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Where is the Punching Bag? Survey Tells
Our rapidly changing modern society exposes us to unprecedented levels of stress and a variety of ways to cope have been developed. There is a special restaurant in France where people can relieve their stress levels by breaking up the tables and chairs. After September 11, some Americans turned to comfort eating to reduce anxiety. A foreign company in China has a corner in the office filled with various kinds of Marshimaro rabbit toys for its staff members to hit.

Do you feel stress in your life? How do you manage it? Do you need some help? With these questions in mind, Beijing Youth Daily commissioned a survey by market research company, DATASEA to investigate the ways in which youth tends to eliminate stress. Numbers speak louder than words. Let’s take a look at what the survey tells us.

No Link to Income

Stress is a feature of our modern society. More than half of those interviewed (51 percent) thought they were under heavy or very heavy stress in the last six months while only 18 percent reported little stress.

Differences in gender, level of education, marital status, personal income as well as family income did not have an effect on reported stress levels.

Stress was most evident in the age group from 21 to 30. They tolerated stress less well than those aged 31 to 40. Some 59 percent of those 21 to 30 reported high levels of stress with 18 percent describing very high stress. By comparison, only some 31 percent in the age group from 31 to 40 felt levels were high and 25 percent very high.

Stress levels were found to vary according to the type of ownership of the work unit. For 100 percent of those working across all three different kinds of foreign funded enterprises, there were high stress levels. However in the joint stock companies 21 percent felt stress only at the lightest level.

Experts think both external and internal factors contribute to stress. External factors can include fierce competition, threat of job loss, unstable family circumstances, lack of access to information and escalation of conflicts. The market economy has influenced internal factors by leading to rapid changes in values and morality. On the one hand lie high expectations and a perceived need to “keep up with the Joneses.” On the other hand there is not yet the mental preparedness for the risks associated with the market economy so many fall into the intervening chasm of stress.

The most significant differences in stress levels are considered to result from the different ways in which people respond to potential stressors in their environments. This was borne out by the survey to some degree.

However, the survey did not find that there was necessarily any link between one’s level of stress and such factors as gender, level of education, marital status and personal or family income.

The Negative Impact of Stress

Stress was found to originate mainly from career, education and financial circumstances. About 46 percent of the interviewees thought their stress came from work while some 25 percent thought theirs was related to educational factors.

The negative effects of stress are both physical and emotional and can lead to in such states of mind as worry, depression, distrust and despair. Anxiety and frustration are the main feelings brought about by stress according to almost half of those interviewed. However very few felt overcome by stress.

Stress need not always be negative if it does not exceed one’s physical and mental capacity. This “stress” can exert a positive influence, encouraging action and resulting in a stimulating new awareness. However quite the opposite is the case at extreme levels and when the beneficial optimal levels are exceeded, considerable harm can be done to body and mind.

Stress can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger and depression. In turn these can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Those interviewed were of the opinion that too much stress leads to a negative impact on themselves, their families and on society as a whole. Sixty-six percent thought excessive stress damaged family life, 65 percent said it caused mental illness, 56 percent considered it resulted in poor personal relationships and 45 percent saw it as a threat to society. Only 13 percent did not regard it as a serious problem.

Eliminating Stress

No matter how smooth our lives may seem we are caught out by stress sometimes. Stress cannot be dealt with by just adjusting our “mood” rather it requires a slow and gradual approach.

The survey showed that 90 percent thought stress could be overcome or eliminated but that this does take time. Only 5 percent were of the view that stress could not be eliminated without outside assistance.

In their daily lives what methods do people adopt to relieve stress? Reading, talking to others, watching TV, going out for entertainment, taking time to oneself, sleeping, shopping, travel and chatting with net-friends were all mentioned by those interviewed.

About 28 percent opted for moderate ways to relieve stress while only 6 percent chose to go over the top with partying, over-eating and even bungee jumping.

Pouring out one’s sorrow by talking to friends actually topped the list followed by travel, private time alone, sleeping, visiting nightclubs and reading. It would be reasonable to think that such activities can divert one’s attention away from the stressors leading to a change in mood and then on to a reduction in stress.

What do the experts recommend? Well one third chose entertainment to reduce stress. Other options offered were wearing a smile, humour, medical counselling and even a cold shower or a cup of iced coffee.

Responding to international pressures some companies are downsizing. This puts particular pressure on those in white-collar jobs. A professional organisation has been set up in Shanghai aimed at helping white-collar workers cope with stress. It also helps with career development skills and job searching. About 74 percent of those surveyed saw a role for such organisations while only 8 percent thought them to be of no value.

A third of those interviewed said they frequently sought help from families, friends and relatives when they felt under pressure. Another third held to a belief in self-reliance. They thought they should solve their problems on their own without involving others.

Notably nobody at all sought help from the professional counselling services that are so popular abroad. This points towards a developing role for stress counselling in China in the years to come.

The leading character in the popular Korean film My Barbarian Girl Friend has a tendency to alleviate her stress through violence. Most interviewees disagreed with this. However 24 percent of those interviewed thought that violence could offer a temporary though not a permanent solution. However 20 percent rejected violence out of hand while a further 18 percent did not regard it as a realistic course of action.

According to another recent survey, 84 percent of men watched this year’s World Cup with women soccer fans jumping to 53 percent. How should we regard this phenomenon? Fifty percent agreed with the suggestion that watching soccer acts as a safety valve by providing an opportunity for them to give vent to their emotions. Some 79 percent thought that anyone could be a soccer fan irrespective of differences in region, age, gender and social status. They thought it not at all strange to see an increase in the number of women soccer fans. About 61 percent felt that modern women are reacting to an increasingly stressful environment when they turn to watching soccer for relaxation.

(china.org.cn by Zheng Guihong, August 14, 2002)

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