MANILA, September 13, 2003  (STAR) "Very seldom do people admit that they are seeing a psychiatrist for counseling or psychological problems since they do not want to be perceived as weak or praning (neurotic)," was the observation given by Dr. Ted Abas, a consultant of St. Luke’s Medical Center Psychiatry Department and a professor at William Quasha School of Medicine.

Being a psychiatrist for more than 40 years, Abas has met people from all walks of life who have, at one time or another, have to cope with their fears (whether real or imaginary). He helped them lead productive lives by making them confront their demons.

The things bugging an individual, if not brought out in the open, could be physically debilitating, if not make the person a total nervous wreck.

Citing Hans Selye, a Viennese doctor in the 19th century who was acknowledged as the pioneer in stress management, Abas pointed out there is such a thing as "organwhal" – the language of the organs.

Selye believed that some diseases are directly caused by stress like peptic ulcer, cardiovascular diseases and other forms of cancer. Unmanaged stress can also affect people psychologically.

Stress per se is not harmful and is a part of daily life. Nobody can escape from it. Whether one is a top honcho of a big corporation worried about strikes and productivity, an ordinary housewife trying to make do with the diminishing value of the peso, an employee who is afraid of losing his job, a student who has to study for various exams or a senior citizen trying to cope with loneliness, there will be signs of stress in various forms like phobias, anxieties, tension and depression.

Anxiety, when prolonged, is what we call tension. The study of anxiety was central to Sigmund Freud’s studies. He noted a free-floating anxiety or "dei angst" in many patients, and much of the pioneering work was about those who were chronically anxious, a symptom in all who suffer neurosis.

The Filipino family is an emotional safety net where individuals find comfort during distressing times. There is always a tito or a tita or a sibling to give emotional support. Add to the list priests who were from the very beginning, before the term psychotherapy was even known, were the ones giving advice to generations of families. A priest is always on hand to dispense with the needed counsel. These men of the church gave people meaning to the stress and sufferings in their lives.

What to do in coping with everyday stress and problems?

Survival, being the goal of everyone, is dependent on one’s efficiency to plan ahead and implement measures that will help in reducing stress. But before one can plan, the basic thing to do is confront one’s fear. Be specific in naming the fear and then try to look for specific solutions. Being pro-active about it and not letting it paralyze you into inaction will help a lot.

One thing that can provide relief to worry is to get plenty of sleep and learn to relax. Relaxation is part of therapy being recommended by psychotherapists. Then learn to be happy by doing things that you enjoy like gardening, painting, cooking or even malling. Popping that "happy pill" can only help for a limited period of time, and Abas calls it a cop-out and a big contrast to being self-sufficient and having a concrete plan of action. Stop thinking like a victim, and being in control of your life is what counts.

In all his years of practice, Abas advocates that leading a simple life is the key to a less stressful existence.

(Dr. Theodore Abas was former head of SLMC’s Psychiatry Department. He is a much-sought guest on TV and radio programs, a popular lecturer and consultant of drug rehabilitation centers here and abroad. Aside from being a doctor, he is also a writer.)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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