What’s NEXT? The need for vocational and continuing education for young adults with Special Educational Needs.

I love my work with children, teens and young adults with special educational needs to such an extent that our RED DOOR practice is considering setting up a vocational and educational facility for young adults in the near future*.

To best understand the services required for young adults (particularly in Hong Kong) I have looked at both the services provided in HK including those by YES, Watchdog, and the Nesbitt Centre (all of which do wonderful work by the way within their areas of expertise) as well as the needs to young adults emerging from high school in Hong Kong and around the world, particularly those with disabilities. Good people are doing good work, but the data is still depressing.


In general, it’s not a great time to be a young adult.

Exploring data from International Labour Organization (2017 data in the link below), global employment trends for growth 2017 suggests the global unemployment rate was 13.1%. The youth population (disabled or otherwise) represents more than 70 million people globally are experiencing unemployment – they are neither in employment or in further education. Young adults are 3 times as likely to be unemployed than older adults. Young people need to be prepared to be educated but still be unemployed. This applies to all young adults, and affects the disabled in a disproportionate format. The future of the world of work is the topic of many fantastic books at the moment and will have a major impact on those already in work, and the next generation of college and school graduates.

It’s even worse if you have a disability.

Exploring US data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics (link below) the disabled experience less employment than those who have no disability and are young.

• For those 16-19 years old and disabled only 17% are employed, and 26% are underemployed
• For those 20-24 years old and disabled only 37% of that population are employed, and 14.6% are underemployed.
• For those 20-25 years old and disabled only 43% of that population are employed, and 10.9 % are underemployed.
There are often barriers for those with disability to gain access to suitable employment, including prejudice and misconceptions among employers, difficulty accommodating people’s physical or work schedule needs, the type of disability including the health implications, the ability to act a in socially expected manner, academic or task related competencies, and of course having the right skills. Part of the solution to this problem is adequate education of employers (thank you to the SENsational consultancy in Hong Kong http://www.senconsultancyltd.com)
To better prepare the next generation of special educational adults, we as parents and educators need to provide ample services to those young adults as they launch from high school into the next stage of their careers. The majority of areas in which disabled individuals in Hong Kong find employment (hospitality, some retail, office work) are covered by certain centres and the SHINE organisation as well. (please see Sassy article link at the end).

Careers need to built around specific strengths of the individuals

The gap exists for children who have different areas of strength and varying levels of motivation – perhaps they are great artists, mathematicians, photographers, early childhood teaching assistants, even have extremely good knowledge of music or ability to sing. For them, and many others they not only require a more customised style of vocational training not previously available in HK. What is also important, they may have finished school without their education being complete. They may need a basic entry level of English or Math in order to start their career in a suitable arena, and this needs to be made possible within a setting that also teaches the requisite social skills and independence skills. Private tutoring provides the content but not the context. Quite simply, these kids, need the continue a concept of school until they are more fully cooked.

A new hope for the future – worth considering.

One area of employment growth which I believe has enormous potential is the area of self-employment. Self-employment for people with special educational needs may help build career success within the future world of work. Portfolio work – working on various projects, and different arenas – in a freelancing capacity might be suit them more. What parents and their young adults need is a customised plan to help create these opportunities. RED DOOR will have a session on these ideas within the next few weeks so watch out for that.
In collaboration with their families and their community, young adults with disability can start to build a strong plan to identify their strengths, and vocations which celebrate those strengths. I am not saying its going to be easy. I’m simply pointing out that its necessary and possible.

#Specialeducationalneeds #downsyndrome #autism #continuingeducation #reddoor #nextacademy #vocationaltraining #youthunemployment #unemploymentdisabled
If you would like to know more about our plans for the NEXT ACADEMY please contact Angelaw@reddoor.hk.

Useful links:
The International Labour Organization

If you want to know more about the future of work – see our blog: Future success is no accident; preparing for the future of work. https://reddoor.hk/2017/08/09/defeating-fo-fow/
the bureau of labour statistics comparing the rates of employment and underemployment in the US.

For a list of educational services for SEN in HK

The box of darkness: Dealing with painful “gifts”.

someonelovedThe American poet, Mary Oliver wrote of her experience of death in the poem “The Uses of Sorrow”: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

I must use this quote at least once a week in therapy with clients, especially those who are navigating the painful paths initiated by the actions of a loved one, a spouse who walks out, a broken friendship, the death of someone special. In our moments of shock and grief, it is indeed like we have been given a box of darkness to unpack and cope with. So painful and debilitating, action seems pointless and enormously necessary at the same time.

Divorce, loss of significant relationships, death of a loved one, can swallow you up emotionally.

The most surprizing thing for many going through those situations is the amount of other psychological struggles that can be brought up as a consequence of a single life event. Significant life events such as those mentioned have a tendency to unleash other problems and insecurities of the past. It is possible to ignore your co-dependencies, or low self-esteem, or perfectionist ideologies when the sun is shining, but once you are caught in the grasp of shock and sorrow, other pains and self-doubts find their way out of the shadows. Such is the box of darkness.

The lovely poem highlights the opportunity for hope that exists in turmoil. When all these problems overwhelm you, it is time to reach out for help. Good friends, a therapist, even writing a journal can help you navigate this abyss.

