S.K. Dogra, Former Director, Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services
We have all experienced unpleasant feelings described, in common parlance, with words like worry, anxiety, depression, dejection, nervousness, tension etc. A person may feel apprehensive that a business started by him is going to sink. A parent may be worried about his son’s future. The amorous escapades of a husband may be the cause of tension for his wife. A young girl may feel depressed and not be able to define the cause of her depression. An adolescent may feel anxious, confused and unable to take decisions. There are, no doubt, shades of difference among these feelings. Yet they are all similar in that they make us uncomfortable and we desperately wish to get rid of them.
At the same time, however, it is common experience that the most successful of our ventures are tinged with feelings of tension, uncertainty, stress and strife. If we look back at our achievements in life, we will find a pattern of increasing stress followed by successful completion of the task and release of tension. This release of tension becomes a part of the joy of accomplishment. Tension and fear of failure in fact act as strong motivating factors to push us to strive harder for success.
Is stress, then, good or bad for us? Is tension a necessary part of the process that leads towards achievement? How to convert the tension into a fuel to drive us towards success and achievement? When do stress and tension become harmful? Is there such a thing as the stress-tolerance level of a person? Do persons differ in their ability to tolerate stress? How to know when that level has been reached for you? How to increase your stress tolerance level? What is it that makes one person better at handling his tensions than another? These are some of the questions that will occupy us during our discussions.
Before we discuss these issues, let us see the shades of connotations among words that may, at first glance, seem to have identical meanings. Understanding these distinctions will help us understand the nature of the exact feeling that is bothering us.
Worry is related to a specific cause or source while anxiety is generalised and vague. The worried man is able to tell what he is worried about, while the person who suffers from anxiety may not be able to pinpoint the cause. From this angle, anxiety is more harmful than worry, because worry disappears when the cause of the worry is removed. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a part of our personality make-up and is, according to psychologists, connected with experiences of very early childhood of which we may no longer be conscious but which, all the same, might be active in our unconscious mind.
Tension is the muscular reaction produced by any prolonged worry or anxiety. When we say “I am feeling tensed up,” we are virtually referring to the physical effect of the feeling. Tension, in a sense, is the physical symptom of the worry or the anxiety. It is this physical reaction that, if it continues for a prolonged period, causes ill effects on health such as raised blood pressure, general tiredness, indigestion etc.
Depression is worry that gets so deep and prolonged that it takes away all happiness and makes all joys irrelevant. A depressed person is fully immersed in negative ideas. To him (or her) the world appears to be a place of misery.
Dejection is the immediate reaction to a failure or deception. Temporarily, we lose our faith in the basic goodness of things. Over a period of time we recover from this feeling and get going again.