How to Manage Stress During the Pandemic and Beyond
Kate Whitehead, a journalist and therapist, discusses how to manage stress during the pandemic and beyond. By Morgan M Davis
The pandemic has been traumatic for people all around the world. Like many places, Hongkongers have experienced varying degrees of isolation, uncertainty and job insecurity on top of existing political turbulence and high-pressure lifestyles.
FCC member Kate Whitehead has seen firsthand how such stressors can impact one’s mental and physical wellbeing through her work, where she bridges two taxing worlds: journalism and psychotherapy. As a qualified psychotherapist and TRE (tension- and trauma-releasing exercises) provider, Whitehead helps clients manage stress and anxiety.
She also writes about mental health and wellness, winning the Mind HK Awards 2019 for the best English-language journalism coverage of mental health issues. We caught up with Whitehead to hear more about her advice for coping during times of uncertainty:
Why did you decide to become a therapist?
Kate Whitehead: As a journalist, the work I most enjoy is writing profiles, sitting down with someone for a one-on-one interview and getting to know how they came to be the person they are and what makes them tick.
Often, people open up and share things they’ve told very few people. That led to an interest in psychology, so I did a master’s in counselling three years ago.
My focus is still journalism – it accounts for about three-quarters of my work – and the rest of the time I work as a psychotherapist at a [general practice] clinic in Central, Optimal Family Health. I’m especially interested in working with people with stress, anxiety and trauma, which is what led me to become a TRE provider. I practice TRE at the Clarke Clinic in Central.
What is TRE? What are the benefits?
KW: It’s a series of seven exercises that help the body release deep muscular patterns of stress or tension. These simple exercises activate a muscular shaking process in the body, known as neurogenic tremors, which allow the body to shake off built-up stress.
TRE is great for reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, easing muscle and back pain and healing old injuries. Recently, I’ve been working with a lot of people with back and shoulder pain and sleep issues and seeing good results. My close friends are now regular ‘shakers’ and I’m on the TRE Board of Directors.
How has the pandemic impacted mental health?
KW: The pandemic, coming hard on the heels of months of anti-government protests, means everyone’s mental wellbeing has been impacted to some extent. A lot of people are experiencing anxiety or low moods, which has brought mental health issues much more out in the open and helped lift the stigma.
There is so much uncertainty at the moment: when will we be able to travel? When will a vaccine we trust be available? When things feel out of our control, it’s helpful to focus on whatever we can control.
And we must try to find a way to process our emotions. Sure, have a Netflix binge if you need it, but every now and then give yourself space to process all the baggage that comes with this pandemic.
What can Hongkongers do to manage stress?
KW: There is plenty of research to show that exercise improves not only your physical health but also your mental health. Regular exercise helps reduce anxiety and depression; it also releases chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood. The gyms may be closed [off and on], but the country parks are open and they are free.
You’ve written two books: one about Hong Kong crime, the other on sex work. How do you manage your own mental health when writing about difficult topics?
KW: The crime writing was a while ago and I’ve moved on to less grisly pastures since, but I do still enjoy a good murder story. My great de-stressor is exercise; I’m a big hiker and as soon as the gyms reopen, I’ll be a regular at Fivelements again.
I also meditate and do TRE at least twice a week. And I’m lucky enough to have some really good, close friends who not only keep me on an even keel but make life fun.
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