As many of you know I run a therapeutic divorce groups for women going through divorce. I see repeatedly, how the shocking end of a marriage can throw capable, loving women into cascades of self-doubt, self-loathing, deep worry and ruminations of revenge. As the group work their way through sharing experiences and psychological elements each one starts to move forward, slowly but surely, and quite quickly in the case of some. I know its hard, and I encourage these women to explore all aspects of themselves during divorce. Explore your relationships to your spouse, your family of origin, to money, to things, to status. These boxes of darkness, eventually produce stronger, more human, more authentic, kinder women. Forged from painful flames to be sure, but remarkable and resilient.

#boxofdarkness  #therapy #death #divorce #worldpoetryday #mentalhealth #mentalhealthessentials #reddoor

Suffocation from Stuffocation

stuffocationIn an era of (desired) minimalism and the attraction of Marie Kondo, living life with less stuff has been suggested as a route to greater happiness.

Most of us appreciate a goal to reduce clutter in our homes and offices. There is a difference between having too much stuff and being a hoarder, mainly in terms of the types of items collected and not thrown away, as well the emotional ties that people have to various objects.

In this world of face paced consumerism people can buy much more stuff than they could in the past. Many people in the first world may feel burdened by the amount of possessions they have. You may be experiencing the overwhelming phenomena of stuffocation: the experience of stress caused by owning so many items that you don’t know how to use, store, or manage.


You might be suffering from stuffocation if you:

1.Regularly misplace items in your home or office

2.You buy items to replace items that you have misplaced or lost in your home

3.Rather than feel joy when you look at all of your possessions, you feel overwhelmed or a sense of dread.

4.You have difficulty moving around rooms in your home because of too much stuff.

5.Your cupboard, draws and cabinets are full to the brim

6. You find it hard to discard of items you now longer regularly use

7. You have to have an external storage unit

8. You’ve read more than 2 books on decluttering and this has not made a significant difference to your decluttering practices

9. You feel embarrassed when people come into your home because of the amount of disorganised stuff.


At this point I need to make a confession – I have experienced 9 out of 9 of those listed above.  I once brought a decluttering book to replace the decluttering book I had lost in my home. This blog is FOR ME.

Part of the reason I believe we struggle to clear clutter is that we tend to address clutter from a practical approach rather than a psychological approach. De-cluttering books provide advice how to sort items and where to recycle items. Whilst this is very helpful, it can leave the feelings we have about things unaddressed.

Its worthwhile to take a moment to explore some of the psychology of stuff, the thoughts we may have and how to overcome this thinking. Essentially we need to understand that objects are NOT just objects, we need to understand our own personal meaning of ‘things’.


Fear of running out or not having enough.  If you feel you keep things, anything, cups, dresses, shoes because you may need them if you give them up, or at some point in the future may not have enough of this item ask yourself the following series of questions as a reflection.

Reflection: Did I once have “not enough” and was anxious or fearful of that time? Did I cope with my lack of things then? Can I gain faith that I might be able to get past that moment again? Reflect on these questions. Is it unlikely that you will suddenly become poor in the future and not have enough of the things you are keeping now? What could you do to ensure that you have enough finances to secure your future? Could you train in some small part time job that would give you enough money to buy a new cup, dress, book? The likelihood is yes.

Action: Count how many you have of certain items. Then decide what is a reasonable amount for you to have of that item, in reality. How many pairs of shoes do you really want to have displayed? How many books? Once you have set a cap of how many, start to sort out these items into those you love, versus those you like, and those that have no meaning at all. The last pile is the first for you to discard.


Saving for the future use.  Items that you are keeping for a future rainy day need to be considered in a slightly different way. If you’ve changed jobs from a corporate job to one where casual attire is acceptable you may have a wardrobe full of clothes that occupy space, but are not longer in use. Some questions that may help with your thoughts and feelings around these items might include

Reflection: Do I love these items, or am I scared to get rid of them? Could someone else benefit from these items – a person at the beginning of their career? Will I, change my lifestyle again and go back to that lifestyle if I have a choice? If not, can I let ½ of these items go? Can I give myself one small storage box, a draw, something little that I can keep some of these items – just in case, but not the amount of space they have now?

Action: Count up how many of these items fit under this criterion. How much space in your home is dedicated to storing this space? Can you put a value to the cost of the storage space used to save these items. For example, you can use the following comparative assessment of space value provided by Cushman and Wakefield’s annual assessment of costs of offices around the world, we can make a brief calculation of the cost to store such items.


For example, in Hong Kong, the cost of a draw could be calculated to be USD 7.40 per day, that’s USD 2700 a year. Once you put a monetary value to storage, you can potentially force a relative value assessment. If it costs you (virtually) this much to save these clothes (or other items) does this change your perception of their value. Decide on a small storage you are willing to dedicate to maintain these items and prioritise what you love, what you like, from what simply fills space. Recycle those clothes or items that are not your favourites.


Feeling out of control, and not willing to let others help.  Do you feel embarrassed about your space? Have others offered to help you, but you reject their offers due to embarrassment? You can use this embarrassment to your advantage. If you feel out of control or ashamed about your stuff these reflections may help.

