Saturday, March 2, 2002

Handling stress, the manly way
Sushmita Ray

A woman's tears. How often have you heard a man dismiss off a sobbing woman with these casual words?

Probably never, mainly because women today know that this is the standard reaction of the males in their lives — whether it is father, son or husband. So even when the grief is genuine — a bad relationship, a lousy day at work, fluctuation in health problems, the woman now would rather deal with it in her own way than sob her heart out and expect instant solutions to take place.

It's strange. Now that most men find that they no longer have weeping girlfriends and wives they can in their macho way 'take care of' and thereby draw a blanket over their own problems, it's becoming increasingly difficult for men to cope with their own emotional problems. If this is beginning to sound a bit twisted, here's a simple visual. Recall all those melodramatic films you've seen so far. A tragedy in the house. The son walks away with his new wife. The woman, the mother, tears her hair and weeps buckets. The father, also deeply affected and wanting to cry equal number of buckets, controls himself, but even as his eyes glisten and his moustache quivers, he pulls his matronly wife close and comforts her.


Now imagine you are watching the same scene with the mother as the new woman who is grieving but can handle her own grief. So the minute the son walks out with his wife, the grieving mother's eyes glisten, her mouth puckers but she does not cry. Instead, she pats the husband's back, asks him to cheer up and goes on with her usual business. What does the poor man do in such a case? Chances are that the wife will probably lock herself in bathroom and bawl her eyes out, then wash her face and come out with a bright smile, while he'll just simmer and seethe and agonise about the fact that he doesn't even have a weeping partner whom he could console and feel good.

Most men believe that emotional stress when related to a work problem, is acceptable. But any other kind of emotional stress should not be given any importance — it could sort it out by itself or not at all he cared.

Traditionally they believe that they are the strong, silent types who are supposed to take everything in their stride. Unfortunately for this kind of man, the emotional problem does not disappear.

Emotional problems don't always all fall in the woman's lot. It festers, specially if it is bound within a relationship. And before the man knows it, he gets anxiety attacks, depression, probably even ulcers—finally affecting the all important area in his life — work.

Recent studies show that women are better equipped to deal with emotional problems. Perhaps this is why a number of men are recognising the need to measure their emotional quotient and work towards improving it.

In the USA, a number of large companies recognise that while the men and women are working at the same level in an organisation, their inter-personal relationship often gets cross-wired. In the last couple of years, they have evolved a training programme, often nicknamed 'Get Real' where men and women colleagues are put through a two-day workshop and their individual problems are spoken about openly, weighed by the others to judge its seriousness and a dialogue is initiated.

At the end of the session, it is found that men and women have a better understanding of each other's problems, thereby resulting in a better work atmosphere. In India too, there are companies that are beginning to enroll their employees, for the programme.

Sudha Hari was taken aback when, after a seven-day programme with an American behavioural analyst, her husband returned home a new man. Says Hari laughingly, as she recalls her initial amazement :"A few days after his return, we had a fight. It was something really trivial, but the next thing we knew, both of us were in a loud slanging match. The children who were in the same room as us, walked out and shut the door of their room. Typical standard behaviour—theirs and ours. Earlier, this fight would generally end with him walking off with a nasty exit line and then switching on the TV and me with organising dinner, being with the kids, but sulking, all the time. The situation would be diffused only after a few days. But this fight ended with him saying, "Look, this is all I can contribute to the fight today. Let's pick this up tomorrow again, same time, same place. Now, only fear is that it's too good to last!"

So why are more and more companies opting for this kind of workshops? According to an HRD expert working in Delhi, Amrit Datta, a better working environment could be created if the men were sensitised to the several pressure zones the woman faces, both at work and at home.

Intra-family relationships can cause stress, a break in relationship causes stress, work causes stress, travelling by crowded public transport in an over-populated city can causes stress. This about covers living in today's modern world. So, where do you go to lead a de-stressed life? Nowhere, not unless you want to disappear into the Himalayas or into rural nothingness. And even there you would probably get stressed!

The trick is to find the key that will help you lead a happy and balanced existence, an impossible feat if the man or woman is going to crack under emotional pressure. And this is where your EQ or emotional quotient comes in. Books like Achieving Emotional Literacy tells you how to become emotionally literate.

In a three-stage training programme, the authors show us how emotional intelligence can be achieved. Getting in touch with your feelings or acknowledging them, whether it is hurt, sorrow, anger, despair is the first step. It's called the breaking down of emotional barriers. The second step is to express these feelings productively and also recognising similar feelings in other people. The third step is to take responsibility by recognising problems in relationships, accepting responsibility for them and making the necessary changes. Understand that crying is good for the soul. It releases those pent-up feelings.

So, the next time you feel the barrage of tears coming on look up and see. The man in your life is also dealing with emotional stress and looking ready to cry too!