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Mental Health Tips > Stress Management

Stress Management
(Special thanks to Mr. Eric Chan (Clinical Psychologist, Castle Peak Hospital) for authoring this article)


1. What is stress?
2. Stress: an angel or a devil?
3. Symptoms of stress
4. Stress management techniques
5. If the symptoms of stress persist and do not subside, what can I do?



1. What is stress?

Whenever we confront some changes, difficulties or challenges in our life, such as change of job, examination, marital problem, we will feel stressed. These are the external factors causing stress. However, different people have different reactions when they face with these life stressors. For example, an optimistic person may still be able to cope with unemployment in a relaxing attitude. On the contrary, a pessimistic person may take this as a misfortune and give up altogether accordingly. Obviously, apart from external factors, internal factors such as personality, thinking style, attitude in facing problem, and ability to relax, etc., all play an important role in determining how much stress we may experience. In short, although we are unlikely to fully master our life, as long as we can learn some methods to relax ourselves and cope with the life stressors with positive thinking and attitude, the feeling of being stressed would be reduced.

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2. Stress: an angel or a devil?

Some people may think that stress is something negative that needs to be got rid of. In fact, an adequate level of stress can enhance our efficiency and performance in our work, study or other areas in our life. Stress can motivate us to strive in pursuit of our goals, to seek for solutions of our problem, and to improve the situation where we are in. Nevertheless, when the stress level is too high, we can no longer demonstrate our abilities and potentials as usual. Our work efficiency and performance would be hampered accordingly. Worst still, under prolonged stress, our psychological health would be affected negatively.

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3. Symptoms of stress

When we are under chronic stress, a number of bodily symptoms will appear to alert us. We may experience dizziness, headache, neck pain, back pain and tense muscles over the body. Heart pounding and breathing may become very rapid, sometimes to the extent that we may experience difficulty breathing. Due to a decline in our immune ability, we may suffer from flu more easily. We may have frequent gastrointestinal discomfort. We may either suffer from insomnia or an urge to sleep excessively. We may feel very tired and fatigued. We may experience a loss of appetite or an increase of appetite to eat excessively. As for our emotions, we may feel very tense and anxious, and easily irritated over trivia. We may experience low mood with increased crying spells at times. Our attention and memory may decline, affecting our work performance. We may drink more alcohol and caffeine-containing drinks than before, increase smoking or even resort to abusing drugs.

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4. Stress management techniques

    1. Have reasonable demands and expectations on self
    • Consider whether you can manage with your limited time and efforts when you make promise to undertake a task. When it is necessary, you may have to learn to decline others’ request to avoid trapping yourself in a difficult situation.
    • Never attempt to demand everything to be perfect. As long as you have paid your full effort, you need to learn to let go for whatever it turns out to be.
    • Focus your attention on matters that can be managed under your efforts. On the contrary, do not waste your time and efforts on matters that are out of your control.
    • Never forget your strengths. Whilst being serious about yourself, try to appreciate what you have accomplished.
    2. Cultivate a good work habit
    • When you are faced with tremendous amount of work, try to list out all the tasks and prioritize them according to their urgency and importance. Attempt the most urgent and important task first.
    • Consider dividing a complex and difficult task into several smaller tasks that you can master more easily. Completing a small task may bring you some feeling of accomplishment that may motivate you to work further.
    • Avoid delaying a job task until the last minute. You will only feel more stressed.
    • Never forget to work at your own pace. Do not compare with others unreasonably.
    • Allow yourself a good rest regularly.
    3. Take a new perspective in your thinking
    • Every coin has two sides. If you can bear in mind an optimistic attitude and focus on the positive side of an incident, you will feel relaxed more easily.
    • If you view the difficulties and setbacks you encounter as your misfortune, inevitably you will feel very upset. As long as you can take all these as a challenge, stress can become your impetus!
    4. Share your feelings and difficulties with others
    • It never means that you are a coward when you share your feelings and difficulties with others. They may render you some practical aid or advice, as well as some psychological support.
    • When you encounter something unfair, gather your courage to voice out your feelings and wishes assertively.
    5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
    • Maintain a balanced diet so as to absorb sufficient nutrients for our body.
    • Do physical exercise regularly, at least three times a week, each lasting for around 30 minutes. When we do physical exercise, our brain will release a substance called “endorphin” which is effective in relieving our emotion.
    • Engage yourself in some hobbies and interests that can bring you joy and satisfaction. This can help you face your stress in a more relaxing manner.
    • Keep regular social contacts with your relatives and friends.
    • Never resort to drugs or alcohol.
    6. Maintain adequate sleep hygiene
    • Go to bed and wake up at regular time. Even though you have difficulty falling asleep at night, do get up at the time as usual in the morning so that the biological clock is not interfered. Avoid taking naps at daytime.
    • Keep your bedroom a comfortable environment to sleep. For example, room brightness and temperature need to be suitable.
    • Avoid drinking coffee, strong tea or eating spicy food during the evening. You can try drinking some milk before sleep.
    • Avoid doing vigorous exercises or activities that require much mental effort before sleep.
    • If you are unable to fall asleep, never force yourself to do so. Try to engage in something relaxing such as relaxation exercise.
    7. Do relaxation exercises regularly
    • Diaphragmatic breathing exercise
      When we feel stressed, our breathing may become very short in duration and irregular. This sort of breathing may disturb the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide within our body, causing the physiological symptoms of anxiety. We can practise diaphragmic breathing to regulate the depth and duration of our breathing, so as to relax ourselves.
    • Muscular relaxation exercise
      When we feel anxious, our body’s muscles will become very tense, sometimes out of our awareness. Muscular relaxation exercise can help us relax our muscles in a systematic way in order to relieve our stressful emotions.
    • Imagery relaxation exercise
      In imagery relaxation exercise, we will imagine ourselves as in a tranquil and comfortable environment, for example, a quiet beach. This resembles a planned “daydreaming”. In order to enhance the vividness of this imagery to ourselves, we can imagine in detail what we can see, what we can hear, what we can smell and what we can feel from our skin in this comfortable environment. When our attention is shifted to such a comfortable imagery, our anxious emotions can be relieved accordingly.

For the detailed content of the relaxation exercises, please refer to the “References” of this article.

5. Symptoms of stress

You can consult your family doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist or other professionals to receive further assessment and treatment.

Websites with relevant information / Reference

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