Reflection: What is the shame of having too much stuff? What do you think it says about you? What do you worry that other people might think of you? Is this true? How do you determine your value in life, how could your space reflect those values? Does having too much stuff fit with your perception and values that you hold for yourself? How can you work towards accepting yourself, with too much stuff, as well as without too much stuff?

Action: Use your embarrassment as a motivator. Tell your friends that you are working on eliminating clutter and would like their support. Define the support you might like. Perhaps you’d rather discuss what you can do with items rather than have physical support. Perhaps you can agree to invite friends over for an “after the clutter” celebration once you have some spaces sorted. Friends who use your clutter and stuffocation to judge you, may need to be told that their assessment of you hurts your feelings and makes it harder for you to start the process, even though you acknowledge that they want to help. Set yourself your deadline. Get going.


The joy of shopping and collecting – Sometimes we gain too much stuff because we like the process of acquisition too much. Is it possible you are addicted to buying more things, even when you don’t need them? If so, you might benefit from reading our blog on FOMO as this might be part of the issue. [Whilst there may be pleasure in shopping, and it may not greatly impact your financial situation, acquiring stuff as an activity is worth thinking about.  https://reddoor.hk/2017/04/25/fomo-read-this-now/

Reflections: What is it about shopping or acquiring items that brings you joy? Is there any other elements in your life, such as creativity or health, that could replace this activity in a more constructive manner? Do you shop to “keep up appearances”, and if so, what does it mean if you cannot achieve this goal? Are you worth less as a person?

Action: Each time you want to buy a new item consider the following:

First of all, walk away, do not buy it immediately. Only those items that you continue to remember then become truly considered.

Before you do buy it, shop in your own cupboards to see if you have a similar item already. We often buy items that are remarkably similar to those we have already. Is this really significantly different? Would you consider to move one item OUT of your home in order to move this item IN? As with the processes above conduct some form of opportunity cost analysis before you buy. Is this the best way for me to utilise HKD500?

Ask yourself: Would I get more joy taking a friend out to lunch, or taking a cooking class with a friend instead? When we look at deathbed regrets, it never seems to be mentioned that people need to buy more. What they regret is spending time with people, having experiences, and pursuing their goals.


Holding onto precious memories – sometimes we have items from the past, items that remind us of special occasions or people, and we hold onto them. This might include old clothes, books, photos, artwork, and even old tools or jewellery. Compiling precious memories may lead to accidental clutter. Some reflective work that may help.

Reflections: are you keeping items as a way to show people that they are important, or were important? If you lose these items, will those loved ones be less important? In what other ways, besides holding onto items, could you celebrate items from ancestors or loved ones. Perhaps you want to keep special photos of your children, or their artwork. Do you need to keep all of these items to demonstrate your support and love? What other actions could you undertake to show your love for the child featured.

Actions:  Consider ways to store precious items in alternative storage format. For example, take photographs of children’s artworks and building a virtual album. For items from ancestors consider selecting your favourite items and framing them so that they are displayed beautifully. Then you can potentially pass the other items from the collection away. Old jewellery could be redesigned. Old clothes could be made into sentimental pillows.


I hope these reflections and activities help. I intend to give them all a chance and I hope you will too. Try to build a habit to be more mindful of they items you already have, their purpose, and their meaning. Embrace change from a positive angle. Praise yourself for letting go. There is no shame in moving forward and learning to live with less.


#stuffocation #worldrecyclingday #recycling #declutter #mentalhealthessentials #reddoor

#mentalhealth #hoarding #minimalism #mariekondo


Get your teen to sleep.


teensleep2Schools often report that they see exhausted children coming through their gates every morning. Whilst there are arguments that the school day should start later, and that this would be of benefit to a lot of teens, the practicalities seem to make this not possible for now. We often have to work within reality, so helping teens adapt to the demands of their school schedule and get enough sleep in time to go to school refreshed is important.

Teens need to get around 9 hours of sleep a night. Many teens do not get this amount of sleep, and there are many reasons they do not get enough sleep. Given that learning is their job, they need to have the opportunity to optimise their ability to learn. Sleep is essential to maintain both physical and mental health.

The need to rest is evolutionary. Inactivity allows us to conserve energy, repair our mental and physical systems, rejuvenate our minds and bodies, process the events and lessons from the day, and maintain neuroplasticity (the ability to use all parts of our brain to continue to learn). Sleep is essential for teens to optimise their performance when they are awake.

There are various theories regarding the purpose of dreams, but all support the concept that REM sleep (dream sleep) is somehow important. It seems that REM sleep may act towards mental housekeeping – sorting events from short term memory to long term memory, building neural pathways to improve our procedural capabilities (knowing how to perform a task) and process our emotional responses to situations. A good nights’ sleep allows us to tidy away yesterday and face each new day ready to take charge

Lack of sleep compromises one’s ability to concentrate and respond rationally. Mood swings, irritability, problems learning, and increased risk of accidents are all associated with sleep debt or deprivation. When we deprive ourselves of an optimal amount sleep our personal sleep debt accumulates. Hence you may find that you spend the weekend attempting to pay back this sleep debt, and live in a compromised state every other day.

Over the long term, physical ailments occur if you do not receive enough sleep. Conditions attached to sleep debt and deprivation includes diabetes, weakened immunity systems, high blood pressure, lowered sex drive, heart conditions, and mental health issues such as clinical depression and heighted stress responses.

