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HindustanTimes Mon,20 Oct 2014

Can a four-day week combat stress?

Sanya Panwar, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, July 04, 2014
First Published: 17:44 IST(4/7/2014) | Last Updated: 19:05 IST(4/7/2014)

Reducing working week from five days 'will help reduce stress, let families spend more time together and cut unemployment,' according to one of Britain's leading doctors. In a move that breaks from tradition, Prof John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, in an interview with the Guardian suggested switching to a four-day week to help combat high levels of work-related stress.

The five-day week should be phased out to end what he called "a maldistribution of work" that is damaging many people's health.

Read: How to chase away office stress

Bringing the standard working week down from five to four days would also help address medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and the mental ill-health associated with overwork or lack of work, Ashton said.

"My concern is that too many people are working too long hours and too hard, and too many people aren't working at all. A large number of people are working crazy hours and a significant amount of people can't get work," Ashton said.

"We need a four-day week so that people can enjoy their lives, have more time with their families, and maybe reduce high blood pressure because people might start exercising on that extra day.

Read: Stretching at your desk can zap office stress

"If you've got two people in a couple working, they need to be able to work in such a way that they can spend time together with their children. It's a nightmare," said Ashton, adding, it would give parents the time to collect their children from school, among other benefits.

Attractive, yes, but practical?

Although, the idea of scheduling work for four days a week seems too attractive to be true, for most of us in India, it may be a long shot.

According to Dr Charu Goel Sachdeva, senior consultant medicine, Rockland hospital, the idea of stress itself is too subjective. Doubting how effective the four-day week would be, she says the idea is not practical. She stresses that one needs to be comfortable with his or her work schedule, as anything can lead to stress.

"I think we are still not ready to implement something like this in India," says Sachdeva.

Why? Because a good organizational setup and technological and other support networks are required to execute work in just four days, she explains. And with the diverse work population and its large size, this isn't the easiest task. And the pressure to complete work in time, would again, lead to stress, if that's what we're trying to reduce in the first place.

Also read: Stress, the root of most illnesses, says research

"With a three-day off employees would be mostly working on rotation. This could lead to confusion and co-worker stress," she adds.

Dr Gorav Gupta, Psychiatrist , Tulasi Healthcare agrees. While stating that a four-day week would allow for better physical rest, mental relaxation, family bonding, and improved interpersonal and intrapersonal relations, he said it still has slim chances of succeeding.

"India is a developing country in which everyone is pushing hard for economic security. Working for only four days a weak, can slow that down," he says.

In fact, he makes a different suggestion.

"A four-day week is not practical in India. But a five-day week would work well. It can be made compulsory for all sectors and organizations. Companies can bring in new policies to keep their employees happy and stress free."

How to handle it all

We cannot control the myriad issues that come our way, but what we can control is how we respond to them. To reqire your stress response, the first and the most important step is to recognise you are about to be stressed. Follow these tips.

1 Breathe: Take long and deep breaths for about two-three minutes, and breathe right. Your belly should expand as you inhale and retract as you exhale. This simple technique relaxes your body, thereby calming your mind as a by-product.

2 Music therapy: Pick a soothing track, and tune out of the stress and into your inner calm. Soothing music is known to relax the neurocircuitry.

3 Pet-love: Hug and cuddle your beloved dog or cat. Having physical contact with your pet not only lowers your blood pressure, but also makes you feel loved, and calms your mind.

4 Run: So, you’re going to have a tough meeting with your boss, or break up with your partner in a few hours. Put on those running shoes and prepare your body. We know endorphins released post physical activity make your body happy, thereby giving you a happy and calm mind.

5 Live in the moment: While all of the above are ways to get ready for the oncoming train, here’s what you do when stress hits you: We’ve heard it a million times, ‘live in the moment’, but brushed it aside as a clichéd adage. The best way to combat all physical health issues is to deal with stress when it’s at a nascent stage, with a Zen mind. More often than not, we stress crazily in anticipation of bad situations that never even end up taking place. Also, millions of people across the world use the binge-and-purge method in dealing with stress. They stress out all day, thinking they can wait until evening to release it upon hitting the gym or going for that yoga class. Wrong. ‘Repressing until later’ is the root ofall diseases. “Unfortunately, when we delay going for our inner balance, our body has already activated the stress response — our health suffers at all levels, no doubt,” says Dr Balraj Gupta, general physician, Fortis Hospital, Delhi.


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