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'I'm happier at half the salary!'
Susan Mathen
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January 02, 2008

Surprised to hear her 4-year-old daughter mutter "I'm stressed", 30-year-old Mrinalini Puri*, a Delhi-based media marketing professional, only recently realised how often she uses such phrases. "That was the day I decided to put a check on both my vocabulary and my lifestyle," she says. "My fast-paced schedule was taking more of a toll on me than I had imagined."

Super-long hours at work, a brimming social calendar and lack of sleep are all a given when it comes to today's hectic lifestyles. Even when you take a vacation, work follows you via laptops, wi-fi, phonecalls and SMSes.

Most people, however, have a hard time when it comes to taking a conscious decision to lessen stress -- they simply push themselves till the problem becomes too worrisome to ignore. Very few are ready to trade monstrous salaries, responsibility and stress for less money and peace of mind. But that's exactly what 25-year-old Shahina Budhhiraja* did.

After completing her education, Shahina secured a coveted position with a Mumbai-based investment banking firm, one of the most sought-after in the country. "After one year of living a hectic life struggling to cope with a never-ending schedule, I was stressed to bits," she says. So she made a bold decision and simply quit her job. Some may call her a fool for giving up such a lucrative position, but Shahina doesn't care -- "Today I'm a happier person living on half the salary. I have more time to do the things I've always wanted -- to read, to sleep well and most importantly, to enjoy my life."

Not everyone is willing to take such a drastic step, but there are other ways and means of coping with stress and anxiety. Youngsters are beginning to realise how important it is to beat stress and lead a quality life. And many of them are fighting for what they believe in. 

Raghav Chari*, 27, works for a Mumbai-based advertising agency. His wake-up call came when a couple of months ago, he managed to leave the office by 6 pm one evening. "I was actually amused that the sun was still shining!" he recalls. "A regular day at the office for me ended at midnight and on many days it was much later. Sometimes it would get so late that I would just end up spending the night there. But when I left the office at 6 o' clock that evening, I realised what I was doing to myself."

And Raghav decided to do something about it. He threatened to put in his papers and managed to secure a larger team to work on assignments. He now leaves the office by 9 pm every day and has taken up early morning jogging to help keep him "feeling young", as he puts it.

The stress of a career, however, is just one side of the coin. Problems in your personal life can also wreak havoc on your peace of mind. Plunging into metros to pursue high-flying careers, many of today's youngsters live alone, away from their families and they sometimes struggle to keep their lives in control. Emotional support is provided by a girlfriend/ boyfriend but every relationship comes with its share of ups and downs -- a love story gone heywire will only increase anxiety and worsen matters.

Suchitra Kumar*, 26, was working for an HR consultancy firm in Mumbai when her relationship with her boyfriend went sour. She shut herself away from all her friends and took comfort in bunking work, sleeping in for twelve hours a day. As a way to de-stress, she enrolled for yoga classes. "At first, I had to drag myself to the sessions each morning," Suchitra recollects. "But soon I started enjoying the newfound peace that came into my life. I also started reading works by Osho and listening to instrumental music." These are her methods of de-stressing -- she even finds sitting by the sea therapeutic.

Kunal Sinha*, 27, has a similar story to tell. "I fell into a depression when I found out that my girlfriend was two-timing me," he says. "I went through this whole cycle of anger, vengeance, sadness and ultimately, numbness." It was a book, 'Man's Search for Meaning' by  Viktor Frankl, that made Kunal think long and hard about his situation. "The book is about a Nazi concentration camp and how inmates were still hopeful when all hope was lost -- it explains how finding a reason for living makes all the difference," he says. Kunal moved to another city and started his life afresh. He signed up for guitar lessons, goes for vipasana sessions every third weekend and has quit smoking. He is also training for the half-marathon and makes frequent trips out of town -- in the last four months, he has visited Hampi, Pushkar and the Andamans.

Everyone has different methods of coping. Women tend to eat more when they are depressed or stressed. Weight gain then drives them frantically to the gym, the salon or the spa. These establishments are gaining while youngsters try hard to feel good about themselves. They pamper themselves with massages, aroma therapy and retail therapy to de-stress. Men, on the other hand, take to drinking, all-night drives or meaningless affairs in order to ease anxiety. Detox diets, rehab centres and visits to the psychologists have never been more popular.

Geeta Das*, a counsellor, says that the number of youngsters who seek professional help for stress and emotional turmoil today is alarming. "Fast-paced lifestyles and bad habits are to blame for this," she states. "I have a short, simple mantra for happiness -- eat healthy, exercise, nurture one hobby or passion, sleep well and believe in God."

Sure, life can be a bitch, but there's no reason why you can't take charge of it. Yoga, music, exercise, reading -- how you choose to deal with stress is not the issue. The fact that you need to deal with it, is.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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