So the importance of sleep is clear, but getting teens to go to bed can be extremely difficult. Mention bedtime routines among parents of teens, and you will experience the universal rolling of eyes in exhaustion.  Our guidelines for parents include the following


Encouraging healthy sleep patterns for your teen.

Remember that YOU are the parent. The teenage years are a welcome reprieve after the constant care required through infancy and childhood. Your offspring can now dress themselves, travel independently, and organise themselves (occasionally). But teenagers aren’t fully cooked, and still require active support. Especially around boundaries of healthy and unhealthy behaviours. Whilst sleep and bedtime are bound to be the topic of many a parent teen conflict, I encourage you that this battle is well worth fighting for (verbally).

Set a regular bed time and help your teen keep to it. Having a regular bedtime trains your body to start to wind down in a trained fashion. Given that teens require 9 hours sleep, in order for them to rise well rested at 7am they need to be in bed, asleep by 10am. Do not rely only on the weekend to catch up on sleep.

Encourage naps.  Children resist napping as they get older. Try to encourage your teen to take a nap occasionally.

Break bad behaviours. Screens provide light and stimulate teens minds, in the worst way. In order to help your teen wind down for bedtime encourage them to put down their devices at least an hour before their bedtime. Be prepared to have a fight. No parent I know has installed tech free time, without an old-fashioned toddler worthy temper tantrum.  

Ready, Steady: Encourage your teen to get themselves ready for the next day the night before school, rather than in the morning. This will allow them to wake without stress, and go to bed assured that they are ready for the next day.

Turn up the calm. Taking a bath, writing in a journal, colouring pictures, drinking cocoa, listening to music, reading in bed all encourage the body to start to relax. Use the hour, or half hour before bed time to train your teen’s body to get ready to rest. Children who suffer from anxiety may benefit from guided mediations (on CD or tape or Ipod, not on the internet)  

 The bed as a nest.  A tidy room with minimal clutter, blackout curtains, weighted blankets all enhance the feeling of being settled in bed.

Reinforce positive sleep behaviours. When your teen goes to bed on time or get up in a good mood make sure that you make note. No teenager will admit it, but your praise is still important.

We have a new generation of people with our teens. We are raising a generation of people who have never NOT had access to the internet. Many of them carry and posses a personal computer or phone by the age of 12. They are, in the first world at least, privileged, unlikely to go hungry, can create a completely artificial self-image, have limitless mentors (both positive and negative. They will face a world of work beyond our experience, with many unknowns. So many things have changed. The need for sleep has not. Our new world teens, still the guidance of their new world parents.


#sleep #teens #mentalhealth  #rest #selfcare #sleepdeprivation #sleepdebt #sleeptrainning #mentalhealthessentials  #reddoor

Sleep training for adults.

adult sleep

Adults sometimes have the tendency to forget to take care of themselves. The first and foremost self-care act one can undertake is to ensure that we have enough sleep. We are exposed to various workaholic CEOs highlighting their choice to be productive at work, over catching the right amount of rest. Very few people benefit from emulating these sleepless elite. Getting enough sleep is extremely important to maintain both physical and mental health.

Adults (25-60) need between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Do you get at least 7 hours of quality sleep?

The need to rest is evolutionary. Inactivity allows us to conserve energy, repair our mental and physical systems, rejuvenate our minds and bodies, process the events and lessons from the day, and maintain neuroplasticity (the ability to use all parts of our brain to continue to learn). Sleep is essential for adults to optimise their performance when they are awake.

There are various theories regarding the purpose of dreams, but all support the concept that REM sleep (dream sleep) is somehow important. It seems that REM sleep may act towards mental housekeeping – sorting events from short term memory to long term memory, building neural pathways to improve our procedural capabilities (knowing how to perform a task) and process our emotional responses to situations. A good nights’ sleep allows us to tidy away yesterday and face each new day ready to take charge

Lack of sleep compromises one’s ability to concentrate and respond rationally. Mood swings, irritability, problems learning, and increased risk of accidents are all associated with sleep debt or deprivation. When we deprive ourselves of an optimal amount sleep our personal sleep debt accumulates. Hence you may find that you spend the weekend attempting to pay back this sleep debt, and live in a compromised state every other day.

Over the long term, physical ailments occur if you do not receive enough sleep. Conditions attached to sleep debt and deprivation includes diabetes, weakened immunity systems, high blood pressure, lowered sex drive, heart conditions, and mental health issues such as clinical depression and heighted stress responses.

The benefit of achieving the optimal amount of sleep on a consistent basis include living longer, having a stronger immune system, rejuvenation of the skin and beauty, greater creative capabilities, improved productivity and concentration. So, what are you waiting for? Go to bed.

If only it was so easy?

Sleeping issues take time to develop and take time to overcome. A simple solution is to utilise sleeping medications. These medications are usually not intended for long term use as they can be addictive. They are best to help overcome acute sleep problems, is to learn to develop healthy sleep patterns.

