Keeping a lid on stress levels

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 January, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 January, 1998, 12:00am

If you have been feeling tense, highly strung, anxious and violent towards your neighbour's cat, don't blame it on the in-laws, or Asian values, as they can't be held responsible every time the interest rates go up.

And, to compound our recent misery - on top of rising unemployment and the absence of chicken at Lunar New Year - Faye Wong has been voted the best female artist, again.

Stress has taken over the city, leaving many of us irrational, ill-tempered, impatient, rude and all the other attributes a Japanese tourist might use to describe us to friends and relatives.

According to my 'stressometer', a device that measures our stress levels, Hong Kong is way off the scale.

For those unfamiliar with this concept of stress levels, it is really quite simple: when the Hang Seng Index goes up, the stress level goes down and vice versa.

There are basically 10 stress levels.

At Level One, the kind of stress we are dealing with is relatively minor - like losing 20 cents in a vendor machine or being stuck in a slow-moving supermarket queue.

Level Five is more serious and covers dealing with officials who are either overly bureaucratic or just plain stupid, handling incompetent bosses and looking for a public toilet in Wong Tai Sin in a time of great urgency.

Professional counselling is called for when your stress level tops, or goes off, the stressometer.

This is necessary, for instance, when you lose your home-visit permit and are forced to stay in Shenzhen for an indefinite period, or, more seriously, when you start hitting a total stranger for no particular reason.

Here is a real-life case of a Level 10 and Above that took place this week. Time: Rush hour. Place: Train station. Scenario: An elderly man punching a lad in the face while passers-by watched in amazement.

Elderly man: 'Lei jo mud ah? ' (what are you doing?) Thump. Thump. Thump.

Lad: 'Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!' Elderly man repeats: 'Lei jo mud ah? ' Punch. Punch. Punch.

Lad repeats: 'Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!' Like a scratched record track, this scene repeated itself for a further 20 seconds.

Very bizarre, because I thought it was very clear what the lad was doing. I contemplated breaking up the fight - but this thought was instantly disposed of, like a Peregrine Rugby Sevens T-shirt, when I saw a pair of glasses fly across the station foyer and land at my feet.

They could have been mine.

Thankfully, my younger cousin took a less violent course of action when she learned her mortgage payments had gone up, in case number two of a real-life Level 10 and Above.

As the result of the increase in bank interest rates, home-buyers will have to pay an extra $516 a month for every $1 million borrowed over a 20-year term.

Since my cousin bought her New Territories flat days before the mortgage went up, she dropped her breakfast when she heard the news and shrieked hysterically.

After she had calmed down, she worked out that she would have to pay hundreds of dollars more starting next month. She shrieked again.

Of course, turning violent or screaming your head off are hardly ideal ways to deal with stress.

Here are some methods that I have found quite useful in the past in countering stressful feelings.

DO: Breathe slowly until the knot in your stomach disappears; Stay calm; Try to relax and go to sleep; Failing the above, read the Bible, Law of Hong Kong or this column; Watch any Walt Disney or Japanese cartoon on Cable TV's children's channel; Vent your anger by punching your pillow 1,257 times.

DO NOT: Punch the person who pushes you in the MTR; Get upset if you lose count of the number of times you have punched the pillow; Panic; Do anything that may aggravate your stress - like talking to your parents; Watch Titanic ; Go shopping and put everything on credit; Eat uncontrollably.

If you follow some of the above tips, chances are your stress level will begin to fall and you may start to feel better about yourself, your work and even your boss.

And remember, a problem is only a problem if you make it one.