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How Asians Deal with Stress and What to Do About It

Here are 3 ways on how to make stress work in your favor

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BY Jared Carl Millan - 07 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

At one point or another, we are bound to experience stress, whether in or outside the workplace. It's a natural physiological response to situations in which we are uncomfortable and afraid. Unfortunately, some cannot cope with this and instead, create a negative and unhealthy environment for themselves.

It's important to understand first how stress works and what it does. When we find ourselves in tough and harrowing situations, our adrenal gland releases a hormone called cortisol. In layman’s terms, it's our built-in fight-or-flight response to protect ourselves from harm. First, you sweat. Then, your heart beats faster, your breathing becomes harder. During this time, the arteries in our body also constrict, making blood harder to move around, which can be particularly dangerous for older people. Stress can also bring about mental conditions—anxiety, depression, and paranoia.

That's why it's a welcome change that in the West, discourse about stress and mental health is on the upswing. However, in Asia, strides have yet to be made, as such topics remain taboo.

In her doctorate research, Dr. Jamie Chiu, psychologist and founder of The Brightly Project, studied the cultural differences in responding to stress between Asians and Westerners. “Chinese culture [is strong on] pride and also shame. Mental illness is seen, more so than elsewhere, as a weakness. And weakness is ‘shameful,’ and so nobody wants to talk about it,” she says. “Even when we do customer interactions, Chinese school leaders are much less willing to talk about problems or challenges they face.”

In short, Asians have a tendency to bottle everything up instead of dealing with it. But the thing is, stress isn't inherently bad.

“Stress gets a bad reputation,” says Chiu. “Stress is actually important for us. If there were no stress, we'd never feel motivated to do anything. But of course, there’s a threshold. When stress gets too high, productivity goes down.”

The key is figuring out how to make stress work for you. Here are simple but useful pointers to ensure that you are not a slave to stress.

1. Take care of your body

“Sleep and eat well as much as you can. It's so important to take care of your physical health,” Chiu says. You have to make sure that you have an ample amount of energy to deal with the challenges of daily life.

2. Consider stress as a motivator instead of an enemy

In her TED Talk, psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains how a change on how one views stress greatly impacts its negative effects on the body. When your breathing increases, think of it as your body's way of sending more oxygen to the brain to help you think faster, sharper. It's a signal for you to step up your game and apply yourself.

Janine Mendoza, operations manager of The Asian Parent Philippines agrees. “It's all about the mindset for me,” she says. “I think of stressful tasks as a training ground for me and a learning experience.”

3. Talk about to someone about it

“Relationships are really important,” says Chiu. “So when we're stressed, it's important to tell people around us so they can help.”

There's another hormone that is released into the body when we are stressed: oxytocin. Dubbed as a “love hormone” because it is released when we form intimate connections with people, oxytocin makes you crave for human interaction. Not only that, it is also anti-inflammatory, which promotes cardiovascular strength and helps heal stress-induced damage to the heart.

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