Sleep training: the adult edition. Multiple books detail how to train babies and infants to fall and stay asleep. Just as you have to consistently practice sleep practices with children, repetition is important to achieve results with adults. Every time you break healthy sleep patterns (travelling, staying out late, all nighters at work) you may have to start your sleep training again


Building better sleep

Step 1: Sleep logs. You want to know what your sleep is like so that you have a baseline. In addition to your bedtime and wake up time, which should give you the number of hours you had at rest, you may want to rate your sleep. You can give yourself a score out of five – 1 point for achieving each of the following:

1 point if you fall asleep quickly – within 20 minutes of going to bed

1 point if you only experienced minor night time waking – you may be aware that you woke up, but fall back to sleep quickly, not need to get out of bed, or check your phone.

1 point if you are aware that you dreamed. You don’t need to be able to remember the content, but only if you had some dreams during sleep

1 point if you slept more than 7 hours

1 point if you woke in the morning feeling refreshed (within the first hour of waking).

Recording the quality of your sleep is as important as the quantity of your sleep.

Monitor for a few weeks whilst you try various other steps

Step 2: set a regular bed time. Having a regular bedtime trains your body to start to wind down in a trained fashion. Go to bed/ sleep at the latest by 11 pm. Try to wake up when you can experience morning light – so in Hong Kong that is around 7am. If you need to wake up at a specific time, plan your bedtime to be at least 8 or 9 hours ahead of that time.

Step 3: minimise stimulants ahead of bedtime.  This doesn’t only mean coffee or cola drinks, this includes screen time, TV, social media. Stop using devices an hour before bedtime. These devices keep your mind awake.  Instead use this time for calming activities

Step 4: Maximise calm activities and a calm routine. Taking a bath, writing in a journal, colouring pictures, drinking cocoa, listening to music, reading in bed, and massaging your muscles start to help your body obtain a resting state ahead of bed, and convey to your mind and body that sleep is coming.

Step 5: Build a nest. A tidy room with minimal clutter, blackout curtains, weighted blankets all enhance the feeling of being settled in bed.

Step 6: Eliminate mental clutter. As you go to bed consider how are you going to clear your mind. If you wake with ideas during the night, keep a pad and pen beside the bed so that you can jot down a prompt for the idea and go back to sleep immediately. Writing a journal before you go to bed is a wonderful exercise to empty your mind of worries gathered during the day. Praying and celebrating what you are grateful for also helps you create a sense of mental calm before you go to bed. For more information on the benefits of journaling see our blog on this issue. ( https://reddoor.hk/2017/03/22/six-fantastic-benefits-of-writing-a-journal/)

Step 7: catch up on debts. Sleeping for one single period, at night is a human evolutionary practice created in response to the world of work. In some cultures, and among other species, multiple periods of sleep is the norm. Consider a siesta occasionally, and see if napping is a benefit to you. This may help you catch up on your sleep debt, or help you recharge your batteries.


One last note – whilst much of the focus of this article is focused toward achieving enough sleep, there are also health problems related to sleeping too much. Oversleeping can be caused by other health problems, but also contributes to health problems. If you regularly sleep more than 10-12 hours a day please consult your doctor. Oversleeping has been associated with heart disease, diabetes, pain, obesity, depression and sleep apnoea. Too much sleep also impairs your cognitive function, so try to monitor your sleep, and look to set up healthy waking and sleeping patterns.


#sleep #mentalhealth  #rest #selfcare #sleepdeprivation #sleepdebt #sleeptrainning #mentalhealthessentials  #reddoor

Learn to (better) control your emotions.



As human begins, we may never have complete control over what we feel, but we do have a lot more influence over how we feel than you might have been told. Adults are expected to be able to manage their emotions – especially strong negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, and anger. Yet all of us have experienced instances where we’ve become overwhelmed with emotions and not felt as if we could control our actions around those feelings. We may in those instances act in a regrettable fashion, not go to an event where we were expected, miss the opportunity to travel, lashed out at a friend or family member.

How do we learn to keep our emotions in check? The key is emotional regulation and learning emotional self- regulation techniques. These skills allow you to manage your emotional reactions to the world. These are the skills of people who respond with emotion to a situation but do not continue to harbour or escalate those emotions beyond the initial expression (except in the case of bereavement where prolonged emotion may be expected). You can assess your self-regulation abilities in online tools (http://sciences.ucf.edu/psychology/myemotions-hxus/) which explains two important components of regulation – your ability to frame and reframe around your emotions (reappraisal) and your tendencies to supress emotion rather than express it (suppression).

If you have difficulty regulating your emotions you may need to utilise short term and longer-term sustainable solutions


Short term solutions.

Opportunities to create a quick sense of calm may be helpful to utilise when you are feeling strong negative emotions (https://reddoor.hk/2019/03/13/achieving-quick-calm/) including breathing, repeating mantras, drinking water, colouring, journaling, listening to music, counting, exercise and stretching.

One strategy that can help you in the heat of the moment may be to utilise the STOPP tool outlined by psychologist Carol Vivyan. Essentially the STOPP is a mnemonic to remind you to.

S: Pause, take a break, slow down the events that are unfolding

T: take a breath.

O: Observe yourself, the situation, your reactions, your expectations of others.

P: Look at the situation from a matter of perspective – is this really an emergency, is action really required right now, will it be better for you to walk away from the situation or stay engaged.

P: Proceed with caution. Choosing to no react will help maintain your reputation and credibility. Walk away if you can.



Sustainable changes for long-term emotional regulation

To deal with to deal with emotional regulation include understanding and labelling emotions, exploring thought patterns, practicing mindfulness and cognitive reframing.  Build long term reflection skills.

