How to Deal with Stress & Depression in Shanghai

So you’ve realised that Shanghai is stressful.

Yes, we are Family Fun Shanghai but real family life is about more than 24 hour fun. Obviously!

Maybe you haven’t particularly thought about it, but you know that you don’t feel right. Stress and depression are not uncommon. It helps to look at the reasons behind stress and depression in Shanghai, and there are some solutions to try.


The first thing to do is to self-analyse. Shanghai does have many professionals / Doctors who can help with psychological issues, and you should explore that option (more on that at the end).

But self-analysis is very helpful. It doesn’t mean that you need to plan a time to meditate, but you need have a quiet moment for yourself, wherever or whenever that may be.

Don’t assume that you know exactly what is causing your problems. You may have a feeling of what it is, but it really takes time thinking to yourself to identify (1) the precise reasons behind these issues and (2) ways that you can rationalise them and deal with them.

One simple reason: Homesickness

Living away from home is stressful. It’s OK to admit it. The definition of ‘expat’ and whether you are one can be debated, but as expats, there’s a pressure to be all ‘pioneering’ and to love challenges and to never be home sick.

‘Home sick’ sounds a little childish. But it doesn’t mean that you simply miss your parents or your home-town.

It means that you are living in a place that is very different to where you grew up.

The place that you grew up in hard-wired your brain in many ways. Whether you wanted to leave your boring home-town, whether you tell people you ‘love Shanghai’, whether you are an adventurous explorer — you still have a hard-wired set of ideas, principles and behaviours.

It’s not about what is ‘better’ or ‘worse’, it’s simply that you are now experiencing something ‘different’. Don’t make an expectation of yourself to be able to simply deal with everything very well.

Maybe you are dealing with colleagues, Bosses, neighbours, landlords, partner(s), fellow commuters and more such people who have a very different set of ideas, principles and behaviours that you do.

They have had a totally different upbringing and different education than you — or literally no education if we are talking about people from different locations and generations. Not ‘better’ or ‘worse’ but very, very different.

This will cause anguish and frustration. That is to be expected.

If you have an uneasy feeling, if you find yourself quickly snapping and getting angry and such feelings, without pinpointing it, you might just be homesick. It’s OK to admit it.


Stress and depression exists everywhere.

But Shanghai does have some specific triggers. Not a criticism of better or worse, but each place is unique.

This city is money-hungry. Power-hungry. Status-desperate. Maybe that’s a good thing, this isn’t a judgement.

It’s just to say that this is simply how it is.

So, the entire culture and society is chasing. Fighting for things that are either scarce or marketed to be seen as scarce.

This translates to the people that push you in public places, that don’t give you any personal space, that try to increase your rent, that try to fight with you in the office, that get angry with you because of their own anxieties and stresses.

You can travel to many places in China and the Shanghai distinction becomes very clear. In many other cities not only in the world but also all over China, the atmosphere of culture and society is very different (not better or worse but different).

This place is frantic and hectic. If you are not a robot, not a sheep, not a machine, but a considerate and thoughtful person, then of course it will become very stressful.

Not Shanghai-specific

It is still important to remember that it’s not only Shanghai.

It’s life. Pressures, expectations, financial worries, societal scare-mongering and the like happen everywhere. So don’t only dwell on where you are as an issue.

Don’t double your problems

A problem shared can be a problem halved, if you tell a good friend. As well as self-analysing and really considering the many layers of your stress points, talking to a friend is an almost guaranteed way to feel better. Men are known for not wanting to admit any weakness, but it will definitely help to talk to people and make your thoughts open.

While we are told that two people in a relationship or marriage should be as open, you need to be careful that you are not bringing your stresses onto the relationship itself.

What that means is, you need to remember that your partner may be stressed also, and therefore you need to express yourself clearly.

If you start by explaining that you have a feeling and you want to simply talk about it to get their opinion, it’s a good start.

If you start by saying ‘I’m not happy’, then they might take it personally (especially if they are from a different upbringing / background) and the talk becomes the same old argument about the same old conflicts.

Likewise, realise that you may be bringing your stress onto the relationship itself, as it’s a classic human thing to do to get your stresses out on the people closest to you.

So if you are going to talk with your partner, choose your words carefully, and most importantly, remain calm at all times.

No instant escape

Identifying your problems is all very well if you have an easy escape. If you are experiencing these things and you are young and single, then you can leave. There’s no real reason to agonise over a very clever way to solve problems if you can simply take a plane and go somewhere that isn’t a busy city. That will solve urban stresses in an instant.

The greater problem comes when, for whatever your personal reasons, you can’t just up and leave.

