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May, 2003

A monthly newsletter dedicated to serving the principles of
physical and spiritual health envisioned in the Baha'i Teachings.

Volume 6, Issue #9



- Working with the Will to do Service
- Is Work Getting More Stressful?
- Eating Disorders and Contentment
- Readers Requesting Assistance
- Question of the Month
- Website
- Purpose of the Newsletter




Taken from article "Reflections on Work and the Meaning of Career" by Marie Scheffer, pp. 12 to 13

"It is enjoined upon everyone of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God, the True One." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 26)

"Ruhiyyuk Rabbani (wife of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith), a world traveler and writer, gave a vivid description of an example of work performed with 'the will to do service to humanity' and assessed its impact, both on the recipients of the service and the service provider. In 'Prescription for Living', pp. 91-3, she recounted a 'remarkable and never-to-be-forgotten lesson in how to work' that she had experienced on a streetcar in Brussels:

I only rode on it fifteen or twenty minutes and that was many, many years ago. But the conductor on it taught me more than any other human being ever has. He seemed to feel that he owned that street car, that it was just as if someone entered his home when they got on it, that every person in it was his responsibility, that he was their host. He was entirely unconscious of this. He has just, somehow, put himself into his work. The duties of a street car conductor are strictly confined in nature, he has to sell tickets and give change and see the company is not cheated...But this man - perhaps he had never been made aware that all that was required of him was to finger dirty money and blow his horn - helped old men and women and children on and off the car; he handed their bundles to them; he held the baby till the mother got off; he walked up the car, like a man in his drawing-room, and seated some tired person comfortably or invited others to make a little space for a woman;...he smiled, he looked at you with an expression as much as to say, 'So you're here, I wonder what I can do for you?'

It was like a miracle. I could not help wondering what this world would be like if all people did their jobs this way...What is much more important, I am sure he was happy. Putting all he had into such a very unpromising job, he got a rich return of contentment; it was written on his face, a plain, tired, ordinary face but with an expression of almost luminous happiness. He had found the secret of work, which is service - the golden talisman that changes drudgery into pleasure and fatigue into contentment and boredom into interest. Can anyone say his efforts were wasted, that he was foolish? I was one of the man's passengers, yet I shall never forget him as long as I live.'

Ruhiyyih Rabbani's description of one man's service and similar calls to serve touch on a delicate point: society's ambivalent feelings about service. The words 'service' and 'servant' spring from the same root work; but while many find the concept of 'service' noble in the abstract, fewer aspire to being a servant of another person, much less of humanity as a whole. ...Perhaps more have experienced the pleasures of being a service recipient than have savored the joy felt by the streetcar conductor as a service provider. The result is that being a servant or service provider is not regarded as a highly desirable or honorable station in Western culture. Service jobs are frequently low paying and low status. Moreover, unpaid service in the home - caring for children, the disabled, the elderly - is often not accorded recognition at all as 'real' work in a legal or economic sense. Such attitudes about service and those who provide it must be reexamined. If, heretofore, people have found a job, almost any job, of intrinsic value in establishing a sense of self-worth, as common experience and academic studies have suggested, how much more an expanded concept of work such as that offered by the Baha'i Faith can contribute to that sense of well-being. This new concept of work leads us to consider redefining the concept of 'career.'

'Abdu'l-Baha's comments in Paris Talks on work highlights three elements that combine to elevate work to an act of worship. The first is performing the task to the best of one's ability; striving for excellence. The second is investing one's whole being in the task: working from the fullness of the heart. The third is the motive or intention one has while performing the task: the desire to be of service to others. It is thought-provoking to note that all three elements are brought to the task by the individual. They are not the domain of any particular form of work. The become part of work through the deliberate choice of the individual.