Emotional monitoring Emotional monitoring is the backbone of mindfulness study. There are many tools to help people correctly identify and label emotions, whilst separating those that are primary emotions (those that occur immediately in reaction to an event) from those that are secondary – your reactions to the primary emotions, or emotions that linger longer because of thought patterns.

Physical experiences such as tension, butterflies in the stomach, headache, clenched jaw are observed and recorded.  Correctly helping identify the expression and experience of an emotion helps the client associate particular thoughts patterns associated with those emotions, or simply help them notice that they feel emotions they thought they had “lost”. Many people confuse feeling anxious with feeling angry and hence respond by lashing out, rather than behaviours that may help them calm down.

Thought patterns are essential to associate with certain emotions. These thought patterns may have been learnt over many years and may include catastrophising (this is the worst thing ever!), negative comparisons (She is so cool, I am such a loser), and mind reading (see my blog on common thinking errors). Essentially people are taught to catch these thinking patterns in action and reflect upon them from alternative perspectives. They may be asked to keep a log of negative events and how they felt about those events so that they can be discussed in terms of creating a more rational perspective on the situation being reviewed.

Some of the specific tools to assess emotional regulation (such as the CERQ- the cognitive emotion regulation questionnaire) helps to identify the cognitive strategies and thought patterns that people use in situations. As such you can identify the elements and thought patterns that might me making you feel the way you do.

For example, you may have a specific difficulty to blame yourself when things go wrong, or not accept that something bad has happened. You may find yourself caught up in rumination traps, where you cycle through events again and again to understand your feelings and how you got to this point (even if this is not achievable and the situation are the consequence of other people’s decisions or actions). You may or may not be able to refocus or reappraise the situation in a way that helps you overcome feelings (gaining perspective, seeing that this happens to a lot of people not just you, realise this could not be avoided).

Practicing Mindfulness helps individuals become more aware of their thought patterns, their emotions, their reactions, and the thoughts and feelings that they hold about certain events. Being mindful requires individuals to live in the present, not the past or the future. Taking this approach allows them to assess situations more empathetically with less self-judgment. Skills such as learning to observe, describe and be aware of your surroundings are taught, as well as practice assessing situations from a position of no judgement, being observant, and looking for effective outcomes  https://reddoor.hk/2017/07/05/the-making-of-a-focused-mind-the-benefits-of-mindfulness-for-children-and-teens/

Once thought patterns and perspectives have been regularly assessed cognitive reframing and discourse can be utilised to teach a new set of responses. When you catch yourself overreacting to situations, ask yourself, could other outcomes be possible, can you be kinder to yourself in this situation, can you show empathy rather than anger. Create a dialogue that helps you look at yourself in a non-judgemental but still accountable manner. Do not use terms such a “should” or “I must”. Instead use language such as “I can”.

In the long term you may like to create long term reflection building tools. These activities help build not only reflection, but stronger mental health capabilities. Remember practice makes progress. These activities include: writing a journal, meditation, therapy with a counsellor, ensuring you have enough sleep, walking and talking to yourself, and of course, sharing your experiences with close friends.


There is a lot you can do to better manage your emotions and your reactions. Activities such as self-medication (especially through alcohol), self-harm, and escaping into your social persona through internet addiction, do NOT help. If you have been using these behaviours to help you manage strong emotions try some of the recommendations in this article. If you continue to struggle, please consider therapy. Good luck.


#reddoor  #mentalhealthessentials #emotionalintelligence #emotionregulation #mindfulness #mentalhealth #selfhelp #angermanagement #anxiety

Achieving Quick Calm

10calmHere are 10 techniques to achieve a quick calm when you feel strong negative emotion or feel overwhelmed. 

1.       Take action – go for a quick jog, do 20 jumping jacks. Since you have to change your thinking you will find that you can distract yourself from your emotions for, just long enough, to catch your breath and consider your thoughts.


2.       Repeat a mantra – any quick phrase that reminds you to stay calm. For example ‘ “let it slide off me like water off a duck’s back”. “I am enough”, “Its okay not to be okay”.


3.       Drink a glass of water.  If one glass is not enough, drink another glass.


4.       Counting – count backwards from 100. Simply focusing on another activity creates a break in the momentum of a situation and allows your thoughts to be distracted.


5.       Progressive relaxation exercise. Remove yourself from the situation and work on progressive relaxation tension and release activities. Progressive relaxation soothes the body as you tense and relax muscles – isolating and focusing exclusively on one group of muscles at a time. Begin with your toes, and work up through your muscles to your head, where you may focus on relaxing the muscles around your chin and eyes.


6.       Draw a picture, or colour a picture – draw a picture of your feelings, or of anything. Drawing a picture allows you to catch a breath and engage your creativite mind. https://reddoor.hk/2017/03/06/reasons-to-colour/


7.       Music – listen to 5 minutes of calming music, or music that cheers your mood.


8.       Stretch – stretch your body out, spend 3-5 minutes releasing tension from your body.


9.       Strawberry and Candle breathing. Close your eyes and imagine yourself holding a strawberry. Breathe in and smell the strawberry. Breath in completely. Then blow out air, like you are blowing out a candle, a steady stream of air. Do this 10 times.


