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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

Reducing stress:

steps toward mental wellness

By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

It is interesting that there is no obvious word for stress in Tagalog. The terms pagod (fatigue), bigo (frustration), inis (annoyance) or balisa (anxiety) come close, but are not direct translations for the physical, emotional and behavioural reactions to the demands of life. Unfortunately, the lack of a direct translation does not mean that Filipinos are exempt from stress. Studies have found that depression and anxiety do exist amongst Filipinos, for instance in college students, immigrants and children of immigrants.

At some point in our lives, we have all experienced at least one of the top life stressors, which include the death of a loved one, finances, workplace stress, health concerns and family conflict. Even positive life events such as a marriage, job changes and moving to a different home can result in higher stress levels.

In general, mental health is less of a concern in comparison to physical well being. This is likely due to the fact that with physical ailments, symptoms are often visible; pain and discomfort is felt and doctors are more able to find a diagnosis and to implement treatment. Mental stress is, quite simply, easier to ignore. We are all guilty of having kept our emotions bottled up inside at times. Signs of stress are harder to recognize and further, there is a stigma attached to mental illness, where those who are afflicted are often judged as incompetent or even dangerous.

Furthermore, because Filipino culture places heavy importance on togetherness, or pakikisama, we tend to minimize our own individual troubles for the sake of having a strong unity with others. Filipinos tend to refrain from expressing negative feelings openly, maybe because of the emphasis on shame, or hiya.

But what we fail to realize is that when we do not pay attention to our stress levels and neglect to take steps to attain mental wellness, it can manifest in other ways. Stress can affect our bodies (headaches, chest pains, muscle tension, fatigue, stomach upset, sleep problems), mood (anxiety, sadness or depression, lack of motivation, restlessness, irritability or anger) and behaviour (under or overeating, drug or alcohol abuse, angry outbursts, social withdrawal).

The Canadian Mental Health Association states that mental wellness involves striking a balance in all aspects of life: social, physical, spiritual, economic and mental. Therefore, when our mental health is suffering, it will affect our overall health.

The good news is, we can take steps to lower our stress levels and feel healthier. Here are ten simple tips that will have a positive effect on your mental well being:

  1. Organize your surroundings. Chaos can make it difficult to feel in control. Less mess = less stress. Create lists and keep a calendar in order to organize your daily activities.

  2. Get enough sleep. Experts recommend seven to eight hours every night for adults. Inadequate amounts of rest may increase the likelihood of depression and other health ailments.

  3. Exercise daily. Physical activity has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, improve self-esteem, and alleviate fatigue, anger, and tension. A brisk 30-minute walk every day will have significant improvements on your stress levels.

  4. Watch what you eat. Certain foods may have a negative affect on your mood and your ability to handle stress. Restrict caffeine, alcohol, spicy and high-fat foods. Some super foods for alleviating stress are dark chocolate, green tea, avocados and oatmeal.

  5. Laugh. Having a sense of humour will boost your energy, lessen pain, ease anxiety and stress and improve your immune system.

  6. If you feel out of control and that you cannot handle things on your own, talk about it. Reach out to friends or family, or ask for professional help from a counsellor.

  7. Find your stress outlet. Take a bit of time each day to do something that you enjoy such as reading, yoga, taking a relaxing bath, going for a walk or gardening. Self-care is a crucial step towards minimizing your stress levels.

  8. Celebrate every success, even the smallest. Every day, write down at least three things that you did well. This will boost your self-confidence and keep things in perspective.

  9. When it comes to big tasks or projects, ask for help. Delegate responsibilities to others and be realistic with what you can accomplish.

  10. At the end of the day, think about what you are grateful for. It will help you to remember what really matters in life. And gratitude, or pasasalamat, is a term that definitely exists in our Tagalog language.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and is a licensed counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She has experience helping clients with issues such as grief and loss, marital and relationship difficulties, family conflict, depression, low self-esteem, parenting, aging, illness, and immigration or cultural adjustment. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or For further information, go to