- Each week, we respond to a question from our readers and give advice and resources they can turn to
- This week, we help a student who says their sister’s worry about the future is making them anxious
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My sister is a Form Six student who recently finished her DSE exams and is now waiting for her university application results. While I understand that getting into university is a big step in her life, she is always worried, and her anxiety and discomfort have been affecting me as well. What should I do?
From Stressful Me
Dear Stressful Me,
Taking the university entrance exam and applying for school is incredibly stressful, especially in a competitive environment like Hong Kong. It’s very considerate of you to consider how important this step is for your sister.
Stress is contagious, especially when it’s coming from someone you’re close to. We’re sure your sister doesn’t mean to stress you out. She has probably been overwhelmed for a while and doesn’t realise how much her anxiety has rubbed off on you. You can try to take a step back without telling her, but if your sister constantly brings up her worries, even when you’re subtly trying to pull away, you may need to have a conversation about it.
You can tell her you care about her very much, but her stress is making you stressed too, and it’s hard to handle. Set boundaries; for example, you can ask her to limit her venting to emails or text messages that you read when you have the mental capacity for it.
Make sure to take care of your mental health before you find ways to support your sister. After all, you can’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.
Furthermore, don’t be afraid to give yourself some space. You can spend some time alone or with your friends instead of being around her all the time. You can still show your support while maintaining your distance; for example, you can send her text messages, leave encouraging notes, or hide small presents.
When you’re feeling up for it, invite your sister to do something healthy and relaxing. Take a peaceful walk, go to the cinema – where you can’t look at your phones! – or have a nice chat with your friends or family. Maybe a family game night would be good for both of you; you could have fun with your parents and your sister could be reminded about how many people care about her.
When stress goes unmanaged for too long, it can have a serious effect on your life and mental health. Remember that you can only be a healthy influence on your sister if you have a good grasp of your own state of mind.
You’ve got this, Friend of a Friend
The question was answered by clinical psychologists from the Department of Health under Shall We Talk, a mental health initiative launched with the Advisory Committee on Mental Health.