Not everyone binges to beat stress. A study credits good habits for it. Three professionals share theirs
It may sound counter-intuitive, but a new research conducted by habit specialists show that in times of stress, not everyone falls into self-destructive routines such as over-eating, sleeping less, drinking excessive alcohol or even, shopping more.
People who have inculcated good behaviours over the years — anything from eating a healthy breakfast to praying before sleeping — are at an advantage.
The study, conducted across five experiments appearing in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, finds that stressful times don’t automatically mean indulgence or hedonism. It’s the underlying routine that matters. If we’re used to a kind of behaviour that is healthful and productive, we’re as likely to do those to cope with stress.
“When we try to change our behaviour, we strategise about our motivation and self-control. But what we should be thinking about instead is how to set up new habits. Habits persist even when we’re tired and don’t have the energy to exert self-control,” says Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at USC, who led the research with David Neal.
How does one inculcate a good habit? By making the behaviour easy to perform repeatedly, so that it becomes a part of your daily routine. We bring you three such folks in pressured, deadline-chasing jobs, and ask them what behaviours help them cope with stress.
Laughing it off
– Kanishka Sinha Executive coach
Healthy habit: Watches comedy
Kanishka Sinha is a 35-year-old personal development trainer who works with high-ranking corporate executives, teaching them leadership skills and communication techniques that alleviate stress at work. Yet, the principal stressor of this Deonar resident and father to a toddler is not knowing where and when a fresh batch of clients will emerge.
To deal with his stress, Sinha falls back on blogging and standup comedy. Sinha says writing on life, relationships, career choices and whatever’s on his mind, helps him sort out his thoughts.
Sinha got hooked on stand-up comedy at 16, when he studied in London. Now, he catches a clip daily on YouTube for at least 10 minutes. His favourite comics include Lee Mack, Demetri Martin and Jinny Carr. Laughter also helps him bond with wife and work partner, Avantika.
Comedy also puts his problems in perspective. “If I miss my plane on the way to an important meeting, I’d rather make a joke about it in my head and laugh it off.”
– Kanika Pal Corporate Social Responsibility professional
Healthy habit: Visits forested covers every month
Nature enthusiast Kanika Pal has married her job to her passion. A CSR professional of environmental sustainability in the manufacturing industry, the 29-year-old is also pursuing a Masters on it from Thailand’s Asian Institute of Technology. Pal travels to Bangkok every alternate month, and her job requires her to travel every month. So she often ends up completing her assignments (eight a year) at airports.
To tackle stress, Pal connects with nature. Even watching birds from her balcony while sipping tea does it for her. On the weekends, Pal treats herself to National Parks visits. In the past year, she has been to seven in India. The habit is courtesy the frequent trips her family made to such places, while she was growing up. A simple lesson holds her in good stead even now. “In a forest, I realise how small I am. My troubles, my stress, nothing is of consequence in the face of such magnificence.”
On a recent trip to Jim Corbett National Park, Pal says she sat for hours on a machhaan. “Just the trees, mountains and rivers that spread out before me calmed me.”
It’s all in the mind
– Somasekhar Sundaresan Corporate lawyer
Healthy habit: Practises mindfulness
A regular day in 40-year-old corporate lawyer Somasekhar Sundaresan’s life could involve anything from handling several high-profile transactions between corporations to representing a client before a tribunal. A partner at a law firm, his work hours vary between 12 hours to 24. Technology ensures he is working even when he is not at desk.
Deadlines are a concern as clients expect immediate solutions. To counter stress, Sundaresan ensures at least seven hours of reading weekly, on issues of mind and Buddhist philosophy. He also practises mindfulness which involves concentrating on a theme and consciously leading your thoughts from one to another. “Since it does not require silence, I meditate on my way to work or to meetings,” says Sundaresan of his seven-year-old habit. Apart from relaxing him, he finds it useful in understanding his clients’ thought processes.
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