Is stress in the city so prevalent we don’t recognise it in ourselves? And even if we did, do we know that something can be done about it?
With today’s economic mess and Hong Kong being the financial hub it is, you’d think that psychotherapists and counsellors —along with liquidators—would be the busiest people in Hong Kong. However, surprisingly, it seems that this is not necessarily the case. Is this perhaps because people don’t recognize that they are suffering from stress and more to the point, that something can be done about it?
If you are falling asleep yet waking up several hours later wide awake — but exhausted; suffering digestive problems or chest pains; or even feeling the need to urinate too frequently; you could be suffering from stress. Other symptoms more easily recognised as stress related include over-drinking, over-spending and over-eating together with a short temper, and/or tearfulness and/or overwhelming feelings of irritability towards “those” people on the street.
Stress — a permanent condition in Hong Kong?
Jennifer Walker, Holistic Central Naturopath and Counsellor, suggests that we may already be desensitised to the symptoms, not recognising them as being out of the ordinary. “Being stressed is a permanent condition in Hong Kong,” she says. “It’s not just the work, but for expatriates it’s having family overseas, it’s the lack of relationships, or stress on the relationships you do have. It’s also important to know that stressors can be mental, emotional, physical or environmental; the latter including pollution, noise and diet.”
Most people would agree that stress is a permanent condition in Hong Kong, which then raises the question: “Can anything be done about it?” Some people may even ask why you would bother as stress does seem to keep some people “alive”.
The long-term effects of stress are without a doubt detrimental. Feelings of being out of control can lead to a deeper depression where things really do become out of control, not to mention the harmful effects of excess adrenalin on our bodies and the damage it does to our relationships.
Half empty / half full?
“Our response to stress is more to do with about how we perceive things,” says Walker. And this is where professionals can help. However, for many people the fear of counsellors, psychotherapists and psychiatrists is that, like TV character Tony Soprano, you may still be sitting on the same counsellor’s seat in Season 7 – not having seen the slightest improvement.
Dr Tommy Chan, Holistic Central’s Clinical Psychologist, reassures us: “Often in times of crisis we are emotionally overwhelmed so we may not be the best judges of our emotional state. It is always wise to at least have an assessment and a brief evaluation if in doubt.
“Of course it depends on the severity of the problem but if appropriate, in the first few sessions I would help the patient learn how to manage symptoms a bit better, giving them tips and techniques which can help give them confidence to deal with issues. Most people quickly get a benefit from this approach, which just takes a few weeks. However, of course, the client may want to continue seeking a longer term solution.”
Kathleen Wong, a Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Reiki Master here at Holistic Central, says: “Results come more quickly when the client themselves wishes to see change because a great part of counselling is the client’s willingness to help themselves. Generally, counselling is an ongoing process ranging from at least six weekly sessions to perhaps six months.”
All therapists here agree that counselling or psychotherapy is largely about helping clients change their perceptions of things. “An event can be seen as exciting, or it can be seen as stressful and push you over the edge,” explains Walker.
Wong says: “I sometimes give homework where clients monitor their thought patterns, and replace negative thoughts with more positive and encouraging ones, for example they may have a “self-accomplishment list”.
Other tips to help people handle stress include learning to meditate, or practise calming breathing routines, or to bring more exercise into their lives to flush out excess adrenalin and boost endorphins. “People should also make time to be nourished by touch,” says Walker. “I recommend massage, acupuncture and reiki, and for women, girly treats such as manicures. I also strongly recommend simply getting out into nature, sitting quietly, listening to the sounds of nature and feeling the wind on your skin and in your hair.”
Diet is also important. When we are well nourished we have energy, and are more able to see things in a more positive way. Walker points to alcohol, sugary foods and coffee as big “no nos”. “Alcohol in particular depletes vitamin B which is important for our nervous system: the liver struggles to do its job and essential minerals are used to process the alcohol rather than nourish the mind and body.”
But what about the use of drugs to help the client deal with stress?
“This is not usually the first course of action,” says Dr Chan. “ Most pharmaceutical drugs are addictive and are generally only used when all else fails.” However, some supplements or drugs may be useful to help break a cycle of insomnia or to calm the mind in the initial stages of treatment.
As a naturopath, Walker sometimes turns to herbal medicine as a natural alternative to drugs, and essential minerals and vitamins to support the individual. She also emphasises that a nourishing, healthy diet is key.
According to these practitioners at least, with an attitude adjustment, stress and its symptoms need not be a necessary evil of life in Hong Kong. However, as Walker points out: “While changing our perception is one thing, sometimes finding that your life is too stressful is a wake up call. Maybe it is time for a change.”
But such decisions are best made with a calm, energised and nourished mind.