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Jobless and Alone: Coping with Anxiety in Hong Kong

Jules O'Brian
Jules O’Brian

Whether you recognise it or not, loneliness in a bustling metropolis can easily catch up with you.  It’s no secret that Hong Kong is restless. The hours are long; stress levels are notoriously high; and social circles rotate as friends and loved ones indulge their wanderlust. It really doesn’t take much to feel like a hermit crab in the headlights; sometimes it’s just easier to curl into your shell and hide.

Somewhat offensively, I used to think anxiety was a myth. Consequentially, it came as a shock to me when the beast crept up and hit. I’d just escaped the heavy rain to enjoy a coffee (which, apparently, doesn’t help, but I won’t turn down a black Pepper Agave at Coffee Academics). Dawdling home, I received a couple of texts from my boss and colleagues, and my chest tightened.

Whether it was the technicolour sea of umbrellas I was fighting to walk through, or the pressures of a conflicted workplace, something gave me my first panic attack. If I hadn’t made it home in time, I’d have been hyperventilating and furiously crying on a Wan Chai pavement. You feel like you can’t breathe. Your stomach knots and your temples burn. Sitting down doesn’t help; standing is agony. You really do feel like you’re dying. Once I’d calmed down, I decided it was time rethink my lifestyle. Two months later, I feel cool as a cucumber, and here are some steps I took to chill out.


Seek therapy, talk to a loved one

1. Find a therapist or talk to a loved one

It’s not an option for everyone, but lots of the time stress can easily be relieved by talking it out with someone. When there’s something subconsciously eating away at you, therapy can be a great way of getting to the source of the problem. It helps to have a professional who can offer a non-biased opinion, but if it’s not for you, it’s worth calling up a loved one and asking if they can sit and listen to you for a while.

Where to seek therapy:

-There are hundreds of great therapists in Hong Kong, but a good one for the cost-conscious is St John’s Non-denominational Church (, which is non-religious and affordable.

-Otherwise, Central Minds ( is well worth checking out, since they make sure to assign you the right therapist for your situation.


Don’t be afraid to quit your job

2. Don’t be afraid to quit your job

You will find another one, even if it takes a while. Never compromise your mental health in exchange for money. It’s just not worth it. Make sure you take some time to relax before moving on to a new job, then sign up for a job search website such as JobsDB, who will send relevant job openings to your email every day and offer an easy and free way to send off your CV. If networking events are going to stress you out, don’t feel bad for missing out on them.

Good sites for job hunting:

-JobsDB (

-Geoexpat (


Practise mindfulness

3. Practise mindfulness

Contrary to common belief, mindfulness is not just a hipster craze. In fact, it is one of the most effective practises you can undertake to calm down: it involves being aware of your own body and taking time to appreciate the moment you’re in. After a few brief sessions you begin to realise that many of your stresses are unnecessary, and eventually you learn how to float them away. A personal recommendation for first timers is to download a mindfulness app to your phone. My personal favourite is ‘Calm’, which talks you through the concept to the sound of a fire crackling or rain falling through leaves. Just taking five minutes a day to breathe can make a world of difference, and the app works like a charm if you can’t sleep at night.

Mindfulness Apps:

Calm (

Headspace (


Meet new people, try new thing

4. Meet new people, try new things

One of the reasons you might find yourself in a rut is the company you keep. Chances are you have a great group of friends, but sometimes it’s important to engage new people and expand your ideas. You might find you have a group of friends, but no-one who feels quite close enough. In such a transient city, this is much more common than you might think. A good place to start is Meet Up. Try and sign up for something you wouldn’t usually do, and you will find yourself amongst an entirely new group of people. (Tip: art classes are great for mindfulness.)

Ways to get your social mojo back:

-Join Meetup (

-If you struggle with social anxiety, see if you can get along to one of the OCD and Anxiety English Speaking Support Group events to chat with some like-minded people. (

-Peruse Facebook expat sites, many of which organise networking events, hikes or day trips.


Make a life plan

5. Make a life plan

When you’re fresh on the career ladder, or freshly out of a job, it’s difficult to stay level-headed. You might find yourself wondering where your life is going, and the best way to get around it is to sit down and sketch out your plans. Get a big piece of paper and some coloured pens and scrawl out what your dreams are. What could you do to step towards them? Could you start again? Might you retrain in a different area? Your ideas don’t have to be realistic, but it’s a good way of working out exactly what you’d like to get from life, and what your achievable goals are for the next year.

6. Set aside an hour a day for admin

Go to a coffee shop or rent a desk for an hour each day to get all those stressful life things out of the way. Work on that CV, apply for jobs, plan your next week of admin. This is the only hour you should think about admin. Once you’ve shut your laptop, do not think about it for the rest of the day.

Where to get that admin out of the way:

-Coffee Academics (One of the few places in Hong Kong that serves great coffee. Multiple branches across Hong Kong.

-Holly Brown (A great place to slip into when you’re stressed out by the hustle and bustle of Central. (KOWRK offers some great working spaces you can rent. Most have free trials, so check it out and grab yourself a nice desk in a friendly and motivational environment – usually with unlimited coffee and snacks).

7. Get out of the city

If you’re in Causeway Bay or Mong Kok all the time, you’re going to feel agitated. If you can, spend one day a week on a hike, or ferry over to an island for some seafood. Getting out of the concrete jungle once in a while is invaluable for stress relief. Climb up Violet Hill and look back at the city – you’ll start to realise how much you love it deep down. If you can afford it, why not book yourself a relaxing trip abroad? Boracay’s white sand beaches are just a couple of hours away, after all!

8. Be a bit selfish

Sometimes you need to be a bit selfish to take care of your own mental stability. Lots of the time you might feel like you owe someone something that you just can’t provide. You have to remember that your health comes first, and what this person wants can probably wait. Look after yourself, take a step back, and breathe. Everything will work out in the end.

Jules, from London, has spent much of her adulthood in music journalism, either on the radio or as Editor of Hong Kong music and lifestyle magazine BOOM Magazine Asia. Having moved to Shanghai from home for a year at 18 years old, then back eastwards to Hong Kong a few years later, her time is spent digging for Asia’s hidden gems. Writing about whatever comes her way, she is often found in the front row at gigs, testing out new restaurants, or enjoying a glass of wine in one of Hong Kong’s hideaways.