Stress is a fact of life in a hectic city like Hong Kong. But for many women, the situation may be worse because of the multiple roles they are expected to take on. Consider 38-year-old housewife Fong. Her troubled relationship with her rebellious elder son bothered her so much she became suicidal about a year ago. 'At the worst time, I hit my son with a stick and he fought back by holding the other end of the stick,' she said. 'I desperately held on to the other end of the stick. I didn't know how to deal with him. Once I banged my head on the wall in front of him. 'My younger son was so scared that he rang his father whenever something happened between me and his brother,' she said. Keen to fulfil her role as a dutiful mother, she was highly concerned about her son's performance at school and worried about him hanging out with people who would have a bad influence on him. 'I know my son loves me and I love him too. He is not naughty and does spend a lot of time studying. Strangely, he gets on badly at school and his performance is so disappointing that his school social worker has asked to see me,' she said. Like many traditional mothers, Fong lost her temper easily when her son did not live up to her expectations. That, however only strained their relationship further. 'I always wanted the best from him and would be very upset when I felt that he was not improving,' she said. A stressful situation for anyone. But Fong found relief when she took a stress management course organised by Hong Kong Family Welfare Society. The six-hour course allowed people to form a network to confide their stressful experiences and worked out possible solutions. Eighteen similar courses were held by the society last year and the participants were mainly women. Under the influence of social workers and friends, Fong now understands she might have been too harsh with her son and herself. 'In retrospect, I now understand a lot of the problems actually come from myself. I am very demanding on myself so I automatically want the same from others,' she said. 'I have learnt to let go of many things and become less anxious about my son's performance in school. We are now more willing to talk to each other and our relationship has improved a lot.' Lonely housewives who shoulder most of the household chores can easily fall prey to stress. Ling, 46, who has been married for 25 years, is upset with being tied down with tedious work alone at home. About a year ago, the drudgery of housework caused her to develop serious arthritis, giving her sore shoulders and back. She had to undergo occupational therapy for three months. 'I can no longer lift heavy stuff, not even a bucket of water. It hurts severely when I stretch my muscles,' she said. Her husband and two daughters started to help but she still shoulders most household tasks. Her heavy workload is only one cause of her stress. The absence of a companion for most of the day is another. 'It is very boring to stay at home. You can imagine how dull it is to have to go to the market every day and repeat the same routines in life,' she said. Ling's family all work long hours and come home late. She has very few friends. 'It is lonely, having no one to talk to. My husband works 12 hours a day and when he returns, he is already very tired and goes straight to sleep after dinner. We don't even have a chance to talk,' she said. Fortunately, Ling found a way out by taking on voluntary work for the elderly, and like Fong, she has also joined the stress management course to learn how to improve her life. Women experience a wide range of stresses prompted by the roles expected of them, says Veronica Pearson, reader in social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong. Since the roles expected from them are not the same as men's, the nature and level of stress encountered by women is different, she said. 'Married women still do most of the housework and they often get the blame if their children are not performing well at school. 'Their success is judged by their success in performing the roles as wives and mothers. 'Single working women experience similar stress encountered by men but they need to make extra efforts to prove their ability if they want to get promotion,' she added. Dr Pearson believes women could handle stress better than men because of their willingness to share their feelings with others. Men often do not want to talk about their problems. Eleana Lung Suk-yi, a social worker in charge of Hong Kong Family Welfare Society's stress management course, said it was crucial for women to form a support network. She said the Government should set up more centres for women to make new friends and get involved in different activities. Stress was not restricted to mothers and housewives, she said. Winnie, a 32-year-old public relations executive, is troubled by the constant pressure from her family, who believe she should by now be married. 'A lot of my friends have got married and I suddenly find my social circle is shrinking,' she said. 'Sometimes I feel quite lonely and the social norm that everyone should get married is repressive. 'Sometimes, I start to ask myself 'why don't I have a boyfriend?' and wonder if I'm unattractive.' But she usually feels better after a chat with her friends, she said. 'I have learned to laugh away my troubles,' Winnie said. Her other worries include her parents' health. They are now both in their 70s and the fear of losing them has grown more and more intense as time has passed. 'Now I have to prepare myself and accept the fact that they are getting older and weaker. I hope I will not be too upset when their time comes but the thought of it is very stressful. I just have to accept it.' Meanwhile, Winnie considers herself fortunate to be working in a company relatively free of office politics. Any problems with colleagues or her boss would only make her life more difficult to bear.