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Managing stress and anxiety for better mental health

Most people know that stress and anxiety can be bad for your health. The unfortunate thing about both of these states is that they’re like quicksand – once you fall in, it can be hard to pull yourself out of it. Managing your mental health is important for ensuring that you can enjoy the life you lead and, this week, Pacific Prime Hong Kong is talking about what you can do to keep the grey clouds at bay.

What happens when you get stressed?

Stress is primarily a physical response where the body feels under attack, and switches to a “fight or flight” mode. The body itself releases a mix of hormones, and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This results in a number of reactions, including getting a rush of energy or an increased focus but it can also have negative effects, such as shutting down functions like digestion.

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In terms of mental health, stress can affect your mood, emotions, and behaviour. Prolonged stress can leave people feeling tired and drained, and can lead to things like insomnia. As the mind and body are one, having negative impacts on one can eventually lead to deterioration of the other, so being aware of your stress levels is important to keeping yourself healthy.

How does anxiety differ from stress?

Anxiety is a general term used for disorders that can cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. An emotional response that’s typically characterized by feelings of tension, worry, and identified physically by things such as increased blood pressure, anxiety can be a normal feeling attached to an unknown or uncertain outcome to occur. An anxiety disorder, however, is where such feelings require some form of medical attention.

Anxiety disorders come in many forms, and, as a result of suffering from such conditions, can lead to feelings of stress, and discomfort. While stress and anxiety can be closely related, anxiety disorders include things such as panic attacks, psychological phobias, social anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One way of understanding the difference is that a lot of anxiety can stem from fear, while most acute stress is caused by external situations.

The two are very closely linked, and the lines between them are often blurred – however, it’s important to remember that they are both separate feelings, and also, to a point, completely normal behavior. It’s when the impact of either becomes far too much, and impacts your mental health, that they become a problem.

How can I be proactive about managing my own mental health?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are some simple ways to help yourself cope with stressful and anxious situations in your life. These include:

  • Take time for yourself: Remember that, in today’s busy-busy environment, setting aside some time for yourself is important. Without it, you can feel overwhelmed by the tasks vying for your attention. Don’t let the stress of it all pile up until it’s too late.
  • Look after your body: This means getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly. Doing this can take care of your physical wellbeing, reducing the risk of stress or anxiety related to your physical health.

  • Be mindful: Stepping back from a problem can often be the best way of dealing with it. Remember to be mindful of the things you can control, the things you can’t, and accept that, sometimes, the goal you originally had may not happen as planned. Focus on the good things when the bad starts knocking, and then attack your problems refreshed, and renewed.

  • Know your triggers: Understand what things cause your stress or anxiety, why, and how to specifically address them before they become overwhelming. You can do this yourself, or seek the help of a medical professional.

  • Get whatever support network works for you: This might be joining a dedicated support group that meets regularly, surrounding yourself with friends and family you trust who know how to help, or reaching out to anonymous mental health services if they’re available. The Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention in Hong Kong has a list of contacts both locally, and internationally. There’s no shame in asking for help, so be sure to find a support network that you’re comfortable with, and can work for you.

Of course, there are still times where we may think we have a good handle on our mental health, and then life serves up a curveball. When you need urgent medical assistance for stress, and anxiety, having some form of private medical insurance can help.

Mental health and private medical insurance

Coverage for mental health in the insurance industry has generally been fairly low, however more and more providers are starting to recognize the benefits support for things like stress, anxiety, and depression can have on long term individual health. That said, understanding your level of insurance coverage means clarifying the details in your insurance policy documents.

Generally, only the more comprehensive plans will have mental health coverage included in its benefits. Basic plans generally focus on physical health, and wellbeing. Those of you with employer-provided health insurance coverage might also find mental health benefits included in those group plans – this can sometimes be in the form of access to Employee Assistance Programs, but may include direct benefits for counselling, therapy, or other such services – again, you should check your policy document.

Those of you who don’t have insurance cover in Hong Kong, or don’t have mental health benefits in their current plan but would like some, then Pacific Prime Hong Kong can help. Our expert advisors can work with you to find an appropriate level of coverage to help you reduce any concern you might have should you believe that mental health coverage is important for you, or your family. For a free quote or some friendly advice, contact the team at Pacific Prime Hong Kong today.

Note: For more information on different support groups in Hong Kong, check out this Helplines and Support Groups page on Smart Expat. This includes support for newcomers, illness support groups, and networks for addiction.

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