficult, one takes time to learn as much as possible about the person, including his motivation, and his likes and dislikes. Or, going into a new territory, even one that is predicted to be hostile, one takes time to do a ‘recce’ that provides information about what to expect, even if the information is not necessarily with a ‘happy’ content. The people who deal best with stressful situations and positions are the ones who pay most attention to controlling, or at least predicting correctly, as many of the variables relevant to their situation as possible in order to guide their interaction with it.
RULES OF THUMB
The first rule of thumb – control (or at least have detailed knowledge of, and develop a plan about) as many variables surrounding you as possible. Of course, at the end of the day, many things cannot be anticipated or predicted. On the other hand, correctly anticipating as many variables as possible leads to a sense of ‘Mastery’ which is reassuring to the mind, while anticipating or controlling nothing leads to the opposite – a sense of total Helplessness (in its extreme form, this is part of the experience of clinical Depression).
Another rule of thumb is the weaving of ‘anti-Stress’ insulators into the very fabric of daily life. This can be a challenge in the city, where everyone seems to be involved in a frantic morning-to-night scramble for a living. It is important to remember however that the city is not about the skyscrapers or the fancy bridges. It is about the people. The implication of this is that the human experience is what is most important.
Sometime ago the Lagos State government, in recognition of this fact organized an international conference on ‘The Liveable City’. A worrying insight emerged at the conference that the physical and emotional well-being of the citizen had never been fully factored into the evolution of Lagos as a mega-city. Lagos, the only Nigerian city to be rated on the ‘Liveability’ scale, was near the bottom of the list when compared with other megacities in the world.
But of course, even when city-planners and managers are not quick enough to ‘get it’, the wise individual would do everything in his power to make his situation ‘liveable’ in the city, and keep his Stress down to a level at which it is ‘pleasure’ and not ‘pain’. Being a member of a close network of relationships – family, friendships, is a part of this strategy. So is making one’s ambience as congenial to one’s tastes as possible. Cultivating Music, The Arts, and Culture generally, socialising within reason, getting involved in positive activities that bring benefit to other persons, and to society at large are other modalities. The ‘Me’ is refreshed and energized by honing and servicing itself, as well as by involving itself in the greater good of the ‘We’.
Unhealthy means of seeking temporary stress relief, such as heavy indulgence in Alcohol, smoking, taking Drugs of Abuse, promiscuous sexual behavior may look attractive, but in the end, they hinder more than they help. What relief is obtained is only temporary, at best. And they invariably leave the poor individual worse than they met him, with medical and psychological consequences such as drug addiction, alcoholism, HIV AIDs, and cancer becoming active risk possibilities.
Finally – where does the Employer Of Labour figure in all of this?
Nigeria is not a ‘nanny’ nation where the State tries to tell you how to live your life. In the same manner, the company may consider its duty done by providing medical services for sick staff to take care of their ‘Illness’, and leaving their ‘Wellness’ to their own discretion.
Unfortunately, the major loser in a situation where Stress runs amok – virtually, among the populace is the employer. The aggregated consequence of unrecognized and unmitigated Stress related conditions to Industry in Lagos, and in Nigeria at large currently, in the form of lost man-hours and sub-optimal staff performance runs into several billions of naira annually. These problems may range for Severe Anxiety to Hypertension.
The modern Manager of Human Resources must understand the fact that creating an ambience of healthy-living and wellness behavior among staff through education and continuous engagement, and creating accessible mechanisms in the work place for prevention, early recognition and management of Stress-induced problems will actually provide a return on investment for the organization in the long term. It will also make for good corporate citizenship by contributing to the well-being of society at large.
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