Stressed Out in Japan

Have you ever stood on a railway platform and wondered why trains are sometimes delayed in Tokyo?

In Japan, every hour is marked by about three suicides: a major tragedy. And many of these people end it all on the tracks.

Depression and stress are two big factors driving both suicide and work-related psychological disturbances.

The emotional costs to families are tremendous and the situation does not seem to be improving.

Various groups and studies have even calculated the financial cost of the suffering. This work includes a 2011 publication by Yasuyuki Okumura and Teruhiko Higuchi, Cost of depression among adults in Japan (Physicians Postgraduate Press, Inc.).

According to a 2009 study by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the economic loss from depression was calculated to be the equivalent of more than $30bn. The authors noted that 84% of firms reported mental health problems among their employees that affected their business performance. That is a big part of the economy!

What can we do to prevent depression worsening in our own organisations? There is an obvious link between the hours of overtime worked and stress accumulation.

So an attempt to reverse the Japanese cultural proclivity of staff to work long hours is a good starting point.

Parkinson’s law states: “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. It sounds at home here, in Japan, as long hours of low productivity keep the office lights burning late into the night.

Send employees home!

Another issue is that higher levels of individual (as opposed to group) responsibility are causing depression among those in their thirties. This has been noted by executive researcher Yasuji Imai, of the Mental Health Research Institute of the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development.

Flat organisational structures and requesting employees to “do more, faster, better and with less” is causing stress for younger managers.

Certainly, training younger managers how to lead and manage is fine, but what about training them to deal with stress before it escalates into depression and worse issues?

As human beings, we haven’t advanced much in the past 100 years. Back then, if we had low levels of stress, we just persevered. However, if we became highly stressed, we would become so ill we would be admitted to hospital.

There was essentially no help available between these two points.

Today, we put up with low levels of stress and, if we become highly stressed, we reach for the pharmaceuticals. There is still not much support available to us between the two extremes.

Below are seven principles to self-manage stress, before it escalates into something much darker and more severe.

Decide the anxiety something is worth; don’t give it more

There are things that make us anxious that we should worry about.

However, we can limit the damage.

In general, we keep worrying until the anxiety grows and grows. Instead, we can decide to place a clear limit on worrying about something and move on.

Use the law of averages to outlaw your worries

Many things we worry about are in the future and probably won’t happen.

For example, if you are worried that your child is going to fail university and never graduate, data shows that only a small percentage of students fall into this category.

Thus, since the chances of this happening are statistically small, don’t get stressed about it.

The French writer, Michel Montaigne, put it well: “My life has been a series of tragedies, most of which have never happened”.

Expect ingratitude

If we expect that our colleagues or staff will notice our hard work, loyalty and dedication, and will appreciate us, we are setting ourselves up for a sad outcome.

Instead of feeling stressed because of the unfairness of it all, make your starting point the “fact” that nobody could care less about you.

Others usually have enough of their own problems, without being interested in what is happening in your life.

If someone does, uncharacteristically, mention your efforts, treat it as a bonus and not an expectation!

Count your blessings—not your troubles

We are a greedy bunch; constantly looking for the next bauble, title or indulgence. We easily forget what we already have.

A quick audit of all the good things we have in Japan compared with what others have in the rest of the world, soon reinforces how lucky we are.

Introduce some perspective to the things troubling you and life immediately looks different.

Rest before you get tired

Sounds simple doesn’t it? We can all do it, but we don’t!

Go for a walk after lunch; stop looking at your screen and venture outside for a break; don’t take work home with you if possible; get up from your chair often during the day.

Parkinson’s law states we should manage time well, work hard, be efficient, be effective and leave the workplace at a reasonable hour.

We need to differentiate between dedication and effectiveness. Taking a break might be the most effective use of your time as it gives you the mental refreshment needed to operate at an even higher level.

Don’t worry about the past

Many of us are trapped in the past—we mentally rerun an indignity, incident, argument, or recent unpleasant experience, again and again, thereby reigniting our unhappiness or anger.

We allow the past to injure the present and steal our energy for tomorrow. Maybe we can’t stop doing this altogether, but at least we can limit how much time we give to it.

Remember the price you may pay for worrying

This century, we have access to very good information and know a lot about psychosomatic illnesses.

Don’t become a statistic!

I recommend reading Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

It might save your life.