Finding solutions:

The First Level

After identifying what it really is that is making you feel anxious / sad, there are always ways to deal with it. Always.

Firstly, it’s crucial to realise that you are human. You are not the smartest human that ever lived.

You are a combination of chemicals and upbringing. Your feelings are, in part, relevant to your hormones.

This means that the first set of solutions to deal with moods and emotions are healthy living and exercise.

There’s no getting around it. The issues and stresses you have in your life are affecting your mood, but this can be alleviated by exercise. Exercise is not some ‘optional part of life’ that ‘some people do’.

It is something that produces good hormones and removes bad ones.

As well as the life-changing alteration it makes to your body’s chemical make-up, it gives you routines and goals.

Again, you aren’t the most clever person on Earth. Routines and goals are not for stupid people. They are good for everyone.

And exercise gives you something to busy your mind with, to plan for, to look forward to – as well as giving your body ‘free’ happy chemicals.

The Second Level

Goals and punctuations. Everyone – everyone – needs something to look forward to. Again, the easiest way to relieve a level of stress is to get out of the city.

Of course cities are depressing!!!

Humans with brains are not supposed to live like rats in concrete. It’s stupid, but it’s happened.

Trees and rolling hills and water and air and space will make you feel better.

Of course, it is true that this is a bit simple – people who are depressed are also demotivated. This is where the initial self-analysis comes in.

Analysing yourself and basically ‘talking to yourself’ can help you to see that (1) there is a problem and (2) you want to fix it.

Making the effort to organise a weekend escape to trees and hills is a major step in going on the right track to coping with and even drastically lessening your stress or depression.

Third Level

How to alter your daily life to deal with your stress trigger points.

‘Identify’ what stresses you sounds easy. But the point is that you need to spend a lot of time thinking in order to see ‘precisely’. At what precise moments does your stress or emotion flare up?

If it’s in the morning commute – what part of the commute gets to you?

If you feel your mood is up and down – at what precise moments do you notice change?

Does it happen relevant to other factors? Is the weather or the food you eat having some relation?

This has been very wordy, so here are some shorter points that can help in tackling depression.

Have a mantra

A mantra can help with all sorts of things, from life, work, playing sport, or succeeding in any way. Never assume that you won’t make mistakes, or forget what you ‘should do’.

Mantras are absolutely helpful in moments of difficulty or franticness.

Let’s say that some part of city life is really annoying you.

If someone pushes into you on your commute or in the street, find a saying that helps you not get into an angry rage. Maybe tell yourself ‘it’s not personal’. Or ‘it doesn’t matter’, or something that helps you realise why an uneducated ‘person’ would shove you or stand touching your entire side with their leaning body.

If a colleague or a Boss is making your work very difficult then have a saying that helps you remain calm. It could be ‘look for a new job’, or ‘he is a complete asshole’. Whatever your mantra is, it is simply a saying that you tell yourself in your head.

That very simple act of having a ‘go to’ saying to say in your head can be a very big help in not feeling in despair or helpless, anxious and so on in that moment.

Remember your hobbies

In Shanghai, sometimes we forget out hobbies. You get so busy working and then socialising after work (either more work networking, or events, or just enjoying food, nightlife etc.) that you might forget that your hobbies were not mere hobbies that you did on a whim.

They were crucial parts of your personality and identity. They actually gave a tangible expression to your internal moods.

Maybe it was playing football, maybe dancing for 5 hours to music you love, maybe something else specific.

Those things gave a physical expression and without that expression you may be unknowingly bottling up thoughts and feelings instead of having any form of subconscious outlet.

Zoom out

This also comes back to admitting that you might be taking some things too seriously. That might sound too simple or even flippant but don’t assume you have everything 100% accurate and correct. Maybe you have concentrated so much on one thing that you need to zoom out and see things in a bigger perspective. Maybe you even need to think about time and the universe and realise that you are having a one-person experience on Earth and as that is quite abstract, you can also have the choice of not being defined by issues that are outside of your control, but focus on what you do enjoy and where you do find happiness.

Also, here are some ‘don’ts’ to remember if you are having emotional problems

Don’t be a dick to your colleagues – skulking around the office and being combative to people because you had a bad commute or feel under financial pressure won’t help anything.

Don’t have an affair – it’s quick and easy and an escape, but people are insane and it will end very badly.

Don’t turn to drink – easier said than done, but this is also where a healthy lifestyle and fitness goals come in. Alcohol will increase whatever feelings you are having, leading to mis-guided actions that can have harmful consequences.

Mostly – do seek help.

Lifeline Shanghai helps with many issues and provides a lot of help.

The Community Center Shanghai has a wide range of qualified professionals that they can refer you to

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