Across the globe, a huge stigma exists around the topic of mental health, but thankfully more and more people are opening up about their struggles. We recently sat down with Hong Kong business owner and social media influencer Coco Chan to discuss how she copes with her chronic anxiety.
We all know that Hong Kong is a fast-paced place to live, and many people embrace the work hard/play hard mantra with a vengeance. From 24-hour restaurants to nightclubs that let you party into the wee small hours, there’s nothing you can’t find here, and sometimes this can really affect our stress levels and mental health. Recently, we sat down with Founder and Managing Director of Voltage PR Coco Chan to discuss her personal experience with mental health issues in Hong Kong and how she’s constantly learning new ways to help cope in such a high-pressure environment.
An interview with Coco Chan
Hey, Coco. Thanks so much for having us over to your cute apartment for this interview. For people who don’t know you, give us a little background about your life in Hong Kong.
So, I was born in Canada, but my mum’s from Hong Kong and my dad’s Scottish. I came to Hong Kong at three months, so I definitely consider myself Hong Kongnese. I went to HKIS for school, until we moved to The States when I was 15/16. We were in upstate New York for a few years and then LA, where my parents now reside. I came back to Hong Kong when I was 19, and basically just jumped right into public relations.
Had you done any study or anything?
Absolutely not! No. funnily enough I had always been one of those kids who always thought I wasn’t good at anything. I was always stereotyped, from my Asian side, to be good at science and math, but I was absolutely rubbish at those subjects. And the only things that I really loved were a lot of the expressive arts, like drama, singing and dancing, and having grown up in an Asian family, those are not always options when it comes to a career path.
It was some of my friends actually who recognised that I was social and could talk to anyone, so they suggested getting into PR. Literally at that time, I didn’t even really know what PR was, so I just went in head first, and I fell in love with it.
I started out as a TVB wardrobe stylist, and I was running all the Miss Hong Kong and Mr Hong Kong pageants. It was really fun, and the experience was really eye-opening because in the entertainment business you see so many people, so many different personalities, so when you’re within that kind of environment at a young age, it really, kind of, toughens you up and builds you as a stronger person.
Eventually the HR department found out I was tri-lingual and they transferred me to the PR department, so that started my whole PR thing. Following that role, I worked at a few agencies and a big F&B company then I really built up my own network, and it wasn’t until I met my now-husband Dan that we even thought about opening our own agency. And now we’re five and half years in.
The PR world is incredibly busy, and coupled with actually owning your company, it must get pretty hectic. Anyone who follows you on Instagram knows that you’re passionate about aromatherapy. How did this love for essential oils and their healing properties come about?
I got diagnosed with chronic anxiety about three or four years ago, and I saw Chinese doctors and western doctors, and everybody was telling me to take some kind of prescription drug. And, I didn’t want to because in PR you have to have a very clear mind all the time, and I didn’t want to be loopy, so I searched high and low for something that could help me manage my stress. I Googled everything, talked with lots of people, and then I found essential oils.
I used to laugh at people who used essential oils. But look at me now! (laughs) I bought a set, and I thought: well what do I have to lose? I used it for a few days, and the changes were completely overwhelming. I was able to function normally, and breathe, and remember to breathe, and not get as jittery and wound up as I used to. After that I started researching even more, and it got to the point where I remembered the functionality of around 100+ oils, so my friend was like: why don’t you just do a course?
So I did. I wasn’t doing it to start my own business or anything, it was more for me to self heal and for me to be able to share my knowledge with my loved ones, if they want the help. I honestly used to be a crazy party animal. I didn’t take care of myself at all, and if I met my younger self now, I would really tell her to take care of herself.
And what does ‘taking care of yourself’ mean to you?
I know some people who are super healthy, but for me, ‘healthy’ is more of a balance. I’m not going to deprive myself of certain things, but really making sure that you fit in exercise throughout the week, taking time to unplug, and taking time to just be by yourself sometimes. Hong Kong is a city that is just constantly going so fast, that you can really lose yourself sometimes.
A glass of wine here or there is fine, but I really try not to binge on anything anymore. For my mental health and anxiety, exercise is key when it comes to taking care of myself. I really like HIIT because I love bursts of energy, and I also try to do yoga classes in the week. If I don’t have that release, then pressure is literally just bottling up inside me, and I just want to go nuts.
Take a look at this beginner’s guide to crystals.
Spirituality and mindfulness seem to play quite a big role in your life too. Recently, you journeyed to Sedona, Arizona. What was the importance of that trip for you?
That trip was mind blowing. It was, honestly, one of my favourite trips to date. It had been a really stressful time on all fronts: family, friends, and work. One of my girlfriends, Corie Chu, who’s a reiki practitioner and numerologist, and I decided to go to Sedona to recalibrate, and visit LA to see our families.
We were there for 10 days, and it was such an amazing time to seriously unplug and connect with nature and explore what mother nature has provided for us. We did a lot of meditation, we went to a lot of healers, and it was just really magical. The people there are just really happy and in sync with their own vibes. There are also SO many good vegan cafes, and the canyons there are mind-blowing. And that trip really change my mindset. I’ve realised that I can’t control everything and that I just need to let some things blow over me.
So how do you then maintain that feeling, coming back to Hong Kong, a place that’s really almost the antithesis of that?
Girl, it is so hard! (laughs) I think that something that I was never really good at is setting boundaries, because I’m a giver. And I think the first step is acknowledging you’re a giver, and–energetically–when you’re giving so much and you’re not receiving equal amounts in return, it’s depleting your energy right? You always feel drained, and tired.
So it’s simple things, like no work calls or WhatsApp messages after a certain time. If you don’t set those boundaries, then people just think it’s okay to keep overstepping, and it’s really not.
What changes would you like to see in Hong Kong when it comes to mental health, either from a grassroots or more bureaucratic level?
On a larger scale, I’d really love the government to set aside some decent funding to help citizens who are suffering from mental illnesses because 1 out of 7 people in Hong Kong are, and some of them don’t even know that they are. I think it’s important to have a well-developed educational system, and a platform for everybody to have access to the lists of different specialists and healers.
On a smaller scale, or a more individual level, I’d love to see people in Hong Kong loving themselves more, and setting aside time to eat better, sleep better and exercise more. And I would love to see people actually asking for help. I feel like us Hong Kong people aren’t very good at asking for help, but asking for help doesn’t mean that you’re weak.
Honestly, what I really wish for is more of a ‘love thy neighbour’ vibe in Hong Kong. When I was growing up here, I used to know everyone on my street, and I feel like it has become more of a cold place now. People tend to look angry or agitated on the street, and people don’t smile as much. When I was on cloud 29 after Sedona, I walked down to the MTR and I smiled at like 30 people, and all of them were shocked. But all of them smiled back, and you could tell it made them feel better.
A smile a day is something everybody can do. It doesn’t take money, it doesn’t take time, and it can totally brighten up someone’s day. That’s what I’d like to see more of in Hong Kong.
Follow Coco Chan on Instagram.