Our heart deserves better than to be loaded down with never-ending stress. A certain level of stress can be beneficial and may lead to actual problem solving. However, a lot of our stress is unnecessary and even harmful. Heart disease is claimed to be the leading cause for death in the United States, and research says stress may affect behaviors and factors that increase heart disease risk.
Stress relief programs — time management, situation management, meditation, yoga, tai chi — offer a plethora of solutions for reducing stress. These are some good mechanisms that help us deal with or respond to stress but are limited in their effectiveness, as these don’t prevent the re-occurrence of stress. These techniques deal with the symptoms of the stress without tackling the cause. This is like suppressing fever, without curing the typhoid that caused it.
If we wish to get rid of stress, we must get rid of the root cause — the flawed thoughts and value system behind the thoughts. Therefore, the first and foremost step in stress elimination is to try to understand the cause of stress.
What Causes Stress?
Stress develops when we are attached to a particular outcome, and are worried that things may not turn out as we desire. If a business person desires to make profits, but the business runs in a loss, stress transpires. If a sales representative wishes to meet a particular sales target, but fails to do so, stress ensues. This means that the reason for stress is our own attachment to a particular outcome, and our unwillingness to accept other possible outcomes.
The Panacea for All Stress
Once we are conscious of the cause, the universal remedy for stress is simple: give up attachment to the outcome of the efforts. Learn to work without attachment to the results. Lord Krishna instructs Arjun: “You have a right to perform your work, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.” Hence, relish your work, but offer the fruit of your efforts to God. The outcome of our efforts is in any case not in our hands. It relies upon several factors, such as circumstances, assistance from others, efforts of competitors, coincidence, will of God, and so on.
The Art of Working Skillfully
To perform actions is an integral part of human nature. Having come into this world, we all have various duties determined by our family situation, social position, occupation, etc. While performing these actions, we must remember that we are not the enjoyers of the results — the results are meant for the pleasure of God. The individual soul is a tiny part of God, and hence our inherent nature is to serve him through all our actions.
Besides, giving up attachment to results does not reduce the quality of our work; instead, we become even more skillful than before. Consider the example of a sincere surgeon who cuts people with his knife while operating upon them. He performs his duty with equanimity, and is undisturbed irrespective of whether the patient survives or not. This is because he is merely doing his duty unselfishly, to the best of his ability, and is not attached to the results. Hence, even if the patient passes away while being operated upon, the surgeon does not feel guilty of murder. However, if the same surgeon’s only child needs an operation, he does not have the courage to do so. Because of his attachment to the results, he fears he will not be able to perform the operation skillfully, and so he seeks the help of another surgeon.
This shows that attachment to results does not make us more skillful; rather, the attachment affects our performance adversely. Instead, if we work without attachment, we can do so at our optimal level, without feeling nervous, jittery, scared, tense, or excited. Thus, wisdom demands that we put in our best efforts, and be content with whatever results we get.