Guest Column

The Need for Stress Management in Myanmar

By Bo Kyi 9 October 2018

Management is becoming a popular conversation point in Myanmar these days, and rightly so. After all, in order to be successful, knowledge of management techniques is important. Most people need resource, financial and time management. As a result, management trainings are growing in popularity. But as a society, the most important thing we need to manage is our stress.

Stress can occur at home, at the workplace, in fact, anywhere. Stress occurs for many reasons; traffic, power cuts, work deadlines and financial issues. For those struggling to earn a living, stress is all too common a result. Yet stress also exists due to political and social circumstances. There is a lack of social justice within Burmese society; living in an unjust society is a cause of stress. Repressive legislation and a simultaneous culture of impunity for those who commit serious crimes lead people to feel unsafe, and unsurprisingly, more stressed. This stress needs to be challenged and its origins need to be tackled.

There are physical and mental issues relating to the side effects of stress. According to the American Psychological Association, stress that is left unchecked has a number of worrisome related side effects including anxiety and depression. Those who suffer from such anxiety and depression have twice the risk of heart disease. Stress can also lead to abuse of alcohol and drugs and can increase heart disease and obesity.

Even more worrying is that stress can lead to depression, which is already a big problem in Myanmar, where cases of suicide are rising.  We need to raise awareness among the new generation; we cannot continue to ignore stress or any mental health issue within Myanmar. Stress management is fundamental to creating stable building blocks for society.

Such levels of stress are increasingly commonplace in Myanmar, due to our recent political history. A recent study conducted by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoner’s Mental Health Assistance Project found demonstrated links between the military dictatorship and current high levels of stress.

Resilience is being able to deal with the challenges and stress of daily life and makes up a large aspect of stress management. The promotion of resilience in society is of vital importance, particularly for the youth. Studies have shown that half of all lifelong mental health problems start before a person is 14 years old. Fostering resilience in stress management allows us to take an important two-pronged approach – allowing us to prevent future occurrences while dealing with current challenges. It is easier, cheaper and much better to alleviate and solve potential issues before they manifest than to wait to deal with them when they actually do.

The benefits of proper stress management are not limited to the individual. Without stress management and resilience, people with poor stress responses can become angry and aggressive. Therefore, the paucity of stress management techniques in Myanmar should be worrying. Negative coping strategies such as drug and alcohol abuse have harmful effects on society, as well as on the individual. Poor coping mechanisms can lead to aggression and outbreaks of violence. The teaching of stress management can lead to positive coping mechanisms such as meditation, deep breathing and exercise, which in turn can lead to increased coping capacity, reducing stress and its negative side effects.

There is a need to manage stress positively and constructively for society to exist in a harmonious state. As Myanmar continues with its national reconciliation and attempts to move on from the internal conflict of the past, it needs all of its civilians to be of healthy body and mind. If not, dormant mental health issues could jeopardize the future.

So often people who are suffering from stress do so in silence; this needs to be combatted. Policy makers, public health officials and members of Parliament should not only be concerned over such high levels of stress, but they should plan to introduce stress management techniques into all aspects of society, from classrooms to offices.

A society is a collection of individuals. If all of the individuals are stressed and have poor coping mechanisms, an unhealthy society will surely follow. Individuals are the building blocks of the future, yet they cannot play their part if they are broken by stress or wracked with doubt.

Bo Kyi is the joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).