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Vandana Kohli
Vandana Kohli


Stress buster


I met a friend recently after a few years. The last we had met was when she was coping with an unnecessarily aggressive divorce. Her ex-spouse was shooting off emails to all and sundry including her friends and family, blaming her for all that he perceived had gone wrong in the marriage. She, sincere and good-hearted, had no clue he was doing that, along with several other things that were done to make her vulnerable and look bad.

She went through a tremendous amount of stress, during her marriage and after the divorce. Her confidence was shattered, and she was at a loss of what she should do next. In a foreign country, far from family, she had to pick up the threads and start anew.

Which she did, by going to school and studying fervently. She finished a two-year master programme in 10 months and got a job, which the employee held for her—so impressed was the hiring team with her apparent sincerity.

As we sat over lunch, she filled in what had happened to her in the interim. “I couldn’t concentrate on anything,” she said, of the time when she was under extreme stress. “I’d read something and couldn’t recall it a page later. I think stress changes the brain, and I wonder if I will ever be as bright as I was before all of this. ”

I knew this was true. First, that she was bright and had an excellent memory at one point, and second, that stress does change the brain. Research is increasingly pointing in this direction—that a brain undergoing extreme stress or trauma, changes even irrevocably, in various ways.

New circuits are formed, mostly of anger or depression and anxiety. Emotional memories take over and become a loop, playing over and over again. This affects short-term memory tremendously. There is a perceptible drop in concentration, assimilation and retention.

Busting stress
“What helped to begin with,” she said to me, “was a lecture I took in a marketing class. Our professor devoted an hour and half to a talk on sleep.” He emphasised sleep as a powerful tonic, and gave the example of an athlete who was trying to improve her ratings from number three to number one. The doctor noticed the athlete was sleeping six hours, and asked her cut out her last practice schedule of the day. She resisted, but when she took his advice, her performance improved significantly.

“I’ve done the same,” my friend said to me. “I sleep eight hours. There are days when I sleep by nine and am awake by five in the morning. I’m at work at 6:30am, and stay with this schedule until I have a late night for some reason. I do notice that the days I don’t get eight hours, my performance is under par. But as long as I’m prepared for that to happen, it doesn’t bother me. I know it will be set right over the following few days.”

For those who think sleep is a luxury or an indulgence, it is not. It is a necessity to reach peak performance, as Professor James Maas, an expert on sleep, emphasises in his books.

“Right after the divorce, I took a couple of weeks off,” my friend said. “I did nothing. Nothing. All I did was sleep. I think that helped in more ways than I can count. It certainly busted some of the stress. It does that now too, though if I’ve slept eight hours, I don’t feel any stress to begin with.”

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The Week

Topics : #Mindscape | #opinion

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