Philip Watkins, Naturopath at Integrated Medicine Institute in Hong Kong, on how to take a preventive approach to managing stress, and why going out after work is a good idea
Managing stress is nothing new in Hong Kong. With long work hours and high-pressure situations commonplace, Hongkongers were recently found to be the fifth most stressed population among 23 global economies, surveyed by United States-based health insurer Cigna.
According to the same survey, 92 percent of people in Hong Kong faced stress in their daily lives, a number beyond the global average of 86 percent. When it comes to managing the peaks and troughs of the year, it is clear that based on these statistics we are all very much in it together. So how do we help each other and ourselves during stressful periods?
One of the key elements to coping with higher periods of stress is to think back to how things have gone for you in the past. The key component that helps a vast number of people in my natural medicine practice is to properly define where the problems are going to occur before they happen.
It is far easier to prevent things from happening than it is pacify them once they’re in full swing.
The first thing to do is to identify the physical effects that you experience from high stress levels:
- Do you have trouble sleeping?
- Do you find that your digestion suffers?
- Or do you stop exercising in exchange for longer work hours?
All of these things can be better remedied when you know they are coming. Can you change your exercise schedule to better allow you to manage your work hours? If so, how?
If your digestion suffers, is it because your diet changes for the worse during periods of high stress? If this is the case, then maybe it’s time to consider organizing a healthy meal delivery service or better yet creating a list of healthy establishments to choose from that will deliver to your home or office.
This can also be a key time to look into how nutritional supplementation may be able to help. I talk regularly with patients about looking at their nutrition as an exercise in resource management. Your body pays for the majority of its physiological transactions, creating energy and brain chemicals using the vitamins and minerals from your diet as currency, for example.
In times of increased output, this demand for currency often increases. If this currency is in short supply, it can then force the body to choose which transactions to pay for and which should go by the wayside – to perform “micronutrient triage.” A good quality multivitamin with a comprehensive B vitamin group can make sure that the body has enough currency to spend on all its transactions daily. This can be a game changer for most of my patients (and myself!), and can mean the difference between a day characterized by brain fog and feelings of overwhelm, and one filled with vitality and clarity.
Make time to talk
The same can be done emotionally too. If you are prone to experiencing anxiety during stressful periods then maybe it’s time to book an appointment with a counsellor. Someone who you can talk to on a regular basis can be a great help. You should also try and make more time for your friends and family.
Humans are intrinsically a social species, and through seeking social support we can greatly help our hormonal balance, especially when it comes to a specific hormone called oxytocin.
One of the key functions of oxytocin is to decrease anxiety levels and relax the body allowing you to calm down more effectively after a big day at work. People experiencing stress who have a satisfactory level of social support receive regular boosts of oxytocin allowing them to feel more confident in their ability to cope with stress, decreased anxiety as well as draw to other people, leading to a positive maintenance of their social support levels.
Maybe going out for dinner with your colleagues after work or inviting your family and friends over doesn’t seem like such a bad idea now?
Put on your trainers
One of my favourite recommendations for everyone, no matter what industry they are in, is to start using the numerous hiking trails Hong Kong has to offer. While we know that exercise is an effective stress management tool, what is not commonly known is the effect that being out in nature can have on the brain.
Originally conceived in the 1980s, attention restoration theory sees people have improved levels of concentration after spending time in nature, or even looking at natural landscapes. Why not try changing your computer’s wallpaper to a shot from one of Hong Kong’s trails or a vibrant meadow?
This has been studied in numerous different situations, one in particular being a study where patients resting in rooms overlooking trees recovered from their surgery better than those in rooms with a view of only a brick wall. They experienced fewer complications from the surgery, recovered faster and asked for weaker painkillers.
Another study found that taking breaks outside in settings that contained some nature reduced stress, leaving the subjects feeling refreshed, relaxed and energized upon returning to work.
Managing and coping with stress has a lot to do with the understanding that it’s inevitable. Thus, the choices you make and habits you create around managing it in both a preventative and proactive manner can make all the difference.