Don't worry, be happy
When humans were concerned about tackling wild beasts just to get through the day, they didn't have to think about living 'ideal' lives. However, experts say that in the modern world our brains are overloaded with anxieties that we can't always cope with, and our internal mechanisms are struggling to catch up with a constant flow of visual and aural information.
Recent studies have found more than 60 per cent of Hongkongers suffer from anxiety. A survey conducted this year by the Church of United Brethren found that 68 per cent of working parents of primary school students had experienced anger, fear and anxiety at work. The problem was especially prevalent for low-income people.
In a separate study by the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong, 64 per cent displayed at least one symptom of generalised anxiety disorder in the past six months. Only 13 per cent had consulted specialists to tackle the problem.
Kathleen Kwok Pik-san, a psychologist from the Hong Kong Mood Disorders Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says many people suffering from generalised anxiety disorder go undiagnosed.
'It's quite common,' Kwok says. 'Most sufferers don't tell other people about their feelings, so the invalidation rate is quite high.' She says the problem in Hong Kong is comparable to other major cities, but that more than 40 per cent of sufferers say their doctors didn't understand their symptoms.
'We found that three in four doctors said, 'Just don't think so much',' she says.
The main way to get help is via a referral to a professional such as a psychologist or psychotherapist.
But Hong Kong's healing and self-help centres may also provide assistance.
Pervin Clasper, from the healing centre Shakti, in Wellington Street, Central, says most people she sees walk off the street and into her offices look tense.
'Everyone who comes through that door is stressed. But I see people come in for the first session ... then after the second or third session, their body language, their tone of voice - it's changed because they feel instantly relaxed when they walk in.'
Clasper's centre offers everything from Reiki (a hands-on energy healing technique) to yoga, meditation, seminars, Rolfing (a holistic form of soft tissue manipulation) and psychic readings, although people can just drop in for a quiet moment if they feel the need. Reiki takes about an hour and is Clasper's speciality.
'We have all sorts of people coming in,' she says. 'It started with those who were already into this kind of process, and now through word of mouth that has grown and we have a lot from the corporate world. There is room here for many centres like us because of this.'
Clasper says the centre does not just see harassed executives - even doctors come in for Reiki and meditation as a complement to the traditional medical approach.
However, she says, it's not a miracle cure. 'People expect solutions handed to them on a plate. But it's more of a collaborative approach. People can have Reiki once or twice and then they can learn it themselves.'
Still, she has had clients come in with anxiety problems, such as a woman with an irrational fear of bugs. After one session, she can now cope with her fear. 'She used to run from the house if she saw an insect,' Clasper says.
Through the use of Reiki, Clasper also helped a client overcome her fear of flying. 'I just received an e-mail from her saying that flying was now not a problem,' she says.
For Susanne Thiew, fear of flying started several years ago on a bumpy flight from Penang to Hong Kong. 'I tried to ignore it for a long time afterwards, but it started to affect my love of travelling and willingness to fly,' the 35-year-old says.
This year, Thiew started Reiki treatments, realising after that she felt positive changes in many other areas too.
'I changed from quite a negative person to one who always looks at the bright side,' she says.
But the fear of flying did not disappear completely. 'After booking a ticket to Europe, I started to have stomach cramps, lost a lot of hair and had trouble sleeping four weeks before the flight.'
During the ensuing Reiki treatment, Thiew says she could feel something - 'a blockage' - leaving her body through the top of her head.
'I felt so much better,' she says. 'I slept without any trouble. On the day of the flight, I was quite relaxed and not the usual nervous wreck - my husband and son both felt the difference.
'That flight and the ones since then have been good. I wouldn't say I am cured, but I definitely feel much more relaxed while I'm flying.'
Those short on time and money can get some midweek respite at Mysteries Asia. The new centre under the Mid-Levels escalator sells items such as candles, self-help books and oil burners, and has regular workshops on meditation, hypnosis and Reiki and free talks on Ayurveda - the ancient Indian medical and lifestyle practice.
It also offers a 20-minute free meditation session. Seated on a chair in a dimly lit corner of the centre, an instructor guides you through breathing techniques using visualisations such as breathing in light and bringing your attention to certain body parts through the breath.
The more medically-minded Balance Health Asia integrates conventional and complementary medicine and says its therapists are able to take a broader view - of lifestyle, stress, nutrition, sleeping habits, to name a few areas - when prescribing a treatment plan.
Balance Health integrative manual therapist and director Carla Bekker-Smith says: 'We are seeing more patients for mental and emotional health problems such as anxiety and depression, ranging from long-term problems such as reactions to traumas or serious losses, mental abuse or a range of short-term reactions.
'What we find all too often is that there is much overlap between physical and mental disorders. Patients come in seeking treatment for a physical problem only to discover that the root cause is related to something much deeper.' Patients range from working mothers balancing hectic schedules to corporate executives, Bekker-Smith says.
Alternative approaches such as energy therapy, integrative manual therapy and acupuncture can relieve symptoms and clear the mind and body quickly, she says.
At the New Age Shop, the Harmony of Life Group with Michelle Harris offers a lunchtime mental break.
Every month, Harris runs a 90-minute group session which incorporates a range of tools and techniques to 'help you come into more balance and harmony in your life'. The idea is to be able to let go of stress, feel more peaceful, heal and 'create all your heart desires'.
But how helpful are these treatments/workshops, and which one should you choose? Preeti Roy, the bug-phobia client from Shakti, says the emotional freedom technique (EFT) cured her insect anxiety. EFT is described as an emotional version of acupuncture except needles aren't necessary. Instead, you learn how to stimulate energy meridian points on your body by tapping them with your fingertips.
'I was still in a state of amazement that this seemingly odd-looking, simplistic tapping technique could actually work,' says Roy. 'I have had an almost lifelong phobia of cockroaches and decided that this is what I would bring to the EFT workshop. My phobia was so deep that I could not bring myself to even say the word.
'Even though I am not at all fond of cockroaches, when I've seen one since that EFT session, I don't find myself automatically on the next planet, nor do I scream like someone is killing me. I also don't find that the sighting of one sends me into deep depression and fear for hours later.'
Roy has since studied EFT in depth and uses it often. 'It's truly changed my life for the better in very dramatic and profound ways. It's my main healing modality these days,' she says.
Clasper says the best way to choose an alternative technique that can help you overcome stress-related anxieties or phobias is to take the first step and call or visit a centre offering such services.
'Most of the time people do have a rough idea about what they want, but there are a number who call and ask me about different healing methods and I can guide them as to one which would be good for them,' says Clasper. 'Reiki, for example, first removes the blockages and then allows the energy to flow smoothly, making the person feel healthy or happier.'
Clients can perform many techniques at home after they have learned them, thereby continuing to heal themselves,' she says.