"O My Servant! The best of men are they that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God, the Lord of all worlds." (Baha'u'llah, Hidden Words, p. 82)




-- By Christiane Fontaine, health promotion consultant, Ontario Prevention Clearinghouse, Reprinted by permission with Ontario Health Promotion Bulletin #287,

We think that the topic of work stress is very appropriate for health promotion practitioners. Both in the front-lines and as knowledge workers, we are confronted with stressful situations, co-workers and clients under stress, and organizations struggling to meet competing demands. As employers and employees, advisors and practitioners, we need to be as informed and prepared as possible to respond to stress constructively.

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Is working getting more stressful?

Both your daily work hours and your weeks are getting longer. You are no longer taking breaks; you don't have time. Lunch? You quickly eat a sandwich at your desk. You've got stomach problems, backaches and the boss is asking you to do more and more. Once at home, you are still rushing to get things done. You are having trouble sleeping, you are eating less, and you are losing interest in your work.

This is the overall picture that is emerging in the workplace. We have to do more with a lot less, responding mainly to what is most "urgent." There is less and less time to sort out our priorities and values. We are living in the fast lane. It is not surprising therefore, to encounter many people who feel out of breath and stressed out.

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What is stress?

Stress can be both good and bad. Having a certain amount of stress in our lives is normal. Positive stress gives us the energy and motivation that we need to tackle the daily challenges at home or at work. It helps us deal with the difficulties we encounter in our lives, and it helps us work towards meeting our goals. However, stress can also yield negative consequences when it becomes a source of exhaustion, frustration or dissatisfaction.

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Can stress affect our health?

One out of two workers reports being very stressed because of their job. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association's (CMHA) COMPAS survey, the number of people reporting high work-related stress went from 47% in 2000 to 62% in 2001.(1) Furthermore, the CMHA estimates that "stress on the job and related illnesses costs the Canadian economy five billion a year." (2)

Being subjected to stress over a long period of time--negative stress--affects our health. Negative stress is experienced when there is an imbalance between imposed pressures and our ability to deal with them. In order to fight stress, our body causes some physiological changes. These are biochemical changes that we feel physically: panic attacks, chest pain, asthma, heart palpitations, nausea, indigestion, ulcers, itching, diarrhea, neck stiffness, cramps, headaches, sleeping problems, etc. These symptoms may appear harmless but they can cause illnesses. Studies show that with prolonged stress, the body produces chemicals that weaken the immune system, potentially resulting in illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, phobias, panic disorders, anxiety disorders. (3)

Initial stress can lead to secondary stress, which further increases stress levels, creating a vicious circle. For example, following a stressful event, you develop panic attacks. Your initial stress (being overworked) is intensified by a secondary stress (your worry about how you reacted to the stress of being overworked).

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Overcoming stress

The causes of stress on the job vary widely, as do the strategies to reduce or prevent these causes. Employers and employees need to work together to find solutions.

A) Solutions for Employers:

* Reduce workloads. The most frequently reported reasons for mental health problems in the workplace are the demands.(4) Many studies show a significant correlation between heavy workloads and mental health problems as well as physical health problems such as coronary heart diseases and high cholesterol levels.

* Involve employees in the decision-making process. Participation is related to the psychological well being of employees. Some researchers have found that a lack of employee participation in decisions affecting them is correlated with high levels of psychological tension leading to alcohol abuse, depression, poor overall physical health, low self-esteem and low satisfaction levels on the job. By increasing employee involvement in decisions that affect them, you give them more with control over their work environment and consequently lower their feelings of insecurity and tension. Furthermore, increasing employee involvement encourages interaction among members of the organization, thus improving communication and encouraging social support within the organization. (5)

* Identify the cause of stress. It could be that the environment at work is very noisy. You then need to eliminate or control the noise level. Or perhaps employees experience pain because of repetitive movements. Rotating employees between different tasks can prevent this problem.

