Friday, 25 April 2014

Confronting Fear

Emotions add spice to our lives. Psychologists have spent years of research in understanding the causes and effects of emotions on human activity, both physical and mental. One of the most intriguing is the emotion of fear. Psychologists define fear as the emotional response to an alleged threat; simply the awareness and anticipation of perceived danger. Self-preservation is one of the primal urges of mankind and fear is the cause of the survival instinct against any potential external threat. Fear is one feeling that brings about a lot of physical activity in the human body. Some of them may be faster heart beat, dryness in the mouth because of the improper functioning of the salivary glands, sweating (especially in the palms), tightness in the abdomen etc.

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for the visceral functions of the human body. Its two responses that keep the functions of the body in balance are sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic responses allow the body to function under duress. Parasympathetic allows the body to repose and relax, thereby having an absolutely opposite effect on the body from that of the sympathetic. Fear can be better understood as one of the conditions stimulated by sympathetic responses in the body. The response is caused by the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline and the steroid cortisol.

The process is always physical, chemical and then rational. As soon as the body comes in contact with an external fear stimulant, the sympathetic responses of the body are activated resulting in the release of chemicals. Every time a person encounters a situation where he experiences fear, the human mind chooses between two options, fight or flight. In order to prepare itself for the fight-or-flight mode, the body automatically performs a number of functions so as to be ready for either a quick action or a quick escape.
  1. The heart rate increases and pumps more blood to the muscles and brain
  2. The air intake in the lungs is faster in order to supply oxygen to the body
  3. The pupils of the eyes dilate to improve vision
  4. The activity in the digestive and urinary systems slows down for those particular moments to facilitate the mind to concentrate on the fearful thing at hand. 
The third step is rational, where the mind reasons whether the stimulant is actually harmful or not. Sometimes, the same situation or physical condition can be experienced without any apparent stimulant, person or situation. Such a condition is termed as 'Anxiety'. Fear holds a close relation with many phenomena, such as, worry, caution, horror, and panic.

The intensity of fear varies. It is a part of evolution for human beings. Most of the time fear depends on the conditioning of a child's mind. Conditioned fear infuses dread for otherwise harmless and inconsequential things being associated with danger. Past experiences also serve as conditioners. For instance, once a child is hurt as a result of burning his finger after touching a hot pan, he invariably takes precaution the next time. This is termed as the mildest forms of fear; precaution. Suppose a child has experienced being shut alone in an elevator, he may develop claustrophobia in the later years of life. This is a more intensified feeling of fear. A phobia can rouse frustration to the extremes. Experiences of fear may be forgotten by the conscious state of mind but can be stored in the unconscious and may resurface as nightmares. Such a situation may lead to paranoia. Extreme fear can lead to many pathological conditions such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Unconditioned fear is instinctive. It cannot be learnt, rather, it is more of a heritage from our ancestors.

Research has revealed that a person feeds his own fear. People are social by nature. The most deep rooted fear of man lies in 'being isolated'. This has bred the apprehensions of being abandoned, losing security and ones identity, feelings of inferiority and discrimination, losing face etc. These feelings often incite people to behave irrationally. Much of the anti-social behavior of people is a direct consequence of these fears. However, fear can prove to be healthy too. Psychologists term degrees of fear as 'good' or 'bad'. The fear of uncontrollable things is only upsetting; however, if there is room for improvement induced by fear, it is a much healthier condition of fear. For example, the fear of being humiliated may lead a student to work harder for his/her exams and attain a better result.

To get rid of fear, it's important to face it first. The best way to tackle fear is being aware of the nature of it; being aware of the kind of feelings it arouses and what are the outcomes of it. There are many behavioral techniques devised by psychologists to reduce the feelings of fear and thereby reduce stress. Most importantly, it is necessary to understand and accept the fact that everyone has the same underlying fears. This feeling of empathy helps us to deal with fear in a much better manner and get results faster.

