The Competence Cauldron

Wellness Competence

Ravi Kumar Pillai

Ravi Kumar Pillai

Along with the United States and China, India forms the most depressed trio among the nations. Compare this list with the countries at the other end of the spectrum where one finds Solomon Island, Timor and Papua New Guinea. The glaring difference between the two ends of the global depression spectrum is interesting. The larger, more complex and competitive nations seem to be home to more depression-prone societies while smaller and relatively less developed countries tend to generate much lower stress for survival and sustenance. Perhaps, it is the inevitable struggle for aligning aspirations and opportunities that create a stressful environment.

In the three most emotionally strained nations, nearly one-fifth of residents are affected by some form of stress that needs attention ranging from counselling to therapy and possibly medication. In developing countries with inadequate infrastructure and social support, individual disappointments manifest in to depression and might lead to more acute mental disorders in many cases. In 2017, nearly 200 million people were reported with mental disorders in India, with depression and anxiety accounting for over 40% of the cases. At the macro level mental, neurological and substance use disorders (MNSUDs) are major public health problems. The economic and social consequences are significant.

With overall improvement in basic health indicators, pursuit of happiness is becoming the prime life goal. Happiness depends on wellness and these words have almost become synonyms. Increased awareness of health and hygiene, emergence of a sizable middle class with affordability and a rich portfolio of wellness products and services supported by intensive brand marketing have positioned Wellness as a vibrant industry.

The Global Wellness Industry has grown to a revenue size of USD 4 Trillion. The Indian segment of the industry is expected to reach USD 20 Billion over the next few years. Wellness professionals and businesses cover a vast range of domains and practices ranging from modern medicine to traditional practices and hybrid methodologies. Back-to-nature and vegetarianism are trends catching up globally. There is a wholesomeness to the idea of wellness. It focuses on the interfaces and balance between the elements of the ‘Body-Mind-Intellect’ framework. Some experts would include a fourth dimension – spiritual pursuit – that seeks inner peace and harmony in the comprehensive wellness mosaic.

Oriental philosophy elucidates the comprehensive nature of health, happiness and well-being. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, health is a state of harmony between the elements that support and sustain the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing. The word ‘Yoga’ in Sanskrit means ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’. ‘Yujyate anena iti Yoga’, meaning ‘whatever unites the many into one is Yoga’. The Buddhist way of life stresses meditation for inner peace that propels universal love, compassion and empathy.

In the emerging digitised way of life, emotional competence has become the core of wellness. The explosive growth of smartphones and other digital devices as well as social media apps with their addictive impact have robbed contemporary society of privacy and the opportunity for a self-paced lifestyle.

Ms. Jean M. Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University has conducted extensive studies on emotional health of the Youth in the US. She is vehement about the adverse impact of excessive use of smart phones. She says “I found that teens were spending less time with their friends in person and more time communicating electronically, with such trends accelerating after smartphones became ubiquitous. Many teens (and adults) started spending nearly every waking moment looking at the phones in their hands”. This is as much true of Indian scenario as in the US, Europe, Far East or any other geography. There is a need for moderation in the use of smartphones and other digital devices. The health impact is both physical and psychological.

There are various ways in which one can get over the emotional strain and drain due to digital working styles. Techniques like taking a short break during the working hours and walking around, exercising or meditating helps to reduce work-related stress. People engaged in digital work tend to be more productive and engaged, when working in shorter spells interspersed with breaks rather than pursuing long spells tied to their desks. Diversifying personal interests beyond work place concerns to include one’s passions and hobbies like cooking, painting, reading, singing or gardening helps to take the sting out of workplace tension. Breadth of perspectives and the ability to shift from work to relaxation and back with dexterity would help to reduce the build-up of emotional stress.

Emotional Intelligence is becoming the key differentiator between success and mediocrity. It is not the best of talent that necessarily wins. Those who can combine domain knowledge, competitive skill sets and the ability to manage relationships and pressures with empathy, composure and self-esteem are more likely to emerge winners.