* Offer flexible working hours. In Canada, only 24% of the workforce has a flexible work schedule. According to the University of Guelph's Centre for Families, Work and Well-being, flexible working hours are associated with a decrease in lost time at work.(6)

* Offer employees anti-stress activities. Some Canadian organizations are helping their employees manage stress by creating anti-stress days. Others have created exercise rooms in the work setting or have paid for their employees' health club memberships. This helps employees relax and keep fit. These organizations realize that a stressed out employee is more likely to become ill and perform less efficiently on the job. These companies have acted in their own best interest as well as in the employees'.

* Change the structure, the politics and the values of the organization. An organization with a centralized structure where decisions are made by top management, leaves little room for autonomy at work. Some studies show that in decentralized organizations, employees are much more satisfied at work and perform better on the job. Organizational policies concerning remuneration, promotions, transfers or training can also affect the mental health of employees in positive or negatives ways.

* Create a Just Organization. Employee perception of organizational justice is determined by three factors.(8) First, employees look at how distribution of resources (money, perks) is related to employee contributions. Second, justice perception is influenced by the way in which the organization makes decisions. Employees feel that they are treated fairly when they see that decisions are ethical, in their own best interest and that they have been included in the decision making process. Finally, justice perception is related to relationships between managers and employees. Employees see themselves as being treated fairly when managers appropriately inform them about upcoming changes, give them the reasons why, and treat them with dignity and respect. Studies have shown that organizational justice has a positive influence on satisfaction, motivation, energy and commitment. Inversely, employees that perceive injustice tend to be more hostile towards the organization and experience a wide range of


B) Solutions for Employees:

We can make small changes to help ourselves deal with stress and to improve our overall mental and physical health. Bruno Fortin, psychologist and animator of workshops on stress management, offers five strategies to manage our stress:(8)

* Pause. We need to try to understand our stress. Becoming aware of how we react to stress and how we feel is one of the first steps. It's important to periodically evaluate our health, our quality of life and our stress levels. Going faster won't help us accomplish more.

* Redefine priorities. We can work on our stress by having a more balanced life. We need to take the time, even if it is once a year, to clarify our values and set some priorities. Our stress levels depend on our perceptions, and by recognizing signs of tension, we can then modify the way we react.

* Explore the room that is available for maneuvering. We have to learn how to say no when circumstances permit it.

* Find an outlet - An outlet can be confiding in someone you feel comfortable with, writing about how you feel, expressing your "build up", taking up a sport, doing exercises or deep breathing.

* Take into account your capacities. We need to find ways to act within our capacities. You cannot change everything all at once. It is preferable to incorporate changes gradually.

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Even though stress can stimulate us day by day, helping us be more productive and constructive, it can also become destructive. Stress, mainly from the workplace, is one of the major health hazards of our time. If we want to change this situation, employees and employers must rally together to improve quality of life at work. In doing this, both will come out as winners: employees will be more productive and employers will see their businesses or organizations become more profitable.

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1. Canadian Mental Health Association COMPAS Survey on Stress and Depression. Toronto, Ontario, 2001. Available on the Internet at

2. Canadian Mental Health Association. En francais: La Semaine de la santé mentale cible le stress en milieu de travail. 1999. Press release available at In English: See Ontario CMHA Network magazine special issue on "Stress in the Workplace." Fall 1999. Available at

3. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS). Workplace Stress Available at

Health Canada - Workplace Health Bureau. "Best Advice on Stress Risk Management in the Workplace." Available at

4. CMHA Ontario Mental Health Works. "Managing mental health in the workplace: How to talk to employees, deal with problems and assess risks." 2002. Available at

5. CPRN Work Networks. "JobQuality Indicators Participation & Influence." 2001. Available at

6. Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being. The Work-Life Compendium. 2001. Available from the University of Guelph at

7. Folger, R. & Cropanzano, R. Organizational justice and human resource management. Thousand Oaks: Sage. 1998.

8. Fortin, Bruno. Available at

(only available in French)

Similar English sources on dealing with work stress are available from the Canadian Centre on Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) and CMHA




By James.R. Snyder, Ontario, Canada

I was moved by reading the recent issue of Healing Through Unity (Volume 6, Issue #8) to offer a few comments about eating disorders, based on personal experience. There is often more going on behind eating disorders than most people recognize, since almost all of the focus is on weight issues and body image distortions. Although victims of anorexia, for example, are principally concerned with weight control and body image, that does not mean that weight is the central issue, any more than gambling is the central issue for a gambling addict. Anorexia often affects teens and young adults, often very highly achievement-oriented individuals. These individuals sometimes feel that their lives are spiraling out of their control. The demands on them feel too great, and their worlds feel chaotic. Often, they feel that the only thing that they can control is their bodies, and what they put into them.

