Dr C.Kumarbabu MD; DPM; Ph.D has more than 30 years of experience in counselling.
He held the post of Reader in Psychiatry at the Government Stanley Medical College and
Hospital, Chennai. He is also a corporate consultant in Stress management, emotional
Intelligence, value based goal setting and work life balance. His article on the management of
CommonMental Disorders was published by the Oxford University Press in 2009.
Dr. Kumarbabu shares with Marie Banu the need for more awareness on mental wellbeing.
How can one improve and maintain his mental wellbeing?
The basic function of the mind is to protect the body. In this process, we start seeing threats where there are really no threats. That is what we call “Anxiety”. Many stimuli in the environment are seen as potentially harmful. Thereby, we are constantly focused on threats and that is what we call negative thinking. So, whetherthe threat is real or not, the effect it would have on the body because the mind is thinking about the threat, is sufficient to cause all the reactions as if the stimuli are real.
For instance, a person is walking on the road and someone is following. Regardless whether he is really following him or not, he thinks:“someone is following me”. Then whatever bodily changes that would occur if someone is really following with malafide intent would happen. That would have been just an anotherperson who was simply walking on the road.
The mind cannot differentiate between what is real and what is powerfully imagined. So, people constantly imagine the wrong and unwanted outcomes and this affects the system. This is called worries, anxiety, tensions, or stress.
How does one overcome stress?
The bottom line is to see all potential threats as challenges. This will help us to develop and improve our coping skills.
The more scared you are, the more you will thinknegatively. The more negative you think, the more threatened you feel. The more threatened you feel, the more negative you feel. This is a vicious circle. We need to break this by developing coping mechanisms. What is the worst outcome possible? Can I survive it? If I can survive, why bother? This is the line of questioning. If it does not kill me then it will make me stronger. Remember the ancient Chinese saying: “smooth seas never made a good sailor”. Trials and tribulations make us stronger.
It is really essential to look at one’s belief systems. We will have to develop certain profound rational philosophies as a mental compass to guide our living.
People don’t want to experience any uneasiness and don’t want even a small thing to go wrong.During summer, we are morbidly worried if there would be a power cut even when there is power supply.
When you do something irrational, it creates a lot of negativity. We try to control people and environment. We can never really control them.
Clients come to me saying that they are afraid of death. When I ask them, what is it that you want to achieve? They say that they want to live.I then tell them: “Right now you are living, and you are not enjoying it!”
The paradox is: “In the process of pursuing happiness, we make ourselves extremely unhappy”.
Having traveled across the globe, what are your views about counseling in India when compared to other Countries?
I feel that we mostly do not have ‘Counseling’ in India. On many occasions it is only advising.The term ‘counsel’ is very difficult to translate in our regional languages. People talk about giving counseling. You cannot ‘give’ counseling.
Counseling is a process where we discuss with the person and explore possible solutions to a problem. In the process, we explore their strengths and weakness; their baggage from the past, their belief systems, and their cognitive distortions etc. The outcome should be to explore all possible solutions to the actual problem and agree to initiate one specific action towards solving the problem.
People who really require counseling are the very people who deny that they have a problem. Someone brings a patient without their knowledge and introduces the counselor as a common friend. There is a huge stigma around mental illness in our country.
How can we bring about more awareness on mental illness?
We can start working on positive psychology. We can create modules on the management of mind. We can make this subject as an optional course for 10th, 11th and 12th standard school students and also offer as an elective course for college students.
Can you give us some pointers on how we can achieve work life balance?
When someone offers you a huge salary, they expect you to deliver huge results. Unfortunately, many people are not capable of doing this. So, they go through stress because they know that they cannot meet the demand. When they come home they are not peaceful, as this fear keeps stalking them and they are preoccupied andworried.
In the private sector, thereis a constant downsizingof staff as they can employ four people instead of one for the same salary because we keep churning out millions of “qualified” graduates. The term ‘cyber coolie’ captures the prevalent situation. Therefore, the companies undercut the salaries, extend the working hours, and make the job expectations very huge.
The effective way of managing is to bementally very strong. People live on hopes of an expected future income. When a person earns a salary of one lakh rupees a month, he immediately buys on instalment a house for 60 lakhs and a car for 10 lakhs. But, when faced with a pink slip, the house and car are gone. He then jumps off from the sixth floor. Do not ever confuse a liability for an asset. Enroll for a financial education class and learn the fundamentals of money management.
Do not mix business and pleasure. Work place affairs can wreck your peace of mind. These two: financial failure and love failure are the common cause for suicide.
Make work ethic a fundamental value. The whole purpose of life is to be happy and contribute to others. That is the true north principle to guide your life.