Article Source:
Yup, that's me.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Attention Employees! Let's Gossip

When I was working for an elearning firm, we were quite a tight knit group of 7 girls. We spent considerable time together which gave us an insight on each others' strengths and weaknesses and all of us made some effort on our part to improve the team's overall performance. We always made it a point to lunch together whenever possible and discussed almost everything from work to personal life. I was a new comer so mostly sat listening. We weren't malicious gossipers but after a while I was well aware of the informal hierarchy of authority in the office which would have taken me months to figure out on my own.

Later, at an interview, one of the questions was whether I was immune to office gossips? To which I responded rather pedantically while holding a slightly opposing view. Who wants to put off an interviewer???...

Gossip has always been considered a taboo. We are often warned against its destructive nature in personal and professional life. Proverbs 16:28 and many other Biblical verses warn about the havoc that gossip wreaks and the ulterior motives, personal issues, the backstabbing nature of gossipers. Organisations discourage such practices openly and exhort employees to exercise caution against rumours and telltales for obvious reasons: it hampers productivity.

But just how many organisations can claim to be free of gossip circles? None!!! The truth is gossip rules organisational cultures. About 70% of all conversations that take place at work involves gossip. Recent researches say that it might not be such a bad thing after all. 

  1. One of the many advantages of gossiping is that it helps employees to bond easily. 
  2. It makes newcomers feel accepted and involved.
  3. Most companies are not 100% transparent regarding company policies or management decisions. Since gossip is informal dissemination of information, it gives employees a chance to discuss situations, brainstorm possibilities and come up with possible consequences.
  4. Gossip reduces stress as it gives a platform to employees to vent out their dissatisfaction and anger in the office premises instead of taking it home seething.
  5. Gossips are good way to understand workplace dynamics.
  6. Gossip helps in people management to an extent.
  7. It maintains power balance, which means it keeps prima donna bosses in check.
  8. Helps to identify non-performers.
But as the old adage goes, too much of anything is bad, gossip also has its downsides.
  1. Gossip is a double edged sword. If it's used against someone else, it can be used against you.
  2. It transfers preconceived notions about people to people who may have different perspectives.
  3. Gossip makes it difficult to distinguish between facts and rumours.
  4. It may slightly bring about an imbalance of power in the group involved in gossip; the one who has more information will be deemed more powerful.
  5. Gossip breaks down trust levels between two groups and makes working together difficult.
  6. May give rise to conflicts.
  7. Malicious gossip can reduce productivity as employees/supervisors spend a lot of time figuring out who said what which often results in animosity.
  8. It may make introverts feel culturally isolated. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Are You Assertive Enough?

Just like it takes two to tango, it takes two thinking individual minds for a relationship to blossom not a mind and a resentful doormat. A relationship, whether on personal or professional grounds, cannot thrive in the absence of dialogue. Since I'm a partial escapist, I'd put a quarter of the blame for learning this the harder way on my culture and two thirds on me persistently being a masochist.

What's your take?
From the very beginning, we are taught to obey. There's nothing wrong with that. But there's a thin line between obeying and obeying blindly. Obeying blindly in an effort to be more likable and accepted, not voicing my opinions in fear of offending people and lacking the ability to say 'No' when my insides were raging has cost me a good deal of emotional energy, countless hours of good night sleep that I spent plotting revenge and dealing with an overpowering feeling of being victimized. And the funny part is, I always thought I was assertive when clinically I was exactly the opposite. A Passive Polly!!!

Over time and at the expense of many 'not so good' experiences I have learnt that being assertive is an invaluable communication skill and is an integral part of emotional intelligence. It is a way of communicating that you respect yourself enough to stand up for yourself and are confident about what you are asserting without disrespecting other people or belittling their interests. Here are a few advantages of being assertive:
1. Less stressful than being passive/aggressive
2. Maintain better relationships
3. Does not lead to resentment (that can be held on to for a long long time...)
4. Leads to peaceful coexistence
5. You will have more positive energy to divert in constructive areas
6. Leads to high self-esteem

Both the other extremes, passivity and aggression have their own repercussions. Where passivity may leave you with wrath seething inside you, aggression may lead to avoidance and opposition from the other side.

Everyone, regardless of the personality types can learn to be more assertive though some individuals are naturally blessed with this communication technique. The crux lies in resisting the urge to react with aggression, admitting when wrong and respecting boundaries.