The obsession with diet and the rigorous control they exert over themselves lends a sense of order and control to their lives, no matter how dangerous the consequences. And the distortion of body image is, in many ways, very similar to other types of denial that are enacted by others with self-destructive obsessions, like addicts of all descriptions--against all evidence to the contrary, the addict continues to insist, "I'm alright.". It may even be useful to describe an anorexic as someone who is addicted to weight loss and control, since the disorder shares so many similarities with features of addiction models.

Even some of the negative effects of anorexia are experienced by the individual as elements of regaining control over their lives. The loss of body fat and the cessation of menstruation, for example, relieves the individual of the new, disordering, and sometimes unwelcome burdens of adolescent sexuality, artificially maintaining for them a kind of permanent childhood.

Similarly, bulimics are also often characterized as being wholly obsessed with weight and body issues. But this is not uniformly so. Also like other addicts, the bulimic derives comfort and solace through eating (a not unusual symptom) and carries this to extremes. That is, sometimes the "purging" that takes place is not solely designed to avoid weight gain, but also to allow the individual to continue eating even after the stomach is filled. This is comparable, perhaps, to an alcoholic who takes amphetamines so that he or she can continue drinking, countering the very effect of the alcohol so that the pleasurable activity of drinking can continue.

Again, it is the effect on the individual's emotional state that is paramount, not the effect on the body, in terms of assessing and understanding the disorder. The person eats or chooses not to eat principally to change how he or she feels about himself or herself, to effect a higher degree of safety, security, and control in the world he or she inhabits. So it is misleading to continue to focus only on the external features of the disorder--the relationship to food and body image--and so potentially miss the deeper concerns, which have to do with the individual's relationship with the world around him or her, and his or her internal balance and stability.

That is why I thought it was particularly appropriate and useful that the newsletter included Baha'ullah's comment that, "Verily the most necessary thing is contentment under all circumstances" ( cited in Baha'u'llah and the New Era, p. 108) I suffered with bulimia for almost twenty years, and I can tell you from my own experience that it had, finally, very little to do with food, and a great deal to do with a lack of contentment in myself and in my world. Thank you.




My daughter who lives in Los Angeles lost her baby to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death

Syndrome) this past January 6th and her husband and herself are having a very hard time dealing with the grieving. I would love to see a newsletter dedicated to this subject, if it has not already been done and also I would appreciate people who have had the same kind of experience in dealing with this subject email me with their comments and advise. (Please send your responses to and then your messages will be passed on to the person requesting assistance)


Should anyone who is experiencing hyper thyroid and knowing its many symptoms especially the unbearable skin rashes/itchiness and the usual two types of medication with its side effects wish to contribute information to counter/cure these effects and the disease itself, please send your responses to:




June will be the last issue of the sixth year of the newsletter and it will resume in September, 2003 for its seventh year. There will be no question of the month for the June issue; however please send any stories, experiences, thoughts, insights, ideas, and information on any topic that you would like to share with the readers. Thank you!




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"Healing Through Unity" is published for the purpose of sharing thoughts, comments and experiences on how the teachings of the Baha'i Faith are being applied to physical and spiritual health. Other than the quoted Holy Writings, the material in this newsletter represents the thoughts and opinions of the writers and has no authority. You are free to copy articles, provided you indicate the source of the article. There are 10 issues per year; it is not published during July and August. The newsletter is produced in Ontario, Canada.

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