Emotional Wellness has two dimensions which are not mutually exclusive but permeate each other and contribute to holistic welfare. The first is the individual ability to handle emotions with poise, restraint and self-confidence. The second dimension is social competence and interpersonal skills. Relationships and networking provide the social layer of emotional wellness. The emotional space within the immediate family calls for social skills to understand, accommodate and support each other to successfully pursue career and life goals.

The seminal book, “I’m OK-You’re OK” by Thomas Harris, published in 1967 talked about the concept of Transactional Analysis, based on the research by the psychologist Dr. Eric Berne. He defined the healthy, positive behavioural state of mind for a productive interpersonal transaction as “I’m OK-You’re OK”, an adult-to-adult matured and respectful relationship. Conflict results when the mindset is either “I’m OK-You’re not OK” or “I’m not OK-You’re OK.” The attitude of “I’m not OK-You’re not OK” breeds negativity.

Physical wellbeing is the second pillar in the pursuit of happiness. In the past emotional wellness was considered a corollary to physical health, but with more insights into neural functionalities, medical experts see a physical connection between the emotions that one goes through and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University's Langone School of Medicine, the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on emotional health. It is quite common for many of us who are not adept at emotionally handling workplace stress being diagnosed with chronic acidity. Symptoms of headache, lethargy, weakness, or vague abdominal symptoms often end up being diagnosed with depression. Physical wellness has a strong undercurrent of emotional health.

A study by Harvard Medical School in 2016 listed the following as the most common causes of death in the US in that order - heart disease, cancer, lung disease, accidents and stroke. All of them are influenced by lifestyle and work style issues. As for accidents, psychological factors such as lack of attention, fatigue and rage do figure as frequent causes.

Lack of physical exercise, irregular and excessive food habits, fluctuating daily routines inconsistent with the body clock and disregarding ergonomic postures and movements are common mistakes that people make with compounding adverse impact on sustainable health. Obesity is emerging as one of the most worrying health issues as more people are graduating to middle class across the globe. Are we as parents encouraging a junk-food and laid back lifestyle in our children by sheer lethargy and indifference?

Intellectual Wellness, the third pillar of our holistic wellness model, refers to the cognitive ability to understand, express and analyse ideas. Intellectual health has linkages with emotional and social health parameters. In the holistic wellness paradigm, we can’t see wellness in a compartmentalised fashion but as a complementary set of competencies which mould and are influenced by each other.

As digital gadgets take over arithmetic and analytical functions and with language skills getting more and more functional, intellectual capabilities need to be deliberately channelled into newer avenues of creativity and innovation. Intellectually stimulating activities including games like bridge, chess and puzzles as well as creative pursuits like painting, creative writing and performing arts help to widen perspectives and maintain the sharpness and dexterity of mind.

Ongoing research and postulations suggest the possible impact of physical exercise, intellectual stimulation, and social interaction in delaying the aging associated neuro-degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease. While conclusive evidence on this is a matter of medical research, there is considerable awareness on the positive impact of intellectual alertness and engagement on holistic wellness.

Any discussion on holistic wellness cannot disregard the fourth pillar, which is spiritual wellness. At a superficial plane, we may tend to treat spirituality as too holy to be a topic of discussion on wellness. On the contrary, understanding and appreciating spirituality as one of the critical pursuits for comprehensive wellness would open us to the unity in diversity and the universality of nobler sentiments like compassion, love and gratitude. Spiritual competence help us transcend the mundaneness of the routine cores to look beyond competitive religiosity to universal bliss.

The beauty of holistic wellness concept is that as we move from Body to Mind to Intellect to Spirituality, our focus moves from the narrow to the broad and our perception from inward-looking to expansive. When we are pursuing peace and harmony within and with others, we have the preparedness to focus on the task at hand with a dispassionate objectivity.

*Ravi Kumar Pillai is a practising strategy consultant, trainer, coach, mentor and start up enthusiast based in Trivandrum. He can be contacted at ravikumarpillai9@gmail.com


The facts and views mentioned in the article are that of the author