10.   Journal – journaling is an exceptional model to provide self-therapy. Even in a time of strong emotion, writing about your emotions can help you start to solve the situation as you write. You don’t need to share your thoughts.



Is living in Hong Kong bad for your mental health? Benchmark survey – English speaking women in Hong Kong.


Whilst there is no significant difference between the number of men and women that experience a mental health problem, some mental health challenges are more common in women that in men. These typically include depression, anxiety,  self-harm, eating disorders, and some personality disorders.

RED DOOR, a psychology and counselling practice based in Hong Kong, recently ran a brief survey among English speaking women in Hong Kong exploring the experience of various mental health challenges and issues among that population. Over 120 women responded to this call for feedback. Whilst this is a small number compared to the size of the population, this research is not a measure of prevalence, rather than identifying those issues that are most commonly reported.

The 120 women were asked about their personal experience of mental health issues, their concerns for their children (if they have children) and their overall perception of Hong Kong in terms of being a positive or negative location in terms of supporting/compromising mental health.


Comparing good or bad (not including people who said it was neutral) more women rated the experience as BAD for their mental health than GOOD. Many reasons were cited as explanations of HK being challenging to your mental health.


Many of these should be concerning to local government, employers, educators and health professionals.  It seems that HK is seen as a place where people are under a lot of pressure, do not have all the sources of support they may require, but can find alternative self-medicating (drugs/ alcohol) options too easy to pursue. We will continue to explore this area.


What mental health issues do HK women experience?

The most common mental health challenges women experience in Hong Kong include feeling overwhelmed, experiencing bad stress, regular sleep disturbances and feeling anxiety. These concerns were experienced regularly or often according to the ratings.

women and stress

Other challenges experienced occasionally include feelings of poor self-esteem, experiencing sad mood and depression, perfectionism, marital discord, disordered eating, obsessive thought patterns, and consuming more alcohol than advised.

It is important that women get good advice how to deal with each of these challenges and we promise to communicate advice on each of these topics in our next series of blogs. Some brief advice for each includes

Feeling Overwhelmed.

Feeling overwhelmed is part of life, and will happen occasionally, but if you feel overwhelmed frequently you make like to follow some of the following advice, either on your own or in collaboration with a counsellor.

Thought patterns. We all hold some thinking patterns/ errors that exacerbate our experience of stress. If you are a catastrophic thinker, meaning you tend to think the worst things will happen, you plan 5-6 steps ahead in terms of awful things that might happen, you will experience more overwhelming experiences of anxiety.

What to remember: Repeat a few reminders to yourself. a) You’ve probably been here before, and survived, and maybe even managed such a situation with success. b) Some situations work out without you having to do (or decide) anything. Sitting for a moment is usually a good thing. c) You can’t control everything, but you can trust in your ability to respond to situations in a proactive and positive manner. And lastly, d) take each day one at a time, don’t worry to much about tomorrow, think about what you need to do today.

Add some perspective: Sometimes you ned to change your way of thinking. You might need to rewrite a situation using terms such as “at least” or “yet”. For example if you believe everything is going against you, you an use the phrase “at least” to put some hope or context into the situation. For example, “Everything is going wrong today. At least, I have my lovely dog to pat at the end of it. At least the day is over and I can relax now. At least I can tell my friends about it.” The “yet” phrase helps you look at your own capabilities with greater hope and humility. For example, “I can’t manage my finances, YET. ”

All of these elements in addition to slowing your thinking down, writing elements to be grateful for , and asking for support will help.

Bad Stress

Some stress can be motivating and galvanising. Prolonged stress (Chronic) or extreme levels of stress (Acute) is extremely detrimental to your health – mental health and physical health. Some thought elements that help you quickly include.

Thought patterns. We all hold some thinking patterns/ errors that exacerbate our experience of stress. In addition to catastrophic thinking, comparing, should-ing, blaming and overgeneralising all exacerbate our experience of stress in a situation.

Negotiation skills at work are essential. Do you have too much to do. How can you decrease your workload? Can you negotiate your workload?

Prioritising during the day, and in your career, is important so that you are spending time and effort on those activities which are of most benefit to you and your plans, and bringing you closer to your goals.

Lifestyle elements such as sleep, avoiding self medication and addictive practices, and eating and exercise all will improve your ability to deal with stress.

Sleep Disturbances

Women in HK mention that they often experience disturbances in their sleep. Even adults need about 8 hours of sleep a night. Try to get to bed before midnight, and create a positive bedtime routine which helps you get to sleep. This would include no screen time an hour ahead of bed time, take a relaxing bath or have a cup of cocoa, read in bed. In essence wind down, and tell your mind and body that you are preparing to power down.

If necessary you can consider sleep aids, homeopathic or medical. Be sure to take sleeping medications under the care of a physician.


Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues for both men and women, adults and children. Learning to deal with anxiety may include medication, but often involves therapy, especially cognitive behavioural therapy techniques. Consider to see a counsellor if you are experiencing anxiety on a regular basis. A treatment plan often includes monitoring, thinking pattern assessment, thought log and training in relaxation and meditation techniques. For some quick advice check out our previous blog on anxiety. (https://reddoor.hk/2018/08/02/when-anxiety-attacks-6-immediate-solutions/)

Women in Hong Kong require support for these challenges. Whilst support groups and counselling services exist, there seems to be a need for much more, available services.

