Psychotherapists Katie Leung and Medora Choi of Hong Kong mental health centre Mindish gives practical tips on coping with stress and anxiety during Covid-19

Times are tough right now: Hong Kong’s fifth wave has caused many to lose jobs and even loved ones. As the city goes into self-isolation, businesses are also shuttering over prolonged city-wide restrictions. 

Now, more than ever, the city’s collective level of stress and anxiety is at an all-time high, with local mental health organisations reporting an increase in calls for help during the fifth wave, according to the South China Morning Post

We spoke with psychotherapists Katie Leung and Medora Choi of Hong Kong’s newest luxury mental health centre Mindish to learn about how to cope with stress and anxiety during the fifth wave. 

See also: Covid May Cause Long-Term Mental Health Issues, New Study Finds

1. Name The Stressor

“Figure out what you are stressed or anxious about,” says Leung. “When we are self-aware, we can plan and counter-attack anxiety and stress.” 

Sometimes, when the stress or anxiety is severe, it could create overwhelming physical sensations. When that happens, Leung suggests asking yourself questions to differentiate anxiety from reality—such as “Is it really true?”, “Am I really out of control?”, “What is the worst-case scenario?”, and “If the worst-case scenario happens, what can I do?”

Instead of letting your brain ruminate over worst-case scenarios, try and face your inner chatter and see what can be done to fix the worry instead. “You are more resilient than you think you are,” says Leung. 

2. Add Meaning To Your Life

“You’re likely not feeling that ‘happy’ in life right now but here’s the thing—research shows that there is more to life than being happy,” says Leung. In one study, Cornell researchers found that the pursuit of long-term contentment could bring higher life satisfaction when compared to constantly searching for the instant happiness “high”.  

“People who are most content with themselves can resonate with four pillars: purpose and meaning, belonging, transcendence and how we tell the stories of our lives,” says Leung.

“Are the things we are doing bringing purpose and meaning to our life? When we lack a purpose and meaning, we are easily subjected to the control of sadness, lack of motivation and anxiety. In a way, we’re not busy enough in a purposeful way.”

Humans are created to be social creatures, says Leung. “We need to be social to survive. When we find ourselves spending less time with others and more time with ourselves, we often lose a sense of community or don’t feel like we belong anywhere.”

Practical tips on finding connections

  • Try finding like-minded groups such as hiking, a virtual connection or volunteering. 
  • Seek a spiritual connection through nature or spirituality. Those who have a feeling of transcendence may feel that they belong in the world and bring them a sense of purpose. 
  • If you live alone or are currently self-isolating, the next best option is to connect over the phone through voice and video calls.
  • Try hosting a fun night with friends over FaceTime or connect with family to play party games. If you do decide to host a virtual happy hour, just be mindful that you don’t overdo it: excessive alcohol consumption and feelings of anxiety don’t pair well. Not even with the most decadent of wines. 

3. Find a Daily Routine

“Structure your day. These days, we tend to experience cabin fever due to the loss of our normal daily routine,” says Choi. “We may catch ourselves slipping into the habit of sleeping too much or too little, maybe skipping meals and exercise, you know, the everyday rituals we previously did to take care of ourselves.”

Even if you’re working from home, Choi still recommends trying to establish a routine such as a regular sleeping schedule, daily exercise, or consistent meditation practice. “It doesn’t have to be the same as your routine before the pandemic, but the more structure you can add to your day, the less mental distress you will feel at home,” she says. “Try to also include set times for taking care of yourself, getting outside—and communicating with friends each day.”

You should also allow yourself to be human, however.

“Give yourself permission to half missteps: there will be days where you won’t always stick to it; where you will overindulge in food or alcohol; where you will feel like valuable time has been wasted,” says Choi. “You are not a robot and giving yourself grace is as important as being consistent in your self-care.”

4. Take Care of Your Inner Child

“Try finding delight in yourself,” says Leung. This doesn’t mean boasting or telling yourself how great you are. Instead, it’s about finding things that you appreciate about yourself. 

“Studies show that children have a safe and secure connection with their caregivers when they are delighted,” she says. “Seeing that someone is delighted by your company is a very nurturing feeling. However, as we age, we don’t really feel we need that anymore.”

You should ask yourself what is it about you that you’re delighted by, says Leung. 

“Notice how this question makes you feel,” she says. If this comes unnaturally to do you, she suggests asking a friend or a partner this question to hear what they appreciate about you. Once you’re more comfortable with this practice, challenge yourself to do the same. 

5. Practice Acceptance

“If you are done being overly optimistic, that’s fine too. Instead, practice acceptance,” says Choi.

With restaurants closed, gyms shut and social life coming to a standstill, you may catch your routine being disrupted and feelings of anger or frustration may surface.

That being said, you can’t change the reality of your situation, she says. 

“Try to truly learn to practice acceptance. Instead of trying to gain control over the uncontrollable, let yourself experience the discomfort of feeling stuck,” says Choi. 

“Like all emotions, if you allow yourself to feel them, it will eventually pass,” she says. “After all, feelings are meant to be felt. If you ever need a little help, try shifting your focus on a solvable worry. Instead of focusing on your sense of confinement, focus on something that you can control, such as planning a dinner meal, or helping out a friend in need.”

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