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An Inside Job
Anxiety and stress at the workplace can be crippling, particularly in today’s high-pressure corporate culture. And the stigma around men opening up about mental illness is shaped by its own set of patriarchal diktats. Entrepreneur Nikhil Taneja leads Supriya Thanawala through his uphill climb to personal and occupational success and proves that showing vulnerability is the first step towards taking control

He was at the helm of his career in the film and television industry a few years ago when he had his first panic attack. Like most people who suffer from anxiety, Nikhil Taneja, who was then 30, did not understand the symptoms he was facing. “I’d sweat a lot, my heart would pound and race all the time. I’d have trouble breathing too. I thought it was something to do with my heart, but when I went to the doctor, I got diagnosed with anxiety,” he wrote once on social media — where over the last two years, he has become increasingly vocal about his struggles with mental health — and later in the press, where he has also opened up. Today, the 33-year old Taneja is in a better place and has successfully co-founded Yuvaa, a company that creates award-winning video content on mental health — for the 15-35 demographic — that very often goes viral. But the story of his journey to recovery is one he won’t easily forget.

Commonly described as a natural and healthy bodily reaction to stress or fear, anxiety can grip both men and women alike when things get overwhelming. Yet, psychologists today are increasingly finding that there are more men than women who are seeking therapy for anxiety.

“The reasons for this are plenty,” says Dr Deepali Bedi, a Delhi-based psychotherapist who works with a much larger number of male, as compared to female, clients. “Socially, there is still a lot of pressure on men to be the breadwinners of the family. Women may be ‘forgiven’ for being out of a job or a salaried position every now and then but men usually aren’t. So, this type of anxiety is actually more acute among men,” she says. Yet, as Dr Bedi also admits, it may manifest through a variety of psychological symptoms in women as well, particularly given the masculinised pressures they, too, now face while trying to fit into a corporate culture rooted within the patriarchal framework of a ‘man’s world’.

Being expected to continuously shoulder such a responsibility may go on to trigger anxiety and stress through what American physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon first termed as a ‘fight or flight response’ in the body, leading a susceptible person to react to situations at work through either aggressive and panic-driven workaholism on one extreme — or complete withdrawal, non-performance and unemployment on the other. A recent report in a well-known international men’s magazine further showed how stress was also a key factor in men having heart a¢ acks at a young age. Carrying with it a heightened risk of cardiovascular problems, the burden of socialised masculinity is now gaining ground as a problem in urgent need of being addressed.

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December 2019 - January 2020