Twenty five years of conflict has cost Kashmir at many levels. Of late, stress is a major concern in Valley. Scholar Zeenat Farooq discusses ‘stress’, how its takes roots, affects a human being and the ways to lessen its effect, especially in student community of Kashmir.
Stress is a condition in which a person finds itself away from the normal equilibrium state. Psychological or mental stress, as opposed to physical stress, is described as a condition wherein a person finds himself in an altered mental condition due to some sudden change or turn of events like study over-burden, job change, death of a close friend or relative, growing financial needs, spoilt relationships etc. Stress is our body’s natural alarm which tells our system that “something is wrong” and demands our immediate attention to be corrected, quite similar to the situation when a person catches infection and his body temperature goes up in the form of fever which sends signals to the body to contain the infection causing germs.
How Stress Operates?
The condition of stress medically alerts our sympathetic nervous system to elicit a response to deal with the on-going situation. This can be compared to a situation when a person has not studied well for next day’s paper, finds itself in a stressful condition a night before and suddenly cramps a book in an few hours due to the nor-adrenaline rush induced by its sympathetic nervous system which causes the fight or flight response.
Soon after, the situation is restored to equilibrium by our para-sympathetic nervous system which culminates the stress induced hormonal and neurotransmitter surge because our body cannot remain in the stressful state for longer.
This is because stress is an emergency state and alters so many of our body’s functions to deal with a crisis. This also drains body’s energy very quickly. However, when we experience a situation which we cannot deal with in a matter of days or weeks, our body experiences prolonged mental or psychological stress which can manifest itself in the form of far- reaching implications like anxiety, trauma, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia, lack of confidence, hostile behaviour in extreme cases, pre-mature aging, alcoholism, smoking, decline in memory, increased susceptibility to opportunistic infections, impairment of immune system and so on.
This is because such a stressful event requires that the body deals with it in a sustained manner over a long period of time. This can also lead to other biological disorders like spontaneous abortion in a mother experiencing stress, cardiovascular complications because of sustained sympathetic nervous system activation and compromised immune function, rise in blood pressure and strokes. However, it is important to mention here that different people react differently to similar stress levels and that emotionally weak people who fear that a stressful state will affect them psychologically and biologically are more prone to experiencing the ill-effects of stress.
Stress among Students
The ill effects of stress manifest themselves most strongly among young individuals because such people are emotionally weak and are yet to develop tolerance in response to different stresses.
The growing stress among student community is no different from what has been described above. Cut- throat competition coupled with lack of opportunity and growing unemployment is taking a serious tool on our students. This condition is on rise the world over but our valley deserves a special mention because of the fact that private sector, which provides job opportunities in full bloom to talented people in other parts of India and the world, is as good as non-existent in this part of the world.
Also, the complicated political scenario and the consequent disturbances which are always prevalent over here further add fuel to the fire. In fact, this growing political uncertainty is in itself a major reason for stress in the valley youth.
Our educational institutions are also creating demanding learning atmosphere. This might prove beneficial for some group of bright students but it increases the feeling of inferiority complex among average minded students.
In fact, such students are not even admitted to some of the educational institutions which take a heavy toll on their self-confidence at a very early age. Among other factors are the ever-increasing apprehensions from parents and social pressure which demands nothing less than 99.99% for even their kindergarten kids and later aspire nothing short of an MBBS or a BTech Degree. They do not even consider other options for their children and also neglect their children’s interest altogether.
Take the recent case of a girl who fled her home in Budgam because of her parents’ ever-demanding attitude towards her grades—or, for that matter, the boy who committed suicide after failing in a subject in engineering. These cases have surfaced in only a few months and there are certainly many more similar ones.
Where do we stand?
A number of studies have been conducted in different parts of the world to estimate growing stress among students and to nail down the underlying reasons. Such studies are hardly conducted in the valley because stress is not considered as a problem which needs attention. There is hardly any evidence of stress related studies from the valley. In fact, the situation is even worse if a person experiences depression symptoms from prolonged stress. Such a person is not taken for consultation or is consulted secretly which often compromises the treatment because mental disorders are considered as something shameful. Such people face a double-edged sword of social pressure and personal health and therefore their symptoms can get even worse.
Stress management refers to any activity which can lead to decrease in stress levels. Different people cope differently with stress but some of the noteworthy examples of stress management techniques include deep breathing, sleeping, eating healthy foods, keeping one-self busy with meaningful activities, going out with friends and family, exercise and meditation.
The first step towards stress management, when we are talking about our valley, is to identify the reasons which are leading to the stressful situation. Once the reason has been identified, it becomes easy for the medical advisor to suggest treatment options.
One of the major factors which can lead to stress reduction, are: self-confidence and social support. It becomes very important for our parents to understand the mental state of their children and not force them into doing something which they are unwilling of doing. But it is equally important for the parents to prevent their children from being spoiled. It is also very important for us as a community to understand that stress is a condition which might need medical attention and social concern on a large scale.
So, the next time you ask your child to secure highest rank in the class or pursue a career in medical or engineering, think at least once and take your child’s inclination about his/her career and his/her mental capabilities into consideration!
It is also the responsibility of our educational institutions to see to it that all children are given equal opportunity and of the government to oversee such institutions. There is also an urgent need to develop proper counselling facilities for students and to undertake studies related to increased stress levels among our youth.
(Author is a Research Scholar in the Department of Biotechnology, University of Kashmir.)