Blowing Water

Feeling stressed out after the holidays? It’s probably your own fault

Luisa Tam says Hongkongers need to escape the cycle of consumerism, overindulgence and social pressures at major festivals, and embrace a more minimalist lifestyle to rediscover health and happiness

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 January, 2018, 2:39pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 January, 2018, 8:19pm

I hate to be a party pooper but to be perfectly candid, I am so glad the Christmas and New Year holiday season is finally over and done with.

Life is already stressful enough, and it’s even more so during the festivities. It’s common knowledge that holiday seasons are demanding not just on one’s finances but also on professional and personal lives. They are a source of great stress for many, as people have to balance seasonal pressures, including those at work and family commitments, against their already busy lives.

In the run-up to Christmas, we have to cope with the onslaught of end-of-year deadlines, long hours at work and non-stop gift shopping. There are also endless family commitments and we end up sending ourselves on a self-induced guilt trip for overindulging in food, drink and merriment. It does make one wonder: isn’t the holiday season supposed to be a time to relax and let go of the stresses of daily life?

It’s a double-edged sword when it comes to holidays in the city because Hong Kong people celebrate both traditional Chinese and Western festivals, which means significantly more festive stress to deal with. 

Most of the time, these pressures are self-induced. We put ourselves in these sorts of situations – a process which can be likened to a hamster getting stuck on a running wheel – by surrendering ourselves to undue stress.

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Hongkongers love to celebrate; as long as they can put a name to it, they will celebrate it. It’s all about having a good time. Plus, with shopping being the favourite national pastime, more celebrations mean more shopping that will set the tills ringing and burn a hole in one’s pocket.

But how many Hongkongers are truly happy? They run around getting Christmas shopping done, rush from party to party, tuck into the same turkey, meal after meal, or go on an extravagant holiday which inevitably means long queues at the airport. I can think of one word to describe this: hectic. 

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I challenged myself to get off the festive hamster wheel this Christmas and decided not to buy a present for anyone – myself included – and I also refused to consume large quantities of celebratory food (although not totally voluntarily because I had mild food poisoning on Christmas Eve). It felt strange at first, but I eased into it and felt a total sense of calm and relief over the Christmas period.

The true spirit of festivities, especially Christmas time, should be about encouraging people to come together, to reconnect and celebrate different cultures, roots and values. It’s not about getting each other the biggest and most expensive present. It’s not a competition to be the best host or to throw the most glamorous party. It’s a time to relax and forget about the chaos of life rather than create more of it.

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But many people end up stress spending, stress eating and stress living until the new year and then set new year’s resolutions to reduce stress and live a healthier life in the coming year. They then feel guilty for falling short of their resolutions halfway through the year. It seems to me that it is a vicious cycle in which many people are setting themselves up to continue living a stressful lifestyle, which they will resolve to change in the next new year.

According to a 2014 survey by Germany-based market research company GfK, money and self-induced pressure are the two major causes of stress among Hongkongers. But we are not alone in this regard – they are the same top sources of stress in at least 22 other cities.  

Unfortunately, we can’t escape stress completely because that’s just life. There is a solution though: we can learn to manage it by making a conscious effort not to feed it and consequently allow it to consume us.

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My daughter once told me: “Stress is a silent killer; it works in the shadows without you knowing and strikes when it’s too late to fight back.” 

There is a lot of truth in this. Stress often stems from doing too much or feeling guilty for sometimes giving ourselves a day off, when in fact a day off is just what we need sometimes.

We can certainly take a leaf out of the book of the Japanese, many of whom are turning to a growing trend of embracing a minimalist lifestyle. The concept of throwing everything out and keeping just what you need is not so much about ridding yourself of excess, it’s about keeping what is valuable to you.

This movement promoting simplicity in life is sweeping across the country, and also gradually across the globe. I know I said new year’s resolutions can be pointless, but maybe we can make simplicity an ongoing resolution instead of one just for 2018.

Here’s to a happy and stress-free new year!

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post