#mental health #internationalwomensday #HongKongmentalhealth #anxiety #stress #women

If you need therapy and find the cost a barrier  consider finding a therapeutic support group as an alternative. These groups are usually much cheaper, and also have the benefit of the group dynamic to help members.

RED DOOR runs a divorce therapeutic support group, and is interested to provide therapy groups to those experiencing anxiety or low self-esteem. If you are interested to join such a group contact us at reception@reddoor.hk.






The Impact of Divorce for Women

impact of divorce image

Going through divorce is extremely stressful where ever you live.

RED DOOR recently conducted a survey of women’s experience of divorce. As a HK based practice we were particularly interested to assess if HK women reported different experiences that women from an international group. A group of 50 women were compared. The pattern of responses indicates that the experience of divorce in Hong Kong is similar to that of women in the US, Australia and the UK. Over 75% of the women found the experience stressful, and over 90% felt changed by going through the divorce process.

impact figures

What concerns women during divorce

During divorce women face a number of worries. Regardless of the stage of divorce (contemplating, in progress or having completed divorce) the pattern of concerns remains the same The highest rated concern was regarding their finances. This is probably not a surprise as much of the timing during the divorce process is spent dividing assets and coming to a financial agreement.


The second highest rated concern involves the emotional impact and wellbeing of children who will be affected by the divorce. There are separate RED DOOR blogs on this specific topic, but I will highlight that children will be affected by divorce, what can be mitigated through support, counselling and positive co-parenting, is the impact of how much they will be affected.

The third highest rated concern is the emotional state of the women as they went through the process of divorce. The divorce process is extremely emotionally taxing and it is common to feel grief, feeling overwhelmed, and experience anxiety and depression during this time. Women need to explore sources of support during this time.
Other highly rated concern include worries about lifestyle changes and career changes. These are often a direct impact from the financial arrangements that are agreed during the divorce. Many women consider changing jobs, or going back to work, after divorce.

Changes from divorce

 In our survey women were asked what changes they had experienced in their lives during the divorce. Changes in finances are not rated as the strongest area of change. I suspect that women expect those changes so the manner in which they reply rates unexpected changes more highly than those that were expected. 

changes after divorce

The highest rated change after divorce is changes in the women’s level of independence. This could actually be a change for the better, not necessarily negative. Women also said that their ability to cope with change had been altered. Given the emotional elements of the divorce process, ability to cope with change is a positive by-product of the stress of divorce.
Women also reported experiencing changes in their career. Many women choose or have to change their employment situation because of divorce. This can be both a positive and negative change as a consequence of divorce.

A whole blog could be dedicated to changes in friendships that are experienced during divorce. Divorce is a stress test on existing friendships. Friends who are determined to support both sides, or stay neutral, rarely can. Feelings of betrayal coming out of the breakdown of a marriage can be echoed in the loss of friendships, and the sometimes disappointing support of friends that women have held for a long time. I promise to dedicate a whole blog to being a better friend to women going through divorce.

Unsurprisingly changes in relationship within the existing family also arise. The breakdown of a marriage, often requires reconstruction of a family. In laws may cut of all contact. This can add to some of the grief associated with going through divorce.


The best sources of support during divorce

Women were asked about the best sources of support that they relied upon during the process of divorce. The survey listed 17 potential sources of support including existing friends, new friends, parents, church members, lawyers, counsellors, and financial advisors.

sources of support

The most highly rated source of support are established friends (those who stick by the  person and provide support), family members – parents, children and siblings, and then counsellor/psychologist. Of all the professional services attached to divorce (Lawyers, mediators, accountants, financial advisors, counsellors, and support groups) the highest rated, in terms of providing much needed support, is individual counselling.

One third of the recipients had attending some form of divorce support group. All of those women said that a support group was extremely helpful.


Essential skills 

It has been said that knowledge is power. We asked women going through divorce about the information or skills they wish they knew more about at the beginning of the divorce journey. The ratings included the following:


Staying emotionally strong, maintaining positive self-esteem, and the process of reinvention were considered important skills that women wish they knew more about. Building a solid financial future and plan is complicated. Many women going through divorce may not have taken responsibility for finances in the past. Financial literacy, responsibility and investment basics from a person that the divorcee can trust is important.

Many women rated learning how to forgive as an important skills to learn about. Forgiveness after betrayal is complicated and may require specific counselling.

Learning negotiation skills is essential to get through the process of divorce. We have held a series of workshops on negotiation skills, and it seems apparently that few women have received negotiation skills in any area of their lives and this can put them at a disadvantage during divorce discussions.

The period of divorce has been referred to as a “Crazy Time” with good reason. If you are considering divorce you may want to plan ahead. Check your sources of support, educate yourself on the process, negotiation and emotional elements that you may experience during divorce. And good luck.

#divorce #divorceHongKong #divorcenegotiation #mentalhealth #reddoor #women


About the author:

Angela Watkins is a counsellor and psychologist working out of the RED DOOR practice in Hong Kong. Angela is known locally as “the divorce girl”, as a reflection of her running Hong Kong’s only English language therapeutic support group for women going through divorce, as well as supporting a wealth of individuals (both women and